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M.R. Mackenzie Mailing List
3 November 2020
Newsletter Issue #5: The November NaNoWriMo Notifier

Hi ,

It seems almost redundant to say at this stage, but I can’t believe we’re in November already. The year is almost over and I’ve no idea where it’s gone.

November is, of course, a very special month for us writers. Why? Because it’s NaNoWriMo! NaNoWriMo, if you don’t know, stands for National Novel-Writing Month. It’s when writers, new and old alike, pledge to write 50,000 words of a novel by the end of the 30 days of November. That’s an average of just under 1,667 words a day.

I’ve taken part in NaNoWriMo precisely once before – two years ago when I wrote the bulk of the first draft of my most recently published novel, The Library Murders. I wasn’t planning to participate this year, as I wasn’t expecting to be in the position to start a new novel on the 1st of November, but over the last few weeks, the situation has changed somewhat, with preparatory work on my latest project dovetailing nicely with the start of the month.

To find out more, read on…

On the Writing Desk: Without a Trace
Ominous-looking woods shrouded in mist (image © Unsplash)

Without a Trace (working title) is my latest work-in-progress – a psychological thriller told from the point of view of three women – indecisive Hazel, buttoned-down Claire and hedonistic Mickie – who head up north one Friday for a long weekend and return the following Monday having buried a man’s body in the woods and sworn an oath of silence about what they did.

How did they come to have a dead body on their hands? Why did they bury it? And how will what they’ve done affect them in the weeks, months and years to come? You’ll have to wait for the novel to be finished to find out, but I’m really looking forward to making a start on it (I’m writing this on the 30th October, but by the time you read this, drafting will already be underway).

A confession: I actually started the first draft several weeks ago, and even gleefully announced the fact on social media. But after a week of rather joyless tapping away at the keys, spending a considerable amount of time at my desk with little perceivable reward, I was forced to admit that I’d begun writing without a sufficiently solid roadmap.

The problem? I was relying on a brief (by my standards) 1,500-word synopsis and an assortment of general ideas and scene fragments, attempting to use these to fashion an 80,000+ word novel. Those of you who know me will know that, in the age-old “plotters vs. pantsers” debate, I am very much at the “plotter” end of the spectrum. I outline obsessively. For me, it’s the most creative part of the whole endeavour, because it’s in the outline that the real meat and potatoes of the writing is done. My outlines are normally long – often the length of a longish novella – but the result is that, by the time I’m done writing one, I have a thorough and hopefully airtight blueprint from which to fashion a first draft. In theory, I know precisely every action committed by every character, and even the general beats of each conversation.

When I hit the pause button on Without a Trace, I’d managed just over 8,500 words in the space of a week, and it had been like getting blood from a stone. Over the following five weeks, I beavered away at transforming my synopsis and notes into something much more idiot-proof, forcing myself to resolve any lingering questions I still had and commit to specific solutions instead of simply assuming I’d figure them out during the drafting (which I’ve always regarded as the novelist’s equivalent of “we’ll fix it in post”). The result, a 40,000-word mini-opus, is certainly the longest outline I’ve ever committed to paper, and one that stands me in good stead to write at least 50,000 words of the first draft over the next four weeks.

Having such a rigid, detailed outline lets me do the actual drafting relatively quickly. The joy of doing the bulk of the creative work before I write a word of the first draft is that I can figure out the cut and thrust of each scene without being too precious about the words I’m choosing, because I know none of them are final. I genuinely admire those who can write a first draft with only a minimal outline (or none at all), but I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not a good enough multitasker to be able to figure out the plot and write pretty prose at the same time. I’d rather separate the two into different steps, even if it means ending up writing far more words than I’ll actually use. And hey – it’s worked for me so far.

I look forward to introducing you to Hazel, Claire and Mickie and telling you more about Without a Trace in due course. Until then, I’m going to concentrate on getting the damn thing written so you don’t have to wait any longer than necessary to get a copy of your very own in your hands (or on your Kindle).

Other Miscellany
View from Queen's Park at dusk (image © Shutterstock)

And what, you might ask, is the status of the third Anna Scavolini novel, The Shadow Men? It’s still coming, though the window for it being released before the end of 2020 is, sadly, now closed. There’s still far too much to do. I have a third draft to write, and then it will need to be beta-read, professionally edited, beta-read again, followed by typesetting, cover design and the inevitable publicity push. Rest assured, though, that the third draft will be my number-one priority once draft one of Without a Trace is out of the way, so all being well, I’ll be returning to it with a vengeance before Christmas.

I already have a pile of notes which I’ve compiled on the side while I’ve been working on Without a Trace’s outline. I like, if possible, to work on a different project between drafts. It’s not always practical, but I invariably find that writing something completely different for a while allows me to see the novel in a fresh light and sparks unexpected solutions to problems. I deliberately haven’t re-read The Shadow Men since finishing the second draft back in July, and I’ve found that’s allowed me to indulge in some outside-the-box thinking. I’m less likely to be precious about changing things if I'm not staring at the actual words I've written and becoming overly attached to them – or feeling queasy at the thought of how much I'm going to have to rewrite if I decide to alter some plot point or other. I will, of course, do a full re-read before I undertake any editing, but my sense already is that I'll be making some significant changes to the first part of the novel and some minor ones to the three subsequent parts.

Speaking of Anna, you might have noticed the location guides I posted on my website for the first two books in the series. If not, here they are again:

Have you ever wanted to know where a particular scene or event takes place? Wonder no more! Each guide contains a list of key settings from the novel in question, complete with corresponding Google Maps links so you can scope them out for yourself using the Street View feature. I’ve done my best to avoid any major spoilers; however, the chronological nature of the list inevitably means that it ends up walking you through many of the major beats of the plot.

That's All, Folks!

I’d love to stay and chat some more, but I’ve got a month of novel-writing to prepare for, so I’m afraid you’ll have to excuse me. Wish me luck for the first draft of Without a Trace, and until next time – happy reading!

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M.R. Mackenzie

Unit 29574
PO Box 26965

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