I belong to a fabulous online group for authors and bloggers called Book Connectors where I encountered another new-to-me author Chris Tetreault-Blay. As I am intending to take part in NanoWriMo this year I was fascinated to hear about Chris’s own experience.
NanNoWriMo: Finding Beauty In The Belly of The Beast
I love this time of year. I have never been one to hold summer as my favourite time of year. Being a hayfever sufferer, it actually brings more problems than it does good. But once the leaves start to change colour and fall, the evenings (as well as the early mornings) become darker and cold, I am in my element. For most for my life, this has been because I am a total Christmas freak and can’t help but get excited at least a couple of months early. October and November are mostly all about the build up to the festive season, for me; a time to plan the big day (and the traditional Christmas Eve party food spread that has been customary in our house for many years now), deciding on gift ideas well in advance, that sort of thing.
Although I was never a child who partook in trick-or-treat or many Halloween parties or games, being a huge horror fan and now author, I love the thought of doing nothing more on October 31st than settling down, lights low and enjoying a marathon of my favourite scary films. Although since last year this night has taken on a whole new meaning for me, for it is the eve of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).
Ok, so what is NaNoWriMo?
NaNoWriMo is a global event that encourages – challenges, if you will – any budding or published author to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. Unlike most events that we all want to partake in, it is totally free (but welcomes donations from those who wish to contribute) and you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home or happy place to take part. The beauty of it is that YOU make the rules; the only target is to hit your minimum 50k word count by month-end. How you do it, what you write about, where you write it is completely your call.
Talk about being given a ticket for freedom, to unleash your imagination to run amok for four weeks!
For me, it all started when I liked a Facebook page called ‘The Novelist’s Blueprint’. At the time, I had the kernels of ideas for short stories that were only just starting to materialise onto my computer screen. I hadn’t ever thought of writing an entire novel – that it was something I wanted or even was capable of doing.
Until the day I first saw someone mention something called NaNoWriMo…
So what made me want to take part? If I’m honest, I’m not sure. Without trying to make myself seem a little disturbed, it was as though I could hear a voice telling me to go for it, which was soon met in unison by my wife. At the time, I was working on two short stories, neither of which seemed to be going anywhere fast; I had what I considered to be very strong beginnings but in truth had no idea where they were going or what I wanted them to be.
One of the stories was titled ‘The Pit of Harper Falls’, and would be a tale of abduction of supernatural terror, culminating in a demented scientist being revealed as the creator of some horrific abomination to which he fed his victims to. Light stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree (!) The other was an alien abduction story, written in a first-person narrative and set in a fictional town that I had named Wildermoor. The story would follow the central character before, during and after his wife is abducted by aliens, and had a working title of ‘The Sowing Season’.
When I discovered and read more about NaNoWriMo, I started to wonder if one of my stories could be expanded to work as a novel, or whether I needed a new idea. I struggled to find a way of padding out either of my stories so decided to sit with my laptop one day and see what ideas would develop. What came out of this was a story about a psychologically troubled man who has been haunted by something – a ghost, or phantom – for most of his life, resulting in him turning to murder (supposedly under orders from the phantom) to rid himself of the apparition.
I titled this work ‘Dexler’, and it would be the moment that the threads of The Wildermoor Apocalypse would begin to bind together. I wondered if I could introduce the phantom – ‘The Reaper’ – into the other stories somehow and, when I got the idea of The Reaper and the pit-dwelling monster being connected somehow, the story just started to fall into place in my mind.
Every day I thought about the story more and explored all of the possibilities, whether I was driving to or from work, or trying to close my eyes to sleep at night. Wildermoor could not seem to escape me or me from it.
With a shaky plan for my novel in mind, I decided to take the plunge, take on the challenge and sign up to take part in NaNoWriMo to write ‘Acolyte’.
As I mentioned, the main and only aim of NaNoWriMo is to encourage you to write 50,000 words in a month (this word count is considered to be the length required to be classed as a novel). I believe that throughout the event, I passed through three mind-states:
Firstly on November 1st, armed with all of the scrawling and notes that I had already amassed for ‘Pit’, ‘Season’ and ‘Dexler’ I was ready to take on the world. “50,000 words? In 30 days? No problem. Piece of cake!” It was this optimism that carried me through the first week or so, especially as the ideas were new and free-flowing, the characters were writing themselves and I felt good about my progress. Every night I would log onto the NaNaWriMo website and input my word count for the day and see my progress bar grow, giving me the push I needed to meet the following day head on. During my sleeping hours, new ideas were forming. In order to achieve the 50,000 word count and to help stay focussed, I broke this down to a daily world target of 1667 – harking back to my GCSE revision coaching that ‘bite size’ chunks are easier to digest. Within the first two weeks, I had reached around 30,000 words and was on a high!
Then came the second stage – the feeling that you are stuck halfway across a muddy field ankle deep and unable to move. I had reached a wall and well and truly run into it. The middle section of the book was where the story needed to transition, the plots that I had laid needed to move forward and start to tell what would become the ending. But I had no idea how to do this. I kept writing and writing, always chasing my daily word count and lost sight of the fact that it still had to remain relevant to the overall story and make sense. I could see my word count go up and felt good that I was steadily reaching the target, but now had no idea how the story was going to end.
It was at this point that I had to commit a sin to myself and take a couple of days break, to step back from my work and view it from a distance, to try and re-acquaint myself with the story that I was trying to tell.
“Are you mad?! You only had two weeks left; you can’t afford to take time out! Every day counts, remember?”
That’s all I could hear me telling myself each of these nights that I logged on and entered the same word count; evidence that I was in a slump and had lost my way.
It would have been very easy for me to give up at this point, to admit that I had taken on a task that was simply too big and that I wasn’t cut out to be a writer. What I didn’t realise was happening at the time, though, was that these two days break was giving my mind a chance to rest, clear and catch up with myself. Yes, it is a great thought that my book would just write itself and be seen one day in its raw and natural nature, but even my slap-dash seat-of-my-pants style needs a bit of moulding at times. I had two threads of the story – the 1684 and the 2002 ones – hanging loose with no apparent direction.
But by the time I was ready to continue writing after those two days, the idea just came to me whilst I was driving to work one morning: what if one character could be linked to both time periods but not yet know it? That would be the next phase and that would be what would lead my book over the finish line in the end.
Say hello to phase three…and welcome back optimism!
With a new idea, sense of direction and vigour I attacked the next two weeks, driven not only by my increasing word count and lengthening progress bar, but by the knowledge that I was creating something that I – and hopefully those around me – would be proud of. Having turned a corner in my creative process, ‘Acolyte’ was coming together nicely, the characters were interacting perfectly with the world around them and I had a clear idea of the ending that I was working towards.
Or so I thought.
THE FINAL BOSS
As I was writing the final scene, my old nemesis ‘word count’ and his sidekick ‘deadline day’ came marching proudly towards me, chests puffed and ready to give me a hard time. However, this time the roles were reversed – my story had come to life so much that I was going to struggle to finish it in time. At around 45,000 words I approached the final scene, which proved more challenging and more powerful than I had expected. I could not find a way to write my way out of it. The dialogue kept flowing but I felt further and further away from reaching the ending.
The scene is set in a cell, with a heated exchange between Truman Darke and Mason Stamford. I won’t say anymore as I do not wish to give anything away to those who have not read my book yet, but I am sure those who have, know the scene of which I speak. I also hope that the struggle I had trying to reach the climax of this part is not obvious.
Great, I thought. So close yet I felt so far from finishing my novel and achieving my goal. I still had so much more to tell and was rapidly running out of time.
That is when it finally dawned on me (again!) – NaNoWriMo does not set out to pressure you to write a great novel in only 50,000 words. It inspires you to write 50,000 words of a great novel. On my final night writing during NaNoWriMo – which was November 27th, if I remember rightly – I took a breath, let the final lines of this final chapter appear on the screen and smashed through the 50k barrier and could finally call myself a winner.
I went to bed happy that night, with a feeling that a huge weight had been lifted from my chest. At that point I had no idea that anyone would ever get to read my story, and merely planned to use my ‘2 free paperback copies’ prize that I had earned so that I could give a physical copy of it to my children one day.
Whatever would happen with ‘Acolyte’, I didn’t care at that moment. I had set out to create something from my own mind – a world in which I had lived for a whole month; morning and night – and could even soon be able to hold it in my hands.
Since NaNoWriMo, ‘Acolyte’ has taken on a whole new life. I stepped away from it throughout December and didn’t even have any intention of adding to the story. As far as I was concerned, I had left it at a strong point to set up the sequel, if I indeed wanted to write the rest of the trilogy. But my imagination had other ideas, and a better ending began to take shape. Throughout January, I added a further 20,000 words to the book and in February responded to a submissions ad on Facebook.
The ad belonged to Bloodhound Books. The rest of my own journey is still being written.
I was hoping to participate in NaNoWriMo 2015 but my newest novel ‘The Sowing Season’ would not wait that long. I am currently 40,000 words down on this book, but have set myself the same 50,000 word target throughout November to help me reach my target of having it written by Christmas.
For anyone wanting to participate in the event themselves, I can only say ‘do it’! Let it be the push you need to get your stories onto paper where they belong. If I am to impart any wisdom at all, however, I would say make the word count your friend. It should give you something to focus on and work towards But don’t let it become your sole focus; there’s no point having a 50,000-word novel if it makes no sense and doesn’t achieve anything that you want it to.
Don’t be afraid to pass the word count. If you have time to go and still more to write, smash through that barrier. If you find you can’t achieve it, so what? You’ve given it a go. It may just be the start that you need for your novel to grow in your own time.
I’d like to thank Chris for inspiring me to get cracking this November. How about joining in too?
First-time author Chris originally hailed from Basingstoke but moved to sunny Devon after graduating from Staffordshire University in 2005. he lives in Newton Abbot with his wife and twin children, and currently works as a logistics supervisor.
Chris cites James Herbert, Dean Koontzz, H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe amongst his literary heroes.
Being a fan of horror film and fiction, sci-fi and heavy metal, he naturally worked towards his own novel whilst writing three different short stories – all of which will have morphed in some way to form what will become ‘The Wildermoor Apocalypse’ trilogy.