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Last night at Parmly Billings Library, I presented a workshop called “Igniting the Novel Inside,” geared toward folks who’ve always wanted to write a novel but haven’t quite started or finished.

It’s a big topic. Any of the areas we briefly touched on — cultivating an idea, preparing to write, writing, staying on track, rewriting — would be worth a workshop unto itself. We had about 15 hardy participants who were generous with their enthusiasm. I thank them for forgoing “Survivor” and the Country Music Awards, and special thanks to assistant library director Dee Ann Redman for inviting me to do the session.

Here’s the slideshow that accompanied my talk.

As we’re knee-deep into National Novel Writing Month, I have to ask: What are you working on? How’s it going?

National Novel Writing Month and I are in Splitsville, the outs, we’ve sold the house and gone our separate ways, we’re footloose and fancy free, we’re at D-I-V-O-R-C-E.

Now, don’t get me wrong. In the first week of the annual event of literary frenzy, I’ve plowed under nearly 11,000 words on my new project, a terrific jump-start that will serve me well in the coming months as I lurch toward the first-draft finish line. And I’ll always be thankful for NaNoWriMo for launching my debut novel, 600 Hours of Edward, in 2008. Further, I plan to write on every available day for the remainder of November, just like the thousands of people who are having a monthlong love affair with their keyboards. (After November and all the hoopla pass, I’ll still be writing daily. It’s what I do.)

So it’s not that I’ve taken up with another lover. It’s that it’s no longer useful for me to meet the demands of this particular lover (specifically, her insatiable need for words — at least 50,000 of them by the end of the month). This project of mine will require more contemplation than that, and the chains will be moved in more peripatetic (I love the word “peripatetic”) bunches — 500 words here, 247 there, 3,000 or so on the occasional all-day dash. I’ll reach 50,000 words in due time, and beyond that, I think, will lie the end of the first draft.

See, something happened between NaNoWriMo 2008 and NaNoWriMo 2009: I wrote a second novel. Principal writing took me about three months. Rewriting and revising took me a couple of months after that. I enjoyed that pace. It worked for me. And now I realize that given the choice between the mad dash and the purposeful march, I’ll take the latter. Every time.

Make no mistake: I’ll finish the project I started for this year’s NaNoWriMo. But it will be on my terms, not hers. NaNoWriMo, this year and probably in years to come, is a project starter for me now, not a means of filling a quota.

In all the excitement about the Riverbend news, I didn’t spend much time with my new manuscript last week. And when I say that I didn’t spend much time, I mean, of course, that I didn’t spend any time. I’m one man. Cut me a break.

Yesterday, on the golf course, Gone to Milford drifted back into my mind, and it came with a solution to a nettlesome problem I’ve been struggling with for two drafts now: how to imbue the story from the start with the appropriate level of foreboding. The story, in total, unwinds some very difficult relationships, but not in a traditional separation-and-reconciliation sort of way. That’s the extent of what I’ll say. If you want to know the rest, read the book when it emerges.

The story starts at the end. What I struggled with was where at the end I should begin. What follows are the original beginning and the one I amended it to earlier today:

The early version

UPDATE: Based on initial feedback and my own evolving thoughts, I went back and did some tweaking and came up with a new, expanded beginning.

Here it is.

Which one, if either, makes Does this make you want to read more? Why or why not? Tell me in the comments section.

I’ll be interested to hear the responses.

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