NaNoWriMo Tips: I Hate My Story

Welcome to the eleventh post of my NaNoWriMo tips series. For other tips in this series, as well as a schedule for future posts, take a look at the links below. Today’s tip and my discussion of it can be found immediately below the schedule.

Have you ever been playing through a video game, particularly a long game that relies a lot on the choices you make throughout the game? Let’s say for example that game is Civilization VI, not that I have any experience with playing that for hours on end or anything1Australia is best civ. I will fight you, mate.. In Civilization VI, your games can drag on for hours, if not days, particularly when playing a single player match against multiple other computer civilizations. I had one such game a while back where I was 300-350 turns into my game’s 500 turn limit. I was winning, though not by as much as I would have liked, putting myself in a great, but not guaranteed, position to win the game. At that point, I came to a realization. I was done with this game. So I closed out of Civ without saving and went to do something else.

I felt this way about a novel once too. Remember that ill-fated 2012 NaNoWriMo attempt I talked about in the last post? I did end up working on that story some in December of 2012 before really getting going on it in earnest in early 2013. By the middle of March, that story was nearly 65,000 words long. I had two or three more chapters to write, including the final fight scene where the protagonist who had been repeatedly betrayed by those closest to him would get revenge on the ex-best friend who had been turned against him. I had created this elaborate dystopian backstory set in post-apocalyptic Finland and Estonia, complete with copious amounts of research into the foods of Scandinavia and the Baltic regions2Because the food that certain characters ate at certain times was used for foreshadowing and symbolism. Because reasons..

Yet, despite being likely less than 10,000 words from finishing, I gave up on the story. I was done. I hated this story.
Why I hated this story isn’t nearly as important as the fact that I hated this story (though I will get to the why). It was a first for me. Not finishing a story was one thing. My very first attempt at a novel was one I didn’t finish. I quit six chapters in once I realized that the idea I had picked was not very good and that I had only chosen it to impress my then-girlfriend3Who was far too excited to read my stories. And this is coming from the person writing them.. I had hated poetry and songs I’d written because, truth be told, I wasn’t good at it. This was, however, the first time I hated a full-fledged story.

It’s a really crappy feeling to get deep into writing a story only to realize the story isn’t what you’d hoped it would be. You begin to feel like all of the time you’ve put into the story has gone to waste. This feeling hits especially hard if this happens during NaNoWriMo. If you’re working on your story and begin to hate it outside of a NaNoWriMo project, yeah, it sucks, but you also have time to work on it, rewrite it, or whatever you need to do to get it to the point you want it at4Presumably. Ignore that previous point entirely if you nearing a publishing or editing deadline.. But in NaNoWriMo, not only do you hate your story, you now have to finish a story you dislike with a looming deadline. This prompts the question — how exactly do you handle hating your story during NaNoWriMo?

To answer that, I think it’s important to identify exactly why you hate your story now. After all, you liked your story idea well enough at one point in time that you wanted to write a whole novel based off of it. For my 2012 story, I got to the climax of the novel and hated it for three primary reasons.

  1. My main character seemed less likeable than I would have hoped by the climax. It wasn’t as though he was supposed to be a character who worked lived in gray areas either. He was a very Mary Sue-like character that lacked a lot of depth. If anything, the ex-best friend who became the villain of the story was more believable than him.
  2. There was a weird subplot to the story that I had written in based on these child prodigies that had been hidden by an underground network to keep them safe from the dystopian government running most of the world. By the end of the story, they functioned more of a deus ex machina than the actual saviors to the story that they were meant to be. I also named some of the children based off of minor Greek and Babylonian deities despite having limited knowledge of the former and negligible knowledge of the latter, making my analogies forced and inaccurate.
  3. Speaking of that ex-best friend in the story, she stupidly overpowered, both story line wise and in terms of her abilities in comparison to the main character. Her losing to the main character in any capacity seemed unrealistic.

Looking back, my story likely needed a massive rewrite more than it needed to be scrapped. That said, I was so caught up in how disappointed I was with myself that the story had turned out the way that it had that I just gave up. The story still sits unfinished to this day5If I ever attempt to revive any of the previous novels I’ve attempted for NaNoWriMo and turn them into a book, this specific story would likely be my second priority, behind my 2015 project. There’s a character in my 2015 project who I love so much that I need to find a way to work her into my current story. This is problematic in that I killed her off near the end of that 2015 NaNoWriMo story, but that’s not important right now.

So, how do you avoid this same fate for your story, even if you hate it? I have a few suggestions.

First off, if you get to the point where you feel like you hate your story, take a little time (be that a few minutes, an hour, or even a day) and step away from your story. Giving yourself a little space between times writing on your story can help grant you some clarity with how to continue on (or even fix) your story. If you have the ability to sleep on the idea, do so. I came to my initial realization that I hated my 2012 story around three in the morning on a Friday night. Nothing good ever happens when you’re tired and the clock is past midnight.

Second, this is a situation where having people around you, be they NaNoWriMo peers, friends, family, or just someone aware of the project you’re undertaking can be helpful. Even if they don’t totally understand the specifics of your story, talking through the story and why your’e struggling with it can help you better vocalize the struggle you have. I don’t recommend rubber ducking in this case, as having someone there to talk back to you can help to avoid going into spirals of frustration with your work. As someone who deals with these (frequently) myself, I promise it’s helpful.

As another potential way to help yourself turn your hate for your story around, take a moment to take stock of the things you loved about your story idea when you originally came up with it. I mentioned how I should have done this with my 2012 story earlier in this post. That said, I definitely feel like it’s an exercise that could be beneficial to more than just me. If I were writing my notes for why I loved my 2012 story enough to want to turn it into a novel, it’d look something like this (at least from what I can remember from six years ago).

  • The idea of writing a story that was an homage to the dystopian literature I loved reading as a kid (1984, A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Giver, Feed, The Lorax6I would argue The Lorax is dystopian literature, even though I’ve had several people disagree with me on this point. Wikipedia agrees though.) was exciting.
  • I spent the better part of two days hand drawing a map depicting the new political layout of this futuristic world. I can’t understate how much I love maps.
  • I loved the idea of doing a twist ending. There was a planned hard right turn after the climax of the story. I still love this specific twist and may well use it in the future (even in a non-dystopian book).

I know I had a longer list at one point in time, however that list has since faded from my mind. The larger, and more important, point is that I can still remember some of why I wanted to write that story, even six years later. There’s going to be reasons that stick with you about why you wanted to write your story, even well after NaNoWriMo has ended. I think that those reasons by themselves are enough reason to stick to finishing your story this month.

And you know what? If you end up completely rewriting the story in December or at some point down the line, that’s fine. Do that. Tear the story apart and redesign it from the ground up. But finish the story first. It’s easier to edit a finished book than to try to rewrite something you hate as you’re writing it (at least in my experience).

Like my NaNoWriMo tips series? Have questions for me about the topics posted daily? Do you just want to talk about your story and have nowhere else to do so? Leave a comment and join the discussion.

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