Sunday, November 01, 2015
Let the insanity begin!
I am a big fan of National Novel Writing Month. If I had not discovered NaNo back in 2004, I never would have completed a novel. I would never have published a novel. I would never have retired with the goal of writing novels full time.
I’m a perfectionist. I aimed for straight As in school. When I was taking music lessons, I had to play a piece perfectly. (Not easy, since I wasn’t motivated to practice.) When I was writing computer code for a living, my programs had to be error free. Not only that, I expected users to think they were the best computer programs they’d ever used.
So when I decided it was time to write a novel, I expected it to be perfect from the get-go. The only writer I knew who had written about writing was Isaac Asimov. He famously said that writing wasn’t work because all he had to do was type very fast. I thought books came out perfect just by typing very fast.
But when I typed my stories, they’d start out okay, but it didn’t take very long for me to get frustrated because they weren’t perfect. My deathless prose was deader than a doornail. I’d get thirty or forty pages in and, because what I was writing was such dreck, I’d quit.
During National Novel Writing Month, you’re supposed to write dreck. You have one goal: write 50,000 words in thirty days. Ideally, word number 49,999 should be “The” and word number 50,000 should be “End,” but it doesn’t have to be.
All you have to do is write 1667 words for each of the thirty days in November and you’ll “win.” Now, if you don’t write on a regular basis, writing 1667 words a day is daunting. It takes hours. If you have a day job, you’ll be getting up early or staying up late to have enough time to type them. If you fall behind, you start to panic, because now you’ll have to write 2,000 or 3,000 words a day for some of those days.
You watch your word count progress and that of other participants on a thermometer bar under your name in the forums (like the one on the left side of this post), and don’t want yours to be shorter than everyone else’s.
Toward the end of the month, you may resort to desperate measures. Word wars and sprints where you type as many words as you can in short bursts along with other participants. Random elements thrown out by municipal leaders at group write-ins that have nothing to do with your story, but which you have to somehow make a part of it. Going down rabbit trails with a visit to the zoo or Mount Olympus or anything that will give you more words.
And a magical thing happens somewhere along the way. Because you’re totally focused on quantity rather than quality, because you’ve locked your inner editor in a closet for the duration, your muse takes over and starts giving you ideas that your editor would never let you think about, much less use, under normal circumstances. Your writing takes on a life of its own.
There’s nothing better than being able to upload your “masterpiece” at the end of the month and get that “Winner” badge. Okay, maybe publishing and actually having someone other than your mother read your novel is better, but that comes later.
NaNoWriMo took away all my frustration at never being able to complete a novel. I may not have written a great novel, but I’d done the impossible by finishing one. I can’t tell you how much that confidence meant to me.
So here I am, eleven years later, maybe more, ready to start another novel for NaNoWriMo. In 2013, worn out by writing my “real” novels, I decided NaNo and a fun novel, a nonsense novel, a novel that didn’t need to be perfect, was just what I needed. My muse surprised me again. What I got was something new and wonderful.
But, in order to be a successful indie author, I needed to write more books in my existing series first. So, after NaNo, I went back to my Christian mystery series.
In 2014, I again gave myself a month off and wrote a sequel to the 2013 mystery. It’s not quite as good as the first one, but it’s only a first draft. I know now I can fix those.
This year, I’ll be writing book three in this series. I spent October setting up a new Scrivener project, developing some new characters, and adding index cards for the scenes in it. I experimented with creating book covers and gathering photos on Pinterest. For the past three days, I’ve been champing at the bit to start writing. Finally, it’s November 1st!
I’m going to try to keep my word count updated so you can watch that thermometer bar grow longer. I’ll also try to make briefer posts more often on my progress. Most of all, I’m going to have fun!