Prepping for NaNoWriMo

Time to post something official about Rad Bradbury: Empire State, seeing as it is my next novel. In fact, as NaNoWriMo starts in just under two weeks, that’ll be a good chance to get 50% of the book done – there’s nothing like a strict regimen of 1667 words a day and peer pressure from fellow writing friends taking part in the annual writing event to provide the motivation to get the words down!

I haven’t participated in NaNoWriMo before, although I have thought about it, mainly because something came up nearly every year which would make the daily schedule difficult to maintain. NaNo also has its detractors, I can see where they are coming from – for an agent or editor with a slush pile already reaching astronomical proportions, there is nothing worse than a million additional manuscripts coming in at the end of the year, the majority of which will be too short for publication anyway. It’s a distraction from those manuscripts already in the slush pile that are waiting for their turn to be read. And that’s the problem of NaNoWriMo – while it’s great to get people writing and thinking about writing, 50,000 words is not a novel. Definitions vary, but I’ve always set the threshold at 60,000 words, minimum, which might be a typical young adult book. For a debut novelist, 80,000 is more the norm, with science fiction and fantasy heading up to 100,000 words. 100,000 is what I aim for with my books. Of course these numbers are debatable, and you’ll find various suggested wordcounts for different genres and styles if you care to Google for it.

So if it’s not a novel, and if the potential for a lot of short, substandard (as in unedited, unrevised, un-beta-tested) manuscripts landing in already overflowing slush piles around the world, what’s the point of NaNoWriMo?

For me, this November’s challenge will be about getting back into a proper writing routine. When I’m on a roll, I can manage 3000 words a day. My target is usually 2000 words. So 1667 won’t be too bad, except I have spent the last couple of months trying to edit Dark Heart and haven’t really written much at all. But more on that later. For the moment, I need to get back into a solid, sustainable writing routine.

For people who haven’t written before, NaNo provides that motivation and impetus to start. And sure, 1667 words a day for a new writer is a huge number and is very scary. But so long as you remember that for one month it’s quantity over quality, and that this is only the start of your novel (not the whole novel), and that when the madness of November is over you can truck on and finish it without a deadline, and then let it rest before going back to edit it and write a second draft, perfect! NaNoWriMo might be the start of something wonderful.

Sunday, 1st November 2009, I’ll be writing the first 1667 words of Rad Bradbury: Empire State. I’ve decided to make this my third novel after spending a while thinking about my options for my steampunk series, which begins with Dark Heart (or The Devil in Chains, technically). I have planned this as an ongoing, open-ended series, with each book a standalone adventure, but with an over-arching linking theme. While it would be entirely possible to read the books in any order you like, Something Big happens in Dark Heart, which forms the basis for a plot thread in book two, Dreamweapon. The events of book three – The Computer King, to give it a temporary, work-in-progress title – relate directly to what happens at the end of Dreamweapon, although then the story goes off and does its own thing.

All well and good, except having written Dark Heart, and then my superhero novel Seven Wonders, is it necessarily the best idea to go straight back to the steampunk universe of Bellamy and Clarke with Dreamweapon? If Dreamweapon is linked to Dark Heart, does its sale depend upon the sale of Dark Heart? Or to put it another way, if my first three books are Dark Heart, Seven Wonders, and Dreamweapon, I’d have three novels written but only two to sell (Dark Heart and Seven Wonders). But, on the other hand, if my first three books are Dark Heart, Seven Wonders and Rad Bradbury: Empire State, I’d have three novels written and three to sell.

Now, this is oversimplifying things and quite possibly over-thinking them as well. Talk of sales and the like are premature, and to be thinking about this in too much detail is just wasting my time. A lot of debut writers (especially in fantasy and science fiction) do start with multi-book series, and I should be writing what I want to write rather than what I think I should be writing. That way lies madness and (possibly more importantly) failure. The most important thing to do is write well. If the stories are good, then everything else will follow.

So having said that, why no Dreamweapon? The answer is simple because when I came up with the idea for Rad Bradbury: Empire State, it excited me, and I couldn’t wait to plot it and write it. It’s a complex story, and for the last month I’ve been battling with an outline (thankfully I discovered VoodooPad which is making world building a lot easier) in order to start writing in November. Dreamweapon is plotted and I like the story and but it won’t hurt for it to sit in the drawer for a bit. Besides which, I haven’t finished editing Dark Heart yet, and would prefer to get that book done and dusted before moving on the sequel, just in case something major changes that impacts future books in the series.

Rad Bradbury: Empire State is a standalone science fiction fantasy pulp detective noir adventure. Which sounds immensely silly. For NaNo I’ve picked “fantasy” as the genre. Which doesn’t quite fit, but it’s more appropriate than “science fiction”.

Stay tuned!