I’ve been working, on and off, on a mystery novel through the summer, as I’ve posted before. It’s coming along (about 5,000 words written that I haven’t thrown out already), but the writing is slow because, ultimately, I’m kind of unhappy with my outline, etc. etc. It’s stalled.
I had been thinking about doing NaNoWriMo, as a way of breaking that logjam. It occurred to me last night, though, that if I do NaNo for the novel I’ve been working on, 1) I’ll be cheating, and 2) it will probably still be stalled for the same reasons, and forcing myself to write may or may not help. (I’m willing to hear arguments against this, though!)
So last night I decided to lay out the five novel ideas that I already have. Three are Crandall novels: “Where Do They Bury the Survivors?”, “Midnight Train”, and “Down Came a Blackbird”, two of which are expansions of shorter stories I’ve already written. A fourth is a dark little hard SF story tentatively titled “Alone,” about a failed mission to Mars. The fifth, well, it was just a slip of an idea for a YA novel about a couple of kids who want to go to the moon. I’d been kicking around the one-sentence idea for months, and added it to the list merely for completeness.
I put together a list of pros and cons for each novel as a potential NaNo project. What did I think I could sustain for a thousand or so words a day? What would keep me interested? I expected to conclude that I should start over on “Survivors”. But “Down Came a Blackbird” surprised me because it kept popping up: it was interesting, I had a basic plot outline, but not much more. It was still fresh. But I had misgivings — mysteries are hard to plot, and I tend to obsessively go back as I write them. Not terrible misgivings, though, and there’s a lot of interesting world-building to be done there in describing a new colony world. But speaking of fresh, that little YA idea, that’s pretty fresh too. No baggage to it at all. I chatted about it with a friend on IM, and had some neat ideas. Then I went to sleep, figuring that “Blackbird” had come out on top of that pro/con list, and (if I did NaNo) that’s what I would be writing.
My subconscious decided otherwise overnight. All I could think about this morning was little bits and pieces of that YA novel. It is said that ideas are dissolved in tap water: between the shower and my morning coffee, I got an overdose. I wrote them all down (with my new fountain pen — thanks, Marko, for that suggestion!) and discovered that I had a basic plot arc. Actually, kind of an interesting one, one that would let me pull in some rather more adult ideas I’ve been thinking about a lot lately if I wanted to, but didn’t necessarily need them.
I had a late morning because of a doctor’s appointment (cholesterol levels much lower now, w00t!) and filled the time just jotting things down. Nothing fancy, just little events. The names of the four kids. I’d been thinking that a plague year (like the one that sent Newton home, where he wrote the Principia, as one does) would be interesting, but then I realized that World War I might be more interesting still.
Then I remembered, in connection to the last bit, that I had been bequeathed by a classmate a full copy of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, plus 1922 addendum. It is at this point that I finally caved in and acknowledged that this would have to be my novel, or it would eat my brain and not allow any other ideas out.
Well, what the hell.
 I had actually attempted this for NaNo back in 2008, which was my idea of getting back into writing for fun after grad school had beaten the fun out of writing. I failed miserably at it. I don’t think I got more than 7,000 words. But there was a tiny little subplot in “Alone” about the speed of light that blossomed into “Where Do They Bury the Survivors?” a year later when I started thinking about murder mysteries. That got me writing detective/sci-fi stories, one of which (“Death in a Tin Can”) got me into Viable Paradise.