Camp-2017-Participant-Profile-Photo“So I hate the book I just wrote!” I said on a prior blog.

That was just after I finished work on the first version of my current novel “In Limbo” . This is a book about a little girl whose father is accused of sexually abusing her, and the corrupt family court system has trouble doing anything to address the complaint.

At the core of the novel is the question of whether the father is innocent or guilty. My reaction to my first draft of this novel was the insight that what I’d written was just too dang bad! The plot lurched all over the place, the main character was fairly unpleasant, and the whole piece of work just rambled all over the pace.

Luckily, I stopped work on this novel at around 50,000 words. I can’t imagine what damage I might have done to myself had I continued on for another 50,000. Luckily, I knew when was the best time to give up!

So bottom line, what was the lesson learned?

Who knew that it was so difficult to write a book!

At this point, I’d like to report that I have made considerably more progress on this project, largely through the intervention of Camp Nanowrimo. Currently, for those who are interested, I am halfway through my first Camp Nanowrimo experience, probably the most advanced in age of all my fellow campers who appear to be primarily in their 20s and 30s.

To be honest, however, it isn’t quite right to say my first experience.

The fact is that last fall, without being aware of Camp Nanowrimo, I wrote my first version of my novel in the month of October, rather than November, using exactly the technique they recommend. That’s when I came up with the first draft of my book, which I immediately announced that I hated!

For those who are unaware of what I am talking about, let me clarify. There is Nanowrimo (short for National Novel Writing Month) which takes place every November and consists of participants spending the entire month in a marathon race to complete a 50,000 word novel by the end of the month.  In contrast, Camp Nanowrimo, which takes place in April and July, is considerably more flexible. There you can literally choose any project that you wish, and also choose any goal that you wish using any form of measurement you wish.

For instance, I have been using hours, but others have been using minutes, pages, words, etc. etc. Further, you can be flexible about those goals; so if it looks as though you might not be a winner because you set your sights to high, you can just change your goals halfway through to ensure that you are a winner.

Camp Nanowrimo also has the advantage of online cabins where you can discuss your project with several other writers who are going through the same process. Plus, there are additional perks such as virtual write ins, word sprints on twitter, and daily messages of encouragement from more experienced, published writers. If that isn’t enough to motivate you, I don’t know what will!

Of course, at my age, what I consider an experienced writer, is probably different from what other people might think.  I also want to mention that if you go onto Youtube there are hundreds of videos by Nanowrimo and Camp Nanowrimo participants guiding you on the details of undergoing the experience.  So the flood of tips, cautions, suggestions, hints, and guidance is a never-ending stream. No way are you going to get lost in the process with this kind of assistance.

At this point, I want to address myself to an issue that I’ve heard about repeatedly when I go to writer’s conferences, and of course, it came up again as I approached the second draft of my book at Camp Nanowrimo.   To be specific, if you go to a conference, it is inevitable that some writer will be called upon to weigh in on the question of whether he or she is a planner or a pantser.

From my angle as a newly minted novelist, there could not be a more stupid question.

Any writer who says that they write without planning in advance, or by engaging a plan immediately afterwards is an absolute liar.

I used to be fairly respectful of these conversations prior to writing my own book, but now that I’ve done it once, I want to tell you categorically that if you do not plan your book, or if you do not impose structure pretty quickly after each writing session, you will be listed on the long list of failed writers.

I don’t want to discourage any one of you, but facts are facts.

Any book that you have read that has in the least appealed to you, I can also assure you, has carefully undergone a very strict planning process. That is what is called craft. Without craft, you have nothing. Trust me.

Why do you think writers and industry insiders deceive you on this point?

I’d guess they want to have an extra filtering method to separate the truly invested writers from those who are dilettantes. It is literally impossible to write a good book without careful planning, bottom line. So anyone who says, “Well, I just wrote this book by the seat of my pants!” that person is trying to crack a joke on you, trust me.  I’ve said trust me twice, so seriously, seriously pay attention to what I am saying, please.

At every point in writing the second draft of my book, I have had to sketch out the chapters in advance, or return and impose structure in order to get it right. How many ways can I say that!

At this point, I am much further along than when I did my first draft of this book. My lesson learned is that even though I’ve been a long time reader from childhood, this experience has led me to understand writing elements such as point of view, character development, story arc, and momentum in an entirely new light. All of a sudden they have become living challenges to me in a way they weren’t before.

I still have a long way to go until I arrive at the end of the month and the completion of this second draft of my novel. But I am already planning on what is going to be involved in creating the third draft. Perhaps this will be the one I like or dare I say–love!


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