The tale of a novel in progress:
As most of you know, in November I participated in NaNoWriMo. For the uninitiated, that stands for National Novel Writing Month, where each November, thousands of people attempt to write a 50,000 word draft of an original novel in thirty days. It’s hard and it isn’t. It’s actually lots of fun. Here are some thoughts of my experiences:
Why did I do this? Because in my other novel in progress, I had gotten too bogged down in research and historical fact and away from story. I wanted to try something new. Something based completely on ether. No facts, no time line, just me and the page. And it worked. Mostly.
The purpose of NaNoWriMo is to write fast and not worry about quality. To move onto chapter 2 quickly and not worry if chapter 1 is any good. First draft manure. Just keep writing. So I did. I started off great. I was excited to get started and the first week flew by as I kept up with my daily goals.
Then week 2 hit. Hard. About 20,000 words in, I got mired in the mud. The problem is that even ether comes with its own issues. Unsure how to proceed, I reverted to my habits of getting bogged down in research (herbal medicine, foliage and wildlife of medieval France) and not actually writing. I pulled out of it by writing the ending of the story which had revealed itself to me from the beginning and ignored how we were going to reach it.
Somewhere in week 3, one of my characters got mad at me. He looked into the future and realized his time left on the page was quickly drawing to a close. He got dressed up and tried to bargain with me, to let him live. I had to tell him that the plan was always that he would die. The story doesn’t work if he doesn’t die. If he doesn’t die, she can’t change.
So, he’s pouted. He refused to come out to play. “If I don’t make it into the scene, you can’t kill me, so I’m going to refuse to have my voice used.”
“Fine,” I responded. In retaliation, I had his soon-to-be wife flirt with his biggest enemy. Whoa. I did not see that coming. But she did, she flirted with him. Now what do I do with that?
I must tell you, I had such fun with this process. I pushed myself beyond what I thought I could do and it was exhilarating. This is a story that has told itself to me from the moment of its inception. I was sitting in a writing workshop, and we were talking about unicorns (you know, like you do). Suddenly, these two characters whispered to me, told me their names and their story. Not all of it, not all at once, but certainly the end.
The sense of momentum, of idea tumbling after idea, was joyful. I could see layers being formed. By the end of the month, I had a rough first draft completed. There is much more work to be done, but already layers of revision are becoming clear.
I found great support from the Austin NaNo Facebook group, connecting to other writers who were also slinging words down onto the page. We encouraged each other and celebrated as each one crossed over the finish line of our own personal marathons.
I also got good support from my family. We came up with flying a flag, my equivalent of Jo March’s floppy hat, so that my family would not bother me when I was trying to concentrate.
The problem came later. I finished NaNo on November 23rd, an entire week before the deadline. While this made Thanksgiving smoother, I have already lost my momentum and can feel the writing drifting into the background of my life.
Don’t go! Please come back. I want to sit with ideas and language and these incredible people I have met. I want to get lost in the plot twists and be surprised by their actions. More and more ideas are coming to me and I’m losing them as fast as they come.
Through this process, I learned that I am motivated by deadlines, even imaginary ones. The world was not going to stop turning if I did not make 50,000 words by Nov 30th, but my little corner of it might. I need external pressure of some kind, and I need community.
We are a week into December, and the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is upon us. What I wish for this Christmas is time to sit with story and words and imagination. I want to finish out 2016 strong and start 2017 with a burst of creative energy that will carry me through the year.
May we all get what we’re wishing for this holiday season. Write on…..