Many have heard of November’s “National Novel Writing Month” – often shortened to “NaNoWriMo” – an event wherein writers are encouraged to burn through 50,000 words of a new first draft in only 30 days. So many have heard of it, in fact, that there are articles online describing how to mute the hashtags relating to it so a person doesn’t see constant updates in their Twitter or Facebook feed.
Several of the authors here at the Pen and Cape Society are veterans of NaNoWriMo, but until last month, yours truly had never put himself through the wringer. The primary reason was that all my previous writing has been in either short stories or serial work. Novel- (or even novella-) length work have not been the sort of thing to drift past my fingers and onto the page.
Enter 2014, and a few online comments that caught my eye. I made a joke about possibly attempting the challenge, and it was seriously suggested that I give it a try (Thanks, Lisa and Hg!). It seemed like a worthwhile goal, and so I decided to give it a shot. I thought up a couple of quick ideas for my ‘novel’, but they seemed somehow not what I wanted to spend a month concentrating on. I finally decided to run with a story idea born out of frustration many years ago, a story for which the main characters had been sketched out, but no further work had been done. Those character sketches have traveled from one computer to another for nearly a decade, and because I found them fun to contemplate, I kept them around. Yet more reason for not throwing anything away (in writing, I mean. One would hope that those old banana peels on your counter aren’t THAT important).
I then faced the fact that I had no idea how to bring these characters together. I needed a reason for them to interact, an inciting event that would lead to a group cohesion. I started out with just money, but then decided to throw caution to the wind and add a laundry list of motivators. Every person you meet on a daily basis has a dozen different things that make them do what they do at any given moment. Why should I scrimp when it came to my characters?
My writing has always been done from a “Pantser” point of view. I don’t outline or write long, detailed plots beforehand. What I recognized here was that I was going to need some kind of structure ahead of time if I was to have any hope of succeeding at all. I twisted the motivations I had listed for the characters, finding ways to tie them into a basic plot – something more than, “Main guy looks for gold” but not a 30-page step-by-step events calendar.
As the days shortened and the November 1 start loomed, I had a few moments of panic and concern to deal with. For me, this represented a massive undertaking and was a leap of faith in which I was forced to tell myself, “You really CAN do this, dude.” Luckily, I have recently found myself possessed of the greatest support structure I’ve ever known, and with her in my corner, I decided that it was possible.
The first came. Many WriMos had plans to begin their work right at midnight. I, on the other hand, had plans to be awake to get ready for work at four A.M.. Having read that every second would count, I adjusted my plans and woke up two hours early to get a start on the story. I did this for most of the first week, and I used most of that two hours to bang out part of the 1,667 words per day necessary to make that vaunted 50,000 mark by November 30.
The days came and went, and there were instances of failure. I got sick and basically missed a day and a half. My computer glitched and devoured more than 5,000 words in one night. I ranted and raved about the unfairness of the situation and how the universe had proven itself a callous and uncaring beast, intent only on blocking my path to success in this venture.
But then, I sat down and I wrote. I decided that if the computer was going to take 5,000 from me, I was just going to give it 10,000 back. It was a moment of raw anger that led to some very good revenge-based writing. After that, I realized that while that 1,667 words a day had seemed daunting, 2,500 words a day – or 3,000 – was not beyond me. I sat and I hammered the keys, letting my characters tell me what they wanted most. This was where the Pantser in me shined, but it was all tied to the fact that I had built a rudimentary plot and knew where I wanted the characters to go. I know that without having taken the time to set up the basics ahead of time I would have floundered.
I “won” NaNoWriMo on November 24, breaking the 50,000 word barrier while still having about four chapters left to go in the draft. I closed out the month with over 60,000 words in my tale, and it still has more to go before I even begin to look at editing it.
By now you’re probably wondering, “Why am I reading this? What does it have to do with writing? I mean, yeah, old dude said he learned he had to create some plot ahead of time. Yay. So?”
The article, much like NaNoWriMo itself, isn’t about the craft. It is, in itself, that journey to a place you didn’t think you could or should go, and the changes that take place as a result. This is my “descent into the underworld”, to borrow from Frazer. I took a chance, stepped out of my comfort zone, and came away with a better understanding of who I am as a writer and as a person. I know now how to increase my productivity as a writer. I have shown myself that I can set very specific goals and meet them. I know that what seemed an insurmountable challenge for me fell to my assault for the simple reason that I refused to NOT beat it. Above all else, I know that I will finish “Jericho’s Gold” and make it my first novel release.
Oh, and next November’s event? I’ll be right back in the thick of it – working on the second Jericho Sims adventure.