Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Lessons from NaNoWriMo Or...
...How writing 30,067 words in 18 days makes the little voices in your head seem pale in comparison.
For several years I’ve been hearing about something called NaNoWriMo and for the most part I ignored it. For several years I’ve had the opening to a book on my hard drive and for the most part I ignored it. For several years I’ve made a New Year’s resolution to “finish the damn book” and for the most part I ignored it.
In October, Angel did a short presentation at our RWA meeting about NaNoWriMo and I listened and for the most part ignored it. Are we sensing a trend here? Then something began to whirl in the back of my mind. Normally, I worry that things whirling in the back of my mind are signs of old age and should possibly be attended to by a physician.
This time, however, I knew what the whirling was and I could either ignore it AGAIN or finally do something about it.
I looked at my October calendar (because that’s when I’d have to do NaNo prep and explain the program to your family) and then the November calendar (because this is the month you wave bye-bye to most of your friends and family and descend into the writing cave). I had the usual “stuff” going on in November, but did the NaNo folks not remember there’s a big holiday involving turkey and green bean casserole and pumpkin pie in there? Yeah, NaNo isn’t just a US thing, but come on. How about a month when the only holiday is National Potato Day?
Somewhere about the middle of the second week of October I began to seriously consider the program and even threw my book idea out for discussion at our retreat’s brainstorming and plotting session. When nobody rolled their eyes, and when the epilogue made Smarty Pants cry, I thought maybe it wasn’t as sucky as I thought and at some point during that weekend, I made the decision to be an official participant.
I signed up on the NaNoWriMo website. Angel and I attended the Kick-Off meeting and I’ve been to a couple of the local group write-ins along with the one Angel hosted at her home. I made myself a plotting board, and I pulled out the very thick folder of notes – snippets of dialogue I’d written down, characterization bits, even one whole section of a scene where the hero tells the heroine that he won’t allow himself pleasure until he’s sure she’s been pleasured, and that insisting she enjoy sex isn’t blackmail. I took ALL those bits of paper and separated them into piles corresponding to a loose chapter by chapter outline I’d made.
I can already see the pantsters growing faint, and I’m not sure any future books would be written this way, but you see, this particular one has been around for about 4-5 years. Lots of folks have told me I should toss it and start something new. But the characters wouldn’t let me abandon them. They’d talk to me when my head hit the pillow at night. That’s the reason for so many little pieces of paper.
Sooooo, on November 1, armed with a plotting board, folders with all the pieces of paper taped inside and a driving desire to FINALLY finish a book, I began the NaNoWriMo process. About ten pages in, I started getting this sick feeling in my stomach, but for the most part I ignored it.
The originator of NaNo says most people don’t finish a novel because they don’t have a deadline. That may be true. Self-motivation is difficult. Writers with contracts have no choice (hi PC! hi Instigator!) but the rest of us? Deadlines and word count competitions with rewards attached are often the key. NaNo had a deadline and it’s the ultimate word count competition. But there’s no reward.
Or is there?
Why on earth am I busting my butt to write 1667 words every day and hole up in my office looking like Joan Wilder in the opening scene of “Romancing the Stone?” (Just as an aside, one of my writing soundtracks is the music from that movie, minus the “How the West Was Won” theme cause I can’t find it.) Why have I lived on sweet iced tea and stale sandwiches for lunch? Why is my DVR filled with programs I can’t watch til I’ve met my daily word count? Why?
I don’t care if this book sells. Okay, that’s a lie. But I want to be able to put that little NaNoWriMo winner graphic on the blog and be able to say “I finished the damn book” and I did it before I was eligible to draw Social Security. (That was an honest concern at one point.)
I’m not a hugely competitive person and I have no idea where this drive came from, but for right now, I’m not arguing with it. The DH has been superbly supportive. He even went to the campground last weekend when there was no volleyball planned just so I’d have the house quiet to write. He’s been great about the not-so-fancy dinners he’s had all month. My mom emails to ask about my word count, and my sister has been a sounding board. My book is set in Atlanta and my nephew went to college at Georgia Tech so sis has a pretty good feel for the town. She’s made some terrific suggestions that are now part of the story, but her best suggestion was that we meet in Atlanta the middle of next month, stay at the hotel where my hero and heroine spend their honeymoon and have a “She Finished the Book” trip. She even emailed yesterday to say “I had my monthly lunch with my girlfriends today and told them about you and your story. They're behind you all the way! The general consensus was ‘You go, girl!’"
So what have been my lessons from NaNoWriMo? I’ve learned I can do something if I want to do it badly enough and that the reward that motivates me might be something I never imagined. I’ve learned that while 1667 words doesn’t sound like much, it can feel like having 1667 root canals when you’re trying to pull those words out of your arse. I know NaNo is supposed to be an exercise in writing minus the internal editor and the search for the perfect word. But it’s frustrating when even the imperfect word eludes you. I’ve learned there’s a whole world of people out there ready to pat you on the back and encourage you. There’s also a world of people who don’t “get” it, so you avoid them.
But my #1 lesson from National Novel Writing Month involves a little carved wooden 1¼ x 1½ inch box off the top of my desk. On January 1st of this year I wrote “Finish the damn book” on a little slip of paper and I put it inside. On December 1st I can write “DONE” on that paper and put it in my validation file. And the next time someone asks me “What is your book about?” I don’t have to shrug and explain I only write short stories. I can tell them that my book is about mail-order sperm and a marriage of convenience but the true story is about the little voice in my head that finally said “Don’t ignore it.”
What big life lessons have you learned? If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, tell us about your experience.