It’s November, it’s the end of the accident season, we’re safe for another year.
I wrote the first words of The Accident Season on the first of November five years ago. It wasn’t my first year participating in NaNoWriMo, but it was the first year I got this funny half-a-thought somewhere part of the way through. A thought that said: I have a good feeling about this.
I fell so fast in love with writing it I barely had time to breathe – and there’s not a lot of room for deep breathing during NaNoWriMo in the rush of a thousand and a half words a day every day for thirty days – I raced from start to finish in six weeks and finished, dizzy, lovestruck and hopeful, halfway through December. I spent six months revising it before I sent the manuscript to agents. I revised it three more times before I signed the publishing deal. I revised the whole thing nine times in total (including copyedits and US-specific edits) before it went to print.
It’s a good thing I was so in love with it.
Usually, this is how I write: I have an idea, a thought, a kernel of story. I have a couple characters, maybe, floating around in my head from things I wrote when I was younger. I have some images I want to include, an energy, a mood. I have nothing else but my fingers on the keys.
When I sat down to write The Accident Season I had Elsie. I had mousetraps and butterfly nets, flypaper on the trees. I had a main character who was in love with someone she wasn’t supposed to be in love with. I had tarot cards in the school canteen. I had a bonfire in an abandoned house. I had an idea of the dreamy darkness I wanted to write, the magic realism, the slipperiness of reality and fantasy. I had no idea how I was going to thread it all together to make a story.
But I think writing is somewhere between a kind of magic and a kind of madness. When I sat down on the first of November to make a story about all of the little images and thoughts above, the first thing that came out was, It’s the accident season, the same time every year. And it kind of all just went from there.
Usually, this is how I write: the first draft is chaos. There’s no other way to word it. The first draft is a mess of thoughts and ideas that go nowhere, half-formed moments and too many characters. It’s a storm of metaphors. It has no plot. It exists only to get gutted.
NaNoWriMo is perfect for writers like me. But it’s also perfect, I imagine, for writers who over-plan, who over-edit, who never get to the end because they want everything to be perfect the first time around. Nothing is ever perfect the first time around. If you’re anything like me, the first time around is absolute rubbish. But it’s supposed to be. I love NaNoWriMo because it’s a fantastic first step to making a book out of a story.
When I wrote the first draft of Spellbook of the Lost and Found it wasn’t November and I was on deadline. Actually, I was several months past deadline. (Having a baby six weeks before a book tour will do that to you.) But I used the basic principles of NaNoWriMo to blurt out the first draft. I didn’t fall in love with this one. It was a rough, rocky scramble to write those words down. I didn’t fall in love with this one until several difficult drafts later. I’m telling you this because I used to think you had to fall in love with your writing, that it was the only way you’d stick with it. I’m telling you this so that if you happen to come across this post midway through November and the book you started to write is a lead weight around your ankles and you just want to sink down with it – don’t. Stick with it. You might not have fallen in love with it yet, but you will. After the relief of getting to the end of the story, and of carving the whole mess of a mouthful into something you can stand to look at, you’ll fall in love with it. I did. If it’s meant to be your story it’ll bloody well mould itself into one. Mine did.
I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo this year, and it’s not because I amn’t writing a book. It’s because I’m writing my third book in a very different way to my first two. I’m planning. I’m plotting. I’m doing research. I’m taking notes. I’m trying something new. I don’t know that it’ll work. I don’t know that the story will follow the plan. But this is a slightly different kind of book that needs a slightly different approach, I think. I’m interested in this process. I’m interested in documenting how it goes. So: for now, I’m plotting. I’m planning. I’m fifteen thousand words in and I’m crying every morning over the research I’m reading and I’ve fallen fast in love with my story and I’m really excited about how I’m going to tell it. Slowly. With more time to breathe.
But to everybody taking part in NaNoWriMo this November, I salute you. Breathe deep, drink tea, roll out your wrists. Light candles when it gets dark. Dream of your characters. Don’t look back, just keep telling your story. If you aren’t in love with it now, you will be.