death tree novel nanowrimo update creative writing mary tait

I write this the Sunday before I post, lounging in bed in what is (currently) a fourday health slump. I rarely experience days like this, for which I am so thankful. Unfortunately, chronic illness disregards any life activities and slams down whenever it fancies.


The good news is that this has not hindered my work on my novel, which is what I plan to update you all on today. This is the conclusion of week two of Camp NaNoWriMo, and I am happy to say that I have kept up writing so far. I’ve got some interesting things to talk about, so grab a little something to drink or munch on while I share a little bit about what’s been on my mind this week.

One of the fears I had to face when pulling a novel out of the blue (i.e., writing a story with no plan) is that it would copy something done before. The achievement of perfect originality has been a point of pride for me. But as I continue through NaNoWriMo I find that it has become less of a goal.

I’ve realized two things during this journey.


The first is that I will always be at risk of sounding like something else, even if by total accident.

In college I had a story that someone once critiqued with, “Be careful, this is starting to sound like Twilight.” I had never read the books and I had no clue what they meant. Then there was the other story I wrote where I received the note, “This is exactly like that scene in Men in Black. Change it.” Again, I had not (and still have not) watched the film so I still have no clue what it was in the scene that sounded like Men in Black.

I have always written in this fear that these things would happen again in something I publish. This time around my joy is in the story, rather than the originality. Do I want it to be unique? Absolutely, but I cannot possibly have the knowledge to recognize a similarity or association between my work and the rest of humanity. I just have to ignore the fear and write the story that needs to be told.


Second, I’ve come to recognize that in the way works inspire me, is the same way great works inspire each other.

William Shakespeare, the great English poet and playwright based a number of shows on various stories circulating at the time. While this is talked about in academic circles, to the general public they are considered great works. Why? Because he was a good storyteller, not because he was original.

When I started Death Tree I was afraid that I would tell a story someone had heard before. I reviewed various stories that inspire me I saw so much of my story there. Before this would have distracted me, but I chose a different approach. Instead of focusing on only my story I compared the works that inspired me to one another. I found similar themes and ideas in those stories, though they all came from different places, ideas, and philosophies.

I realized that inspiration is my connection with the storytellers who have gone before me. When I take up threads for ideas and my own narratives I’m weaving myself into a greater framework of storytelling shared by many people. There is nothing wrong with this. For me, the point of writing is communicating truth for people. If I share the same concerns and thoughts as others who have told stories which have resonated with others then that is a good sign. We cannot be completely original, and that is okay.

Being Surprised

I mentioned before that I refer to my style of writing as organic storytelling, meaning I do very little planning before I write. I learn a little about the world, meet my characters and follow them about like a documentary film. The result is that the characters create the narrative and I curate it. Character decisions feel authentic while I maintain structure within the story.

The other bonus is that I can get hoodwinked when I write the first draft as easily as the readers who will read it later. I won’t go into details to spoil, but a certain character totally surprised me. I knew that there was something they weren’t telling me, and learning it changed everything.

It Takes Time

Another little gem from this week was seeing a character come to life after he lived in my head for sixteen years. SIXTEEN YEARS. This character has never fit into any of my other stories, and I was thrilled to introduce them into Death Tree.

I mentioned it in my first update, but I’ve seen characters transition from one story into another. Characters who never fit in the narrative of other stories have stepped into this story It is remarkable how your mind can hold onto characters and introduce them to the scene when they are needed. Point being, nothing goes to waste when you’re a writer. Even if something only teaches you how not to write, all work bears some fruit.

And that is my update on week two of NaNoWriMo. I estimate that I am between half and twothirds of the way through my first draft. Then comes the joy of all joys… revision!

1 Comment

  1. Marilyn July 17, 2019 at 11:14 pm

    Sorry that you have not been feeling well. Hope you feel better soon. Congratulations on your writing. Continued success.


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