Friday, March 5, 2010

Here, have some pep

I keep forgetting to post this, arg.

A few months ago, Tina of the Pinoywrimos asked me to write a pep talk for NaNoWriMo time. I hadn't gone through it myself, but I've followed it through the years and been witness to the joys and pains of participants. Their word-count requirement is more of a challenge than what my editor has asked of me, and yay for people who try and get it done.

I don't know how encouraging my "pep" can be (I've only really been published that one time), but I relate to the struggle of having a story in your head and needing to finish it.

Here's the pep talk:

Hello, PinoyWrimos!

I wish I had taken NaNoWriMo seriously when I first heard about it. I would have learned how to solve my novel-writing problems earlier, and been surrounded by a vibrant and like-minded community while at it. Ah well. You should all give me a pep talk sometime.

Instead, I learned my lessons the long way around, but it required some discipline so I could actually finish the thing. I chose chick lit as a genre because it sounded fun, but surprise, surprise – it wasn’t that easy.

For years I wrote by “winging it.” That was fine as a technique when I was writing Sweet Valley Twins fanfic at age eleven, but yeah, eventually I realized that my process was flawed. My biggest problem was that I didn’t know how to finish a story – I would either stall and then quit, or go on and on until I got bored (then quit). I still believed I had potential though, despite the false starts.

A few months ago, I changed it up. I managed to come up with a plot, write a novel, finish it properly, and get it published. The story of how it all happened is riddled with chick lit clichés, which I totally did not intend.

1. I made a list of things to do before I turned 30.
Along with "learn to drive" and "travel around Europe," "publish a novel" was on that list. Those goals weren't all that attainable (Europe ain't gonna happen soon) but committing to them was the first step I needed to take. Then I did my research -- found out which publishers I could approach, what their requirements were, and how I could start the process.

2. I gave myself (or my writerly self, at least) a makeover.
I knew I couldn't go on with my old writing habits. I tried, though. I started a novel, spent two years on it, submitted a manuscript to a book editor, and spent several more months on revisions. It was in Revision Hell, and it's still there.

Winging it probably works for some people, but obviously not for me. I eventually bored myself trying to finish the thing. Why would anyone else want to read it?

I wanted to change the way I did this, and I didn't have to look far to find out how. My fiancé writes fiction too, but he does not “wing it.” While interested in art, he is very much influenced by science and history, and each short story he writes is built on pages upon pages of research. From him I learned that sitting down to research and outline my plot wasn't going to kill the inspiration. He won a prize for that first short story, by the way. Obsessive planning pays off sometimes.

3. I spent many nights curled up with cheesy novels and movies.
I hadn't read much chick lit recently, but once upon a time (high school) I did read a lot of romances. Romances required drama, and my own life isn't very dramatic -- nor do I want it to be. I felt so out of touch! I didn't know what caused kilig anymore, and every time I tried to write a scene, it felt untrue.

So I dove into a pool of schmaltz. I started buying and reading romance novels again, the cheesier the better. I watched movies that appealed to that side of me (thanks, John Lloyd!). Not exactly the classics, but it did put me back in that frame of mind.

It was during this phase, while occasionally working on my other novel in Revision Hell, that an idea came to me. It was a Big Dramatic Scene for a totally different story, and I was so excited to write it that I dropped everything and focused on how to make that scene happen.

4. I invested in a laptop and wrote from my bed every night.
My intention wasn't to channel Carrie Bradshaw (I'm not even much of a Sex and the City fan), but to find a way to write regularly. Waiting for my desktop PC to boot, making myself comfortable on my un-ergonomic plastic chair... mood killer.

I committed to a schedule -- as NaNoWriMo vets you know this well -- and told myself to write every day. And I did, pretty much, even when I didn't feel like it, even when I couldn't get it right. At the very least I ended up with text I could go back and edit later.

And that's how I managed to properly finish a novel: I committed, I outlined, I immersed, and I scheduled. Because I committed, I knew that finishing it was the only option. Because I had an outline, I knew which characters I needed, what they had to do, and what would push my heroine forward. Because I kept myself in a "romantic mood," I came up with a Big Dramatic Scene that I was excited about -- and was impatiently writing toward, chapter by chapter. And because I kept a schedule, I didn't need to take forever. I finished it in a month (a month!), and handed it off to a book editor immediately.

The result? The novel managed to avoid Revision Hell. It's not perfect, but I enjoyed writing it, and don't mind reading it. That it got published is a happy footnote, but that wasn't going to change my satisfaction over completing it.

Come to think of it, going through all of that and realizing that it's the journey that matters -- that’s a cliché too. Enjoy your NaNoWriMo journey, and when it’s over let’s celebrate with cosmos (insert your non-cliché drink here) or something!

Mina V. Esguerra


Mina V. Esguerra is the author of My Imaginary Ex, published by Summit Books. When she is not trying to write, she is reading novels, managing websites, and "consulting," whatever that means. She can be found blogging at

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