Story Struggles

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For many people, Camp NaNoWriMo is something of an easier NaNoWriMo. I’ve actually recommended it to many authors who struggle with NaNoWriMo as an alternative. It takes place twice a year, April and July, so the writer can choose the month that’s most convenient for them (for me, it’s usually April, but I sometimes do both). The writer can set their own word count goal, so if you’re just trying to create a habit of writing regularly and want to set a goal of 20,000 words, you can do that and no camper worth their keyboard will judge you. Many NaNo veterans use Camp NaNo as a way to finish their manuscript from NaNoWriMo, and I’ve done the same.

This year, however, I went for challenge. 50,000 words isn’t really a novel, after all. That’s still more of a novella.  So, instead I tried for 70,000. I set a daily word count of about 3,000 a day, because I don’t write on Sundays. But that was not actually the difficult part. The difficult part was that soon after I started writing, my story decided to play Hogwarts staircase and change its direction in my head–in a way that I was unable to change on screen without losing thousands of words.

This is not the first time I’ve had this issue with the work in progress that I lovingly call The Self-Indulgent Pirate Adventure Story or The Pirate WIP for short. I started it during NaNoWriMo 2014. My main motivation was to write something fun and adventurous with lady pirates and my favorite sappy pirate trope: ruthless pirate captain forms a tentative friendship with a disgruntled kid (whatever you’re thinking, my main inspiration was actually an episode of Once Upon a Time back in season two when I still watched it and some of the characters I loved were still around).  Although I happily embrace the semblance to Treasure Island now that I’ve read Robert Louis Stevenson brag about how his novel was to be “a story for boys…women were excluded.” So, sure. Treasure Island with women and people of color and magic and a girl who is the map rather than possesses the map. And a different plot because I don’t want to actually just adapt Treasure Island.

But the plot keeps eluding me. This is the third draft I’ve written of the story–each one as messy as the last–because each time it’s taken a different direction. I changed the crew around. I changed the perspectives around. I changed the girl’s ability and the system of government. There’s one character who has been dead soon after the beginning in some drafts and the main villain in other drafts.  And now I’ve changed how the girl comes to be on the ship (voluntarily and insistently, rather than accidentally), which changes her dynamic with the crew and therefore much of the course of the story. Each time it changes, my writer brain gets excited. It imagines it feels some magical click and it tells me, “This is the one! This is how this story is going to be!” But realistically, I think I’ll probably get several more change-arounds before I can actually work on polishing up a somewhat solid story.

These are the moments when I start to feel really doubtful about a future as a writer. What if this is all I can do? I wonder. What if I’ll always be changing my story around and starting over and never actually find something that works? There’s a logical part of me that knows that all the changes and starting over is something that comes with being a writer. I also wonder, though, if it’s something I struggle with more than I should, if for some reason I’m not capable of writing a cohesive story. Or maybe I just need to work on this story during a month when I’m not speedwriting so I can take my time with it.

If I’m not capable of writing a story that sticks, I’m at least capable of writing quickly. This morning, I had 7,000 words left to write before I won Camp NaNo. I took a trip to the Southwest Regional Library, one of my favorite places in the world to write, unfortunately situated in the otherwise depressing Valley Station. (Seriously, though, look at those pictures. It’s so pretty!) Every thousand words or so (skipping a couple because I was really in the moment), I checked out a book as a way to reward myself. I ended up with 70,032 words and a stack of books that looked like this:

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Illuminae is up first, per Ara’s suggestion when I told her my idea for a space opera and said I needed to read further in that genre. (Don’t worry, The Pirate WIP isn’t going away; I have a rotation system that’s very strange and meticulous and won’t be explained here for self-preservation.) Sci-fi, especially set in space, has never been my strong suit, so I’m a little apprehensive about this project, but I’m excited, too. Mostly out of love for the characters and the big, gorgeous spaceship library that I have in my head. Of the two space-y books that I actually own, my favorite is another Amie Kaufman book this time written with Meagan Spooner: These Broken Stars. So, I think I’m probably in good hands here when it comes to genre research. Illuminae is creative (told through interviews, hacked documents, messages, etc.), and the page designs are just lovely. I’ve yet to read anything like it and I’m excited.

But for the rest of the weekend, I think I’m taking a break from fickle, finicky stories. I’m going to curl up with some coffee, listen to the Oh Hellos, watch Critical Role and give my little writer brain a break.

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