Blood, Sweat, and Tears: What I learned from NaNoWriMo

Wow it’s been a long month. Yet, it doesn’t seem that long at all. Maybe when you’ve had your head buried in a book for a while, time seems sort of irrelevant. Except when real life interjects. You know; work, paying bills, car problems. All of those nasty things that have to be dealt with because the real world doesn’t understand that you HAVE to live in the world you’ve created. HAVE TO.

No questions.

No ‘ifs’. No ‘buts’. Nothing.


Stupid interrupting life.

In Misery Stephen King makes mention of finding the ‘hole in the story’. Well, after five years of searching, begging and pleading, I found mine.

Good movie. Prefer the audiobook.
Good movie. Prefer the audiobook.

Wow it’s been a long month.

Hah, talking about MISERY made me want to watch it. YAY, Netflix!


I take it back (not the MISERY bit, the other one), it’s not been a long month. It’s been a long two years. Along the way, I’ve learned a thing or two.

Now. For all intents and purposes; I am NOT (as yet) published so anything I say from here on out is completely subjective. If you are the kind of person that wants to take it as advice, by all means do so. But, if it doesn’t work or if you have a different experience than I do, don’t come crying back to me. I will simply stare at you over the interwebs and remind you just what advice is, how it is given out, and what the popular saying is about it.

Pretty much, yeah.
Pretty much, yeah.

I don’t suppose I can do the 25 list bit. Chuck Wendig has that covered over at his blog.


All right, well, I’ll wing it.

Suddenly I feel like an eighth grader standing up in front of a class about to read her ‘What I did last summer’ report.

That moment when...
That moment when…

So, what I learned from NaNoWriMo by R. J. Keith.

Hah. I’m clever.

All right, here it goes.

1. A story comes full circle

A good story will have a through line, the thing under the writing that stays constant throughout the entire story. Maybe calling it the theme? I don’t know. Anyway; a story will come full circle. In the beginning you have these events the thing that starts this thing which causes that thing here in a little while. BUT WAIT NOT YET! This thing has to happen first!

All of these things will have to be resolved by the end. The through line is what shapes the story, bends it to what it needs to be. Sometimes you don’t even know it’s happening. I had the idea with The Nightly-Edition to make it about an asylum. Something had to happen in an asylum. Melanie gets her metal arm and talks to her dead boyfriend. All right, great, what else? One thing led to another. Somewhere in there fire became a focal point, the fulcrum to my circle, the thing which everything else revolves around. Who started the fire? Why? How? Is it going to happen again? That’s where the story came in. Above the through line came the theme of escape. Escape the loony bin.

2. Characters drive the story

The guys over at the Roundtable Podcast told me I had too much in my story. ‘Separate it,’ they said, ‘it’ll make more sense’, they said. What they didn’t tell me is how. Not that I was entitled to someone spelling it out for me-gotta figure some things out on your own-but it would have helped out. I was lucky in that I have a very good friend who insisted on listening to my podcast with me. Embarrassment aside, it proved a fruitful venture.

In one hour he taught me about writing. About how to write. ‘A story doesn’t need five different plots’ he said, ‘there’s only one thing that has to happen. It’s the how and why that matters. And what the characters do to shape that plot.’

I had put too much into Blood on the Quarter. So much that there was no story just some awesome ideas barely strung together with the thinnest of threads. An awesome a story does not a story make. A book takes one idea. One thing, one plot point at the end of the race. GET HERE! the plot screams out. HOW YA GONNA GET FROM A TO B (bitch) is that thing the story is screaming. It’s not just a matter of point A to B, however. Any idiot can write a sentence solving that little tidbit.

Gary jumped in his car and drove the three miles from his house to the library.

Yay, Gary.

But, what if Gary has a wheelchair? What if he has one of those specialty cars and the dashboard check engine light comes on? What if Gary is going to be late for an important opening at the library? A millionaire has promised a quarter of his wealth to a worthy venture and dammit, Gary has a worthy venture. The car just doesn’t want to seem to cooperate and traffic is going to be bad here in a few minutes. Does he have time to wheel himself over there? No, he has a presentation in his laptop slung over the back of his chair and those goddamned kids always skulking around the alleys would just love that little piece of hardware, wouldn’t they? Well, Gary has no choice. He has to call those mechanics that still make house calls. Well, lets say that particular mechanic is holding a dark secret close to his heart. Something just like this happened to him ten years ago.

Crap. Now I want to find out what happens.

Characters, not awesome all encompassing plot ideas, does a story make. The characters will come with their own inner plots that help the story along and offer obstacles to be overcome, deepening the original plot, giving it life and complexity.

3. Go organic

It’s good for you. Seriously. Organic food? Tastes much better than that packaged crap. But you have to be careful and actually pay attention. Anyone can call their stuff organic. There’s all those little things you have to educate yourself on and know before you buy.

That’s a slogan, right? Didn’t that used to be a slogan?

4. WRITE organically

Oh! Oh! We were talking about writing? Hah. Right.


The great thing about NaNoWriMo is the deadline. You have thirty days to write. No time for that bastard editor to show his ugly head and start yammering. When the editor starts yammering, nothing gets done. That’s not to say that a deadline is the cure-all for writing a book. It can go one of two ways; make or break the story. In the case of NaNoWriMo, I was lucky. Once before I had put myself on a deadline and it nearly broke me.

This time was different. I took the story back to its roots. In my last ditch attempt to write the damn thing, I took it back to where it began. And it worked. I started with one character and one situation and the story grew from there. The plot was simple: get Melanie out of the asylum. Everything else; the fire, my take on werewolves, the dead boyfriend came because the story allowed it to come. I wasn’t forcing anything.Β  Situation blossomed character development which progressed the plot.
If a story is going to work, it’s going to work because it WANTS to. As unbelievable as that sounds (believe me, I know) the story will tell you how it wants to be written. And no form of forcing, no bending of the rules, is going to make it tell itself any other way.

5. Details are the Devil

First drafts are supposed to suck.


For a very long time I went around reading Stephen King, Anne Rice, even George R.R. Martin thinking, ‘Goddamn how the hell do they do that?!’ Meaning the book I was reading. I honestly thought it was something that people like them could just do. Make magic on the page. Write the finished product. And then reality (and years of trying to produce a polished product) bashed me over the head. The thing in my hand came from an editor and an exhausting process which no doubt included copious amounts of coffee and ibuprofen. And maybe a death threat or two.

The easiest way to get bogged down in a book is to worry about the details. About how something is described, or the scenery, or this thing that has to happen in between two things that makes the two things happen. In a first draft, details don’t matter. Once stripped of the niceties, it’s easier to write the book. Editing is for the details. No one ever said editing only had to be about cutting swathes of a book out.

6. Kill the darlings

Or don’t get too attached. Either way, that passage that you are absolutely in love with, that couldn’t be written any better if someone put a gun to your head? Yeah, totally can. Might as well get used to that idea now. The moment you base your entire book around an awesome sunset that you wrote about is the moment a puppy dies. Er. Wait. Your book dies. Not the puppy. I like puppies.

7. Don’t fear the Reaper

Awesome song. Also good for the story. Or plot progress. Either way, if a character needs to die. Kill her. Not even kidding. Never know what could happen, or what could open up, if you do.

8. Write the story YOU want to tell

Someone is going to make a Resident Evil connection with the Nightly-Edition. I know it because that was the connection that came to my mind when I started writing it. Genetic experimentation, crazy lady with a power complex, all can be brought back to Resident Evil. Or The Shining. Or Misery. Which is jut fine with me. Inspiration comes from everywhere. If an author sits and worries about being completely original I think they’d end up winning a beard contest with Rip Van Winkle. There’s a slim chance that every story created is completely original. Minus a blatant retelling, every story has something of every other story in it. It’s how the story is told that makes it the property of author doing the telling.

9. Remove yourself from the story

I couldn’t write Blood on the Quarter for various reasons. Too much going on. Too many plot points. On and on and on. Underneath it all, however, was the fact that I was too involved. I was no longer God of my world, but living in it. I wanted to experience what my characters experienced as they experienced. And I wanted Melanie to have a happy ending because she was me. A little secret about me? Unlucky in love. Oh, the stories I could tell you. But Melanie was different. I could control Melanie, I could control the men around her and their feelings for her.

Which is probably why the story died and died again. Deader than dead. Smouldering right along with the rest of the ashes.

Removing myself-my own desires-helped. I became God. The thing that put forth obstacles, the thing that watched the characters from afar and jotted down what they did and learned their feelings by the expressions on their faces rather than putting myself in the thick of things and figuring out how I was going to get out of the situation.

An author must remain on the outside looking in. The story comes from watching, not from experiencing. Characters are, in a way, their own people, with their own thoughts and emotion. Control not necessary.

10. Write. Don’t give up. Write.

If a story is going to work. It’s going to work. End of discussion. It might take a lot to get there, but if attempts are made the story will be written. Some will come easier than others, and then again others might come at all. There are people who will say ‘you know when you’re in love’ and I suppose that’s true. That line of thinking also applies to writing. The story will let you know how it wants to be written. Blocks come up for a reason. The story is trying to tell you something.

In that, if a story needs to be shelved; don’t look at it as failure as a writer. Failing at writing is one thing. Failing a story is another. Stories can be rewritten. Always they can be rewritten until something that works is found.


And that is that, ladies and gentlemen. NaNoWriMo was a lot of fun. Probably the most fun I’ve had in a month of shitty happenings at work.

And now? The editing process!


That's right. You thought of it. You went there in your head.
That’s right. You thought of it. You went there in your head.


4 thoughts on “Blood, Sweat, and Tears: What I learned from NaNoWriMo

  1. Bubbe says:

    Love it! Good lessons that I definitely needed to hear. I’ve been holding onto Maxwell’s Silver Bullet for dear life hoping I’d get back to finish it. Well maybe it really is meant to die and something new may come from its ashes. I’m going to muse on that awhile. Have fun editing! And congrats again for finishing!

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