Last November, I participated in NaNoWriMo. I was super motivated. I thought this could be the thing that finally pushed me to finish an idea I'd been kicking around in my head for several years. But then some personal stuff cropped up that caused me to abandon the novel after I'd only written about 15,000 words.
But if I'm being brutally honest with you, I put that book on hold not just because I was hurting (my husband and I very nearly divorced), but because I couldn't handle my own story's complexity. It needed so much world building and I'd never written a novel before, much less invented an entire universe within the framework of one. I've written before about how much I enjoy simple stories, but mine was anything but.
So I set my book aside and promised myself that I would come back to it again one day. I still liked my idea. I just didn't know how to write it.
In the meantime, I worked on my marriage. For the first time in what had been over two years (pretty much since we moved to North Carolina), we got on the same page again. The things we wanted and how we wanted to get there started to re-align. It was a relief to us both. With the worst of that behind us, some normalcy returned and I started to read and write again.
According to my records, I began writing a new book on January 2. This one was going to be different. I'd thought about it and I'd decided that my NaNoWriMo project had failed because it had been far too complex when I still hadn't learned basic story writing techniques, like how to build plot and move characters quickly from conflict to conflict without getting bogged down in excessive scene setting. How to build tension and give characters motivation that caused them to act in believable ways. If you can't write these basic components of a story, it doesn't matter how good an idea you might have.
So on January 2, I made a conscious decision. This next book would be my practice novel. I had no literary aspirations for it. In fact, I aspired to just the opposite. I wanted to write what amounted to a paperback book you'd buy at the grocery store. It would be a simple romance story, nothing more.
Why romance? I don't know. I was originally trying to write a science fantasy epic for NaNoWriMo and it was so hard for me. Romance seemed easier. Everyone likes love and sex; that made it simpler to develop characters. The genre helped define their motivation.
I set it in modern day D.C. because I know the city and its neighborhoods. I know exactly how the characters could move from location to location, the kind of people they could expect to meet, and what kinds of jobs they'd have. Not that I wanted to spend any time at all on the background, just that I knew enough concrete details about the city to set the story without getting lost in establishing that kind of information. The opposite of world building, basically.
I limited the number of characters to five main players. There were a few supporting characters here and there, but most of the action was tied up between these five people, with three of them really pushing the action.
And I had an idea, a little twist, that kept the whole thing from being too generic.
I did my usual writing routine; getting up early each morning to clock in ~1000 words a day. And I just kept writing. I never stopped or reread anything more than a few paragraphs back to help me get restarted each day. I tried to end each writing session on a hanging note, so I'd feel motivated the next morning to finish the scene. I never stopped writing unless I knew exactly what was going to happen next and made my notes accordingly. I left blanks to later fill with details I couldn't at that moment visualize. I just refused to let dumb shit bog me down. Forward and onward, that was my motto.
End result? I finished my novel yesterday. My first, honest to god novel, done. It's a practice novel to be sure. It's rough as hell and will need a lot of editing. There's at least one chapter that I think is going to need a decent rewrite. But I did it. 54,256 words. It took me three months instead of one, but I never thought NaNoWriMo was that realistic anyway (see NaNoWriMo - you are drunk).
I'm really proud of myself. For years, I thought I couldn't do it and I'm happy to have proved myself wrong. I can write long stories. If I've done it once, I could do it again.
The only people who know about my book include my husband, my therapist, and now you kids. My therapist asked if I would try and publish it. I told her, yeah, I'd probably stick it on Amazon Kindle with no other ambitions for it than that. She asked if I'd publish it under my name, and that question got a resounding NO. No way. Sorry. I was raised by literary snobs. I am a literary snob. Even if I love all kinds of genre stories, there's no way I'd ever publish a silly little romance novel under my own name.
Plus, I didn't write this for anyone but me. I don't need my friends' or family's approval. I just wanted proof that I could write a coherent novel-length story and I did. Now I'm going to edit it and see if I can get it into readable shape. And if it passes my BS test, then I'll publish it on Amazon for fun. We'll see.
Anyway. The practice novel. I'm a fan.
Have you written a practice novel?
Writing, editing, and doing science when I feel like it. Just a book without a genre.