More on Criticism, Confusion and NaNoWriMo Nausea

Last week’s post about handling criticism struck a chord with many Storyfix readers.  It should — we all get it, and we all get to decide what to do about it.

If you’d like more on this subject, this time from a fine artist’s point of view, here are three essays on the subject from best-selling photographer and author, Alain Briot, entitled Understanding Criticism.

Here are the links: Part 1Part 2 … and Part 3.  Good stuff.

Stuck in the Middle?

Remember that song, by Steelers Wheel from the early1970s?  (The group included a guy named Gerry Rafferty, who went on to a nice solo career after SW broke up).  You might if you’re an old fart like me (after the October series I can’t get the tune out of my head)…

… and if you’re literally stuck in the middle of your NaNoWriMo draft, you’ll definately relate, at least to one particular line:

Tryin’ to make some sense of it all… but I can see it makes no sense at all…

It happens.  Frequently, in fact, if you start writing a draft without knowing: a) how the story will end, b) who your hero is and will become, and/or c) how to launch the story with an effective plot point that comes after an equally effective series of set-up scenes.

So now you’re stuck. 

Or at least slowed.

I’ve heard from some of you to this effect, and while I take no pleasure in any sort of I-told-y0u-so posturing… well, here it is: I told you so.  This is what happens when you begin a draft that is without a vision for these particular things, among a handful of other criteria.  Such a non-planning, organic draft is, in essence, a form of story-search, and only when you find it (whether because of that draft, or because of any pre-draft story planning), can you write a draft that actually works

Or perhaps, as you sit there stuck, feels like it has a shot at working.

So what now? 

My best advice is to stop right where you are and analyze what you’ve got, with an emphasis on why you feel stuck.  Chances are it’ll be because the story isn’t clinging to a solid linear flow directed toward a vision for a killer ending, that it’s rambling a bit and you find yourself writing more about characters that giving them something meaninful to do.

No writing is ever wasted.  If you’re stuck, then what you’ve written is useful as a launching pad toward discovery of what you should have written.  You’ve vetted and test-flown some of your ideas, and now you know you need a new engine, or at least a new paint job. 

Use this experience to move forward in a more informed, directed way.  There’s plenty of days remaining to finish a draft that works.

This process — story discovery by drafting — works fine if you have two things: knowledge and time.  But you certainly don’t have the latter on your side at this point, which means that without a plan for your story going forward, whether that exists on paper or in your head, come November 30th you’ll end up with the same pit in your stomach that you’re feeling now.

So stop writing.  Right now.  Change gears.  Write smart, not fast.

Take stock of what you’ve got and create a plan for how the book should and will end.  A solid plan.  Evaluate your pages thus far and juxtapose them against this new plan, and then make some notes on what you must do to them later to make them fit into the new story vision. 

Then get busy and write the rest of the book.

You may have a finished book that could be a revision away — to the previous pages… no time to fix them now, and no need if you go forward with a solid story vision, they’ll be waiting for a facelift beginning on December 1 — from being a story that is worth your further attention.

A huge temptation — and a fatal misstep — would be to combine your existing pages, the ones that are making your feel uneasy, with the forthcoming planned pages in the belief that you’ve just saved the story, and that you’re done.  Chances are you haven’t… the first half of a book needs to be written in context to the ending as much as the second half.

Whatever gets you there.  As long as you understand what “there” means in this context.

Another reason you might be feeling quesy when you look at your keyboard… that Big Idea you started with turned out to be something less than as-advertised.  Just remember, the concept doesn’t have to be wildly original or strong if your characters and themes are… and vice versa. 

Again, break it down to identify what isn’t working (and what you’ll come back to with a CPR kit), then finish the novel from your new narrative context. 

If you’d like a NaNoWriMo 101 refresher…

..a reminder that I’ve collected the entire October planning series in a new ebook, “When Every Month is NaNoWriMo,” and it’s available now.  It includes the many linked reference posts from the series in full, as well as an entire award-winning novel to help illustrate what goes where, and why.  Click HERE to get your Kindle copy… HERE for a downloadable PDF… pretty cheap, too.

I hope you’re enjoying the experience, and I’m wishing you great success.

Which, as you know if you’re been reading here, has little to do with simply finishing a rock pile of 50,000 words and everything to do with birthing a story that has a future.


(Thanks to my good friend Dennis Damore for the Critiscism links.)


Filed under NaNoWriMo

6 Responses to More on Criticism, Confusion and NaNoWriMo Nausea

  1. Still plugging away and a few thousand words ahead of schedule, which I’ll admit tickles me pink. 🙂 Have experienced a few days of floundering, mostly due to historical context and needing to research more than I had prepared ahead of time. This is my first attempt at writing a historical and I /thought/ I was well read on the region/era ahead of time. HA! So many little details…

    I’ve done well at following my pre-planned storyline. I made one huge change regarding POV, but I like it much better this way, so that’s good.

    To date, this has been a good challenge for me, especially from the aspect of discipline. I can always use help in that area… *sigh*

  2. Beckie

    I’m not so much stuck as a little worried. Everything is coming along beautifully. I’m in love with my characters and the discoveries I’ve made about them along the way. The plot is moving through the phases I’ve have planned. I’m ready to hit my first plot point and realized I’m at 25,000 words. My goal is not to stop at 50,000 but to reach it by the 30th and even more importantly have a solid piece of work when I’m finished. My genre is junior fiction fantasy and I’ve read it should be at about 80,000 words. I know the first point needs to be 1/4 of the way into the story. Can a Junior fiction piece be closer to the 100,00 mark and still be considered “junior”, or is that too long? The first part of my work is solid with back stories, the stakes and why the first plot point will be an impact. I worry that if I cut out any of it and the f.p.p. happens the readers will ask “Why should we even care?”
    Sorry, I know this is a little off topic but I wanted to ask 🙂

  3. I’m sorry, fellow old fart, I’m stuck in the middle with you!” The best part? I like country music. So, the fact that I thought of the song before I realized you were talking about, i.e. instantly, means that, yeah, I guess I’m old too!

    That’s okay, us old people are in good company. 🙂

    I’m stuck. But, I have my ending. I just don’t know how I’m going to give these guys interesting things to do while they’re getting there!

    I’m passionate about my ending, for many reasons, not the least of which is that whole, “I can’t wait to KILL that character!” Blood thirsty? Well, I know I’m not alone with this, so don’t think I’m a lunatic… too much. 😉

    NaNoWriMo is a failure for me this year… if you follow the rules. BUT, I have something better — organization instructions that needed to be digested and understood. That is what NaNo is for me this year.

    I haven’t written much but I somehow feel more accomplished in spite of that. I talk too much, sorry. 🙂

  4. @Becky — those are great questions and concerns, it shows you understand the purpose of the set-up scenes and the reason the FPP happens where it does. This “compression” (a kinder word than “cut” sometimes) is always challenging. For me, it’s easier when I’ve finished and then look back… so maybe do that, even if you hit 100K words, then (because everything will be solid) you’ll have a more informed context to cut and compress, which you should (that 80K target is pretty rigid, I think, even shorter would be better). For me, sometimes its amazing what I’ll find that is “cuttable” that, at the time, seems sacred. Congrats on “getting it” so well, Becky.

  5. @Evelyn — I think that knowing your ending (and loving it) is the key to solving the other problem… how to get there. Because now you know what the hero must conquer, what she must face, and because of the intermediary milestones (FPP, first pinch point, Mid-point, second pinch point, 2ndPP), you can conceive them with less risk because of that solid ending. It’s never easy, but it’s a process that will lead you there. Hang in there, it’ll happen. Congrats on assimilating the model and the process, that’s huge… you’re already a NaNoWriMo winner on that count alone.

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