We all get by with a little help from our friends.
One of the things that I’ve gotten from National Novel Writing Month is writing friends: a whole passel of them. The first time I did the challenge, I was on a self-funded sabbatical (translation: I’d quit my ex-job and was working on my own stuff for once.) I went to write-ins, experienced the disorienting effects of internet access at home for the first time, and plotted my novel as I wrote it.
Then I went my own way, having doubts about the idea of joining any of the groups that had formed around the event. I was leery of writers’ groups, having had very bad experiences for the most part: from the ones that never really properly coalesced, to the sniping about my subject matter, to the group that one member used to develop her own work and then cut loose because it “wasn’t feeding her anymore”…
I did read other people’s novels, including a family saga set in Chicago, written by a very ambitious 16-year-old in New South Wales, Australia.
The next year, I did a bit more pre-planning, went to plot-ins, and then organized two write-ins myself. That year’s novel didn’t get finished either, in large part because 64,500 words was about a third of the story arc, and the seriousness of the material scared me. (Who was I to write an epic spanning 150 years and taking on American slavery, the eugenics movement, the Nazi genocides, and the latest reincarnation of scientific racism?) I started hanging out with the MnNaNo writers’ group, a multi-genre aggregation of writers who participate in NaNo, including the local wrinkle on the general giddiness, a 28-hour writing tour. I learned that productive writers don’t put on nearly the attitude of unproductive ones, and that I’m safer with those who declare themselves Pulp and Proud.
Thanks to the 30-day character questionnaire (listed in a previous post), last year’s NaNo had a complete story arc, and my writing buddies both in-person and on-line, read it and offered helpful feedback. This was the first time that I had handed a manuscript over to other people to read… in simply years. I learned that The Shape-shifter’s Tale struck chords with a tremendous variety of readers, from Jerusalem to Texas to Minneapolis. My readers found it worth their time and attention, even in a raw first draft, and I learned that the demons say the same thing to me every time I share a manuscript: “This one is terrible and everyone will hate it and you will mortally offend them and they will never speak to you again.”
Not that noting this makes the demon shut up, but at least I’ve learned something of its wily ways.
The very best writing buddies are the ones with whom I stand around for two hours in the rain, on a work-night, after they kick us out of the cafe where we meet. We’ve since moved the sidewalk seminar indoors on Saturday afternoons, where cookies and strong coffee can be added to the mix, and this year we actually read preparatory material to each other. As a result, this year’s NaNo is more heavily plotted than any I’ve yet done, but I’m still finding fresh things in it. I have confidence that it’s a real story, a good story, no matter what the stupid demon says.
For example, today at lunch I met my heroine’s cat, Freya, who thinks that being named after a mere goddess is a little insulting.
And I can’t wait to see what my buddies will conjure out of empty air. That makes December at least as exciting as November. I think of the mutual beta-reading as the best holiday present ever, from one writing friend to another.
On the second day of National Novel Writing Month, I’m lifting a glass to my writing and reading buddies: This is for you…
… and in particular: RamonaSylvia, Devin Harnois, my Brain Sister aka clarke.kent, Swallow, Truant, Bas-Bleu, Mreauow, and Anise.