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On Prewriting: The Story of GODS TOMORROW

You may or may not have missed it, but I didn’t post a Tech Writing series this week (Sunday-Tuesday). That wasn’t deliberate — and I apologize for ending last week’s series with a promise of information that didn’t get delivered. I’ll probably go ahead and post that series next week.

That’ll probably be the last Tech Writing series for a while, though. I’ve decided, between class and self-publishing and NaNoWriMo-fast-approaching, I just don’t have time to prepare two series every week. I’ve been missing deadlines for the last month or so, and it’s only going to get worse.

And…some of you might argue, but I doubt the Tech Writing series will be terribly missed. I think they’re valuable, but they’re not as fun to read and not as fun to write…and, at the end of the day, my heart’s just not in it. I’ll revisit that in the spring, but for the rest of 2010, I wouldn’t expect any more lectures on templates and styles.

Now, as far as Creative Writing stuff goes…I’ve still got lots to say on that topic. I mentioned up above NaNoWriMo and self-publishing, and those are likely going to dominate the new for the next month or two. Today, I want to tell a story that involves both.

It starts way back in the summer of 2008, following my fantastic family experience with our first NaNoWriMo, and with a second one fast approaching, I knew I didn’t have a clue what I was going to write about. I’d toyed with a couple ideas, but none of them really gelled. I was pretty much resigned to just doing a rewrite of one of the novels I’d finished in the summer of ’07 (which isn’t in the spirit of NaNoWriMo at all).

Then, in August, I was driving up to Wichita with Dan, and we killed the time talking philosophy (as we’ve been doing for nearly two decades now). The topic that came up was morality, hashing over tired old topics like, “Can you have a real moral system without accepting an objective, universal good and evil?”

I think I was the one who started down the path of accountability. My thinking was that most religious morality systems are based on a premise of a God (or a universal power like Karma) that is aware of everything you do, and ultimately holds you accountable for your actions, even if human justice can’t.

And that idea overlapped with another topic we’d discussed earlier — the obsolescence of privacy in the face of modern technology. And I asked, fascinated, “What if we’re approaching a point in time when morality can be based on total accountability within immediate timeframes and without an external force? What if we’re getting to a time when we can monitor and punish or reward all human behavior solely within human systems? What would that do to religion? What would that do to society?”

We discussed the idea for half an hour or so before moving on to something else, but it lingered in my mind.

In September, my dad and sisters and I got together for a Pogue Family Writing Retreat, where we discussed each other’s works from NaNoWriMo ’07 and tried to get ourselves psyched up for NaNoWriMo ’08. I sheepishly admitted I didn’t really have anything to work on, but then before the end of them weekend I told them about this silly idea I’d been toying with.

It was an off-shoot of that conversation with Dan — a detective story set in a future where technological surveillance tracked every human action, but the truly rich and powerful were still able to scrub their records clean and get away with murder. I still wasn’t sure what the actual story was, but they all thought the core concept was awesome, and we spent an hour or two brainstorming details. Still, by the time I left the retreat, I’d settled on a different story idea — one I’d been working on for four years — and decided I would write that, and save this new idea until I had more to work with.

In October, I followed the same pre-writing process I’d prepared for October of ’07, and tried to figure out all the details of this four-year-old story. It was easy enough to fill in the blanks, but I had trouble getting engaged with it, because it wasn’t what I wanted to work on.

My mind kept drifting to this completely new idea, half-formed, and eventually I just gave in and started over from scratch. In nine days, I did a month’s worth of prewriting on this two-month-old idea, and still was nowhere near ready to get started. I didn’t even have a protagonist!

In November, though, I had a job to do. NaNoWriMo didn’t care if I had a protagonist. I needed to write 1,667 words a day, regardless, and I sat down and did it. Two pages into my story and fresh out of a much-needed haircut, I made up a POV character who looked like the girl who cuts my hair. I even gave her the same name (although it changed by the time I got to chapter eight). Just like that, I had a character.

And I had a setting. I had an awesome setting (and the setting was the premise), so I threw Karen into it and watched to see what happened.

A Schedule

Thirty days and 68,000 words later, I emerged with Gods Tomorrow. Trish says it’s the best book I’ve ever written, and I’m inclined to agree. It’s a true NaNoWriMo novel, too. Totally unplanned and accomplished in a desperate frenzy, it grew into something incredible.

This week I want to talk about prewriting and the NaNoWriMo frenzy. It all comes down to having a writing schedule, and with another hectic NaNoWriMo approaching (and another months-old and barely-developed idea demanding my attention), I appreciate those little bits of structure more than ever. Come back tomorrow, and I’ll share a bit of it with you.

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