What I Learned From Nanowrimo 2017

Victory manhattans with the husband at Burgerstand.

Scroll down for an (unedited) excerpt from Sparkle & Shine, this year’s Nanowrimo!

Going into nanowrimo this year, I had three goals.

  1. To win
  2. To write everyday in November
  3. To have a complete first draft by the end of the month.

Not to pat my own back or anything, but I totally rocked each of these goals. *pops champagne cork* I might have only written something like 300 words on Thanksgiving, but I still wrote every damn day.

On the whole, I averaged about 2000 words a day, which is double what I’ve been doing–and is not exactly sustainable long term. I’m glad I know I can do it, but writing was done to the exclusion of almost everything else. Finishing a manuscript, even if it’s just a first draft, in 30 days takes a single-minded focus that often left me scrambling to make sure everyone had clean clothes, and my husband taking on more than his fair share of the household chores.

I am not new to this whole writing thing–this was my 5th novel. (Nevermind that 2 and 4 are incomplete first drafts. 2, my second nanowrimo win will likely stay as is in all it’s incomplete 50,000 word glory. 4, last year’s unfinished nanowrimo will be getting the full treatment after the holidays. I have been dying to finish it for a year. It’s a romance that centers around a haunted house, because it’s fiction and I can.) This was also my 3rd nanowrimo win, and while meeting each of my challenges wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, it wasn’t easy either.

Writing everyday isn’t comfortable.

Composing a new story from scratch takes effort.

But when it came to deciding whether to write everyday or stare at my phone or knit or make that holiday soap I keep putting off making, the choice was easy. Of course I was going to write. Writing is way more fun than all that other stuff, even on the days that it’s painful–and that was a huge revelation to me.

So, onto What I Learned, Already:

  1. Writing fiction is more fun than anything else.
  2.  Perfume Genius is amazing. (Thanks, C!) No Shape was the soundtrack to most of Sparkle & Shine, which I feel is more than appropriate.
  3. I probably can’t write with this much intensity all the time, which draws out my overly ambitious revision and writing schedule just a tad, but maybe that’s OK.
  4. While I’m still querying agents, I’m more open to the idea of self-publishing. I like the idea of doing a bit of both, which I can admit, I used to be enough of snob to never ever want to think about self-publishing.
  5. I have zero desire to do freelance work. I dabble in it every now again to earn a few extra dollars, but honestly, I’d rather put the effort into my own work and figure out how that’s going to pay me rather than getting distracted by writing and editing things for others.
  6. 30 days is about all I can give in full-steam-ahead mode before I’m due for a refueling break. November has been a rewarding month, but also an exhausting one. I am rewarding myself with a manhattan, a whole stack of new romance novels, a nap, and maybe a cookie.

 

Now, onto the excerpt. This is what a shitty first draft looks like.

 

Sparkle & Shine

Chapter One

Alex Stafford was at the end of her rope. She’d just spent twelve hours in the studio at the University of Kansas perfecting her bezel settings, and her nerves were fried. She needed pizza and tequila, and idealistically, a good lay. But since Ben, her ersatz boyfriend had been MIA for the last two weeks as he also finished his own final projects, Alex would have to settle for pizza and tequila and the vibrator in her nightstand.

She flipped through the mail while she waited for the pizza to arrive. Alex hadn’t checked it all week long, so there was a stack a mile high. She found a coupon for the pizza she’d ordered halfway through, and wondered if she could convince the delivery guy to accept it when she happened upon the only important piece of mail in the whole lot.

Juliet’s wedding invitation.

Alex was the maid of honor, so of course she was invited. She’d helped plan half the fucking wedding. She’d been the one who picked out the invitations because Juliet claimed she couldn’t look at one more scrap of lacy burlap, but here it was, physical proof that her former best friend was actually getting married.

“Former’ was completely accurate of course. Alex and Juliet were still good friends–they just weren’t friends like they had been before Alex had screwed up royally and slept with Juliet’s ex boyfriend, repeatedly, for two and half months.

Bad Romance

At one point in the original Gilmore Girls series, someone says to Lorelai, “You like movies right?”

And Lorelai’s reply is “Good, bad, and in between.”

Ladies and Gents, that is how I feel about the subtle art that is the romance novel. There are good romance novels (anything by Rachael Herron is fantastic, for instance), and there are the bad (Fifty Shades of Grey, I’m looking at you), and there is a whole lot of in between. Folks, I have read them all–well, a lot of them anyway, and I am not in any way ashamed.

So here’s the thing. I feel like I shouldn’t need to say, “I’m not ashamed.” But when I tell people that I read and write romance novels, a lot of the times they look at me, and their mouths are saying, “Oh that’s great!” but the slant of the eyebrows and the tilt of their head is really saying, “Huh, I thought you were smart.”

Guess which one is louder?

I won’t argue about how a good romance novel is some of the most intense, character driven, real shit you’ll ever read. And if you’re going to argue that the main reason romance novels suck is because they are marketed toward bored housewives, we’re not going to make much headway. I’m not here to convince you to take up the romance novel. If you’re not a believer, I won’t be able to convince you, and that’s fine.

What I’m more interested in is the romance novel audience–an audience primarily made up of women, reading about women. And in a good romance novel, that woman usually has to confront some hard shit, and it is liberating and empowering, because she finds a strength inside herself she’d been denying. Lesser quality romances are usually plagued with some pattern of dude bro heroes holding up the patriarchy and the heroines deciding that for some reason, the patriarchy totally turns them on. Gross.

It was a forgone conclusion well before I settled into romance that any work of fiction I penned would be feminist. In a genre that might be a young woman’s first real safe place to explore the idea of her sexuality, that it’s OK to feel desire, a feminist interpretation is more important than ever.

Because I say there are good romances, and bad romances, I don’t necessarily mean the quality of the writing, though they usually go hand in hand. No, what I mean by “bad romance” is the romanticizing of abusive, obsessive behavior from both men and women. There is a prominence for characterizing relationships as such, especially from contemporary indie authors, that I find disturbing.

You guys, it is not OK to to represent abusive relationship as normal. It just isn’t. Yeah, I’ve read them, and it’s like watching a train wreck happen. I have to know how the author resolves this horrible situation, and it usually isn’t to my liking. The heroine almost always is the (anti)hero’s fix at some cost to herself, and the only thing they have going for themselves is their desperate obsession with one another. That isn’t romantic. It’s scary as hell.

What I mean to say by all of this, is that when I say I’m writing romance novels, I’m striving toward the earth shattering, character-driven, feminist approach…and maybe I tend to tweet a lot about bad habits of bad romance writers when I’m reading one of those books.

I’d like to start a discussion about your favorite romances, about heroines that make good role models, and premises that make you want to vomit, and why all of these stories matter.

Stay tuned.