author – activist – faculty – mom
Last week, I gave my first webinar, and it was a blast. I presented it for SheWrites University, and my topic was “The Writer’s Hustle: How to Create and Maintain High Productivity.” One of my tips for productivity was about getting off to a quick start. In particular, I praised NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Every November, people from all over try to write a whole 50,000 word novel in a month.
Having been contracted to write 4 books in 4 years (and having the nerve to want to write perhaps another 2 or 3 more in addition) I have taken on NaNoWriMo as a way of life. In fact today, like most days, I am wearing my NaNoWriMo sweatshirt.
One of my favorite slogans from NaNoWriMo is “No plot? No problem!” I, however, am a plot-driven writer, so I never have that problem. Yet, I am also trying to write character-driven work. And up until yesterday, I had a significant problem with my main character.
As I said in a recent tweet:
But I also hashtagged the tweet #NoPersonalityNoProblem because I am such a deep believer in the process of the quick start first draft. My protagonist has the personality of cream of wheat? That sounds like a 2nd draft problem to me. Keep going.
In fact, her blandness only started to bother me when I was just two scenes from the end. I was winding up for her happy ending (no spoilers here–this is genre fiction: feminist heist/urban women’s fiction with a romance arc. You know they’re gonna get away with it, and the main character is gonna get the guy). I mean, even 45,000 words in, I didn’t really care that much about this woman.
I talked about my lack of love for the character with a creative peer counselor and began to wonder aloud what I could do to like this character more. It’s not the classic likeability issue that some female characters have. Some audiences respond negatively to female characters that are flawed, even though they like the same flaws in male characters. If anything, my problem was that this character was too much of a good girl. She was too nice and pliant. But suddenly, in the middle of the session with my peer counselor, I realized that I wanted to make her a visual artist. Ding! Everything fell into place. The story is about an immigrant who faces racism, xenophobia, and assimilation. The visual art became her voice when she moved to the US and lost the language of her homeland. It tied in with her career. It tied in with her romance. It tied in with her ability to process her feelings. It basically fixed the book. But here’s the best part: I trusted the process. I was able to write 45,000 words about a character I didn’t care about because I had faith that the warm feelings towards the protagonist could come later. I didn’t spend one minute wringing my hands about the book or worrying that it would suck until I was nearly done with the draft. And I don’t know if I could have figured out this part about visual arts if I hadn’t written the 45K words. But the best part is how I was able to keep going. I didn’t let it throw me that I wasn’t interested in the character yet. I gave the first draft permission to be a mess, and it is. I don’t have to feel any satisfaction with the manuscript in the first draft beyond word count and slogging through the scenes.
And yet, here I am, getting this gift of depth for her character. So that’s the suggestion of the day: keep going. No personality, no problem. Don’t expect anything great until at least the 2nd draft. Thank you, NaNoWriMo. The official event is in November every year, so perhaps I should say Thank you, #FebMarNaNo, because I’m writing this novel with the support of my twitter crew in February and March this year. I’ll be revising it this summer, and look forward to generating a first draft of the next novel in November. Because I’m learning that the key to high productivity is not spending any time worrying. The only problem with my writing is when I don’t do it. Everything else can be easily fixed.
Novel #3 in the Justice Hustler’s series
#1 UPTOWN THIEF (out now!)
#2 THE BOSS (out 5/30/37)
#3 THE ACCIDENTAL MISTRESS (out June 2018) At 29, Violet Johnson has come a long way from her small town in Trinidad. She’s an apprentice makeup artist to the stars in New York, and her wedding to the young African American millionaire she met at Harvard is imminent. However, when she loans her phone to a young woman to make a call, a case of mistaken identity ensues. It turns out that the young woman is the mistress of the unionized strip club mogul who skipped town with the pension fund. The mogul’s wife suspects Violet of being the mistress, and stalks Violet with a special brand of crazy. Violet loses her job and her fiancé in the ensuing scandal. She takes a makeup job at a Caribbean Circus and sparks fly with one of the artists, but she resists him in the hopes of winning her fiancé back. In desperation, she teams up with the spurned wife and they assemble a set of unlikely allies: Violet’s sister Lily, a stripper union leader, as well as Marisol, Tyesha and Serena from the Maria de La Vega clinic. When the team gets a lead on where the mogul might be hiding out, Marisol gives Violet safecracking lessons. Can Violet recover the money before the mogul skips to a country with no extradition treaty? And if Violet can clear her name, which man will she choose? The millionaire fiance or the hunky artist?