How’d my Nano go?

December 3, 2007

Well, not well. But I did keep a journal, of sorts, that explains, at least in part, what it’s like. I’d hate for the journal to be shoved into a dark corner and never see the light of day, so read on:

October 28, 2007:
Three Days To Go
I’m sitting at a table in the food court of Union Station. People are chatting. Someone’s brought homemade fudge to this event, the kickoff party for Nanowrimo 2007.
A Union Station bum spies the fudge, then me: “Is this a bake sale or something?”
“No, everyone here’s going to write a novel in 30 days.”
He looks bewildered. “Collectively?”
“No, separately.”
He spies a pile of stickers in front of me; one reads “Be nice to me or I’ll put you in my novel.” “Are you doing it too?”
I nod.
“Good luck!” He flashes me a grin and a thumbs-up. I consider giving him a piece of fudge.
But I don’t; I need to stockpile for the month ahead, like a forest mammal going into hibernation. In November, as I join more than 100,000 writers worldwide who will each be writing a 175-page novel in a month, I’ll forgo sleep, work, and personal hygiene just to “win.”
There are no prizes and most people never finish. Those that do, self-publish the end product or nothing. A few people have published Nanowrimo novels the traditional way; Sara Gruen, author of “Water for Elephants,” wrote “Flying Changes” during the month of November.
So, with high hopes of meeting–or becoming–the next Sara Gruen, I found myself at Union Station at an informal meeting of the minds.

People share their plotlines for the year. A revolution in a nursing home. A mystery in an insane asylum. A coal mining town…in space. I lose track of the number of pirates.
“You should put a bank robbery in yours,” one woman says. The writer she’s talking to nods, grins in understanding. “That’s a good idea.”
The ideas sound ridiculous. I hear about a Zeppelin full of man-hating sky pirate chicks and a Steampunk house haunted by the royal Tudors. They sound ridiculous, sure, but then I listen to the drivel coming out of my own mouth:
“It’s, um, sort of historical fiction, except I haven’t done any research,” I stammer to one person who asks about my future novel. “And there’s a plot to overthrow the government..and probably pirates are involved.” If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
The talk turns to reaching 50,000 words–still feeling like an impossible goal. One of the veteran Nanoers shares her secret: “Have your characters all tell dead baby jokes.”
We’re all doomed.

Oct 31, 2007:
Halloween. One Day To Go.
What the heck am I doing? I have a life. Writing a novel will quickly kill that life. Worst, my boyfriend thinks Nanowrimo’s a terrible idea–and he’s probably right–so I’m keeping my participation secret from him. I feel awful, yet I can’t not do it. I ponder matters of Halloween costumes to keep my mind off tomorrow.

November 1, 2007:
First Day–Feeling Great!
I’ve got 2500 words–far more than the 1667 daily words one needs to write to reach 50,000 in a month–and feel great. It only took me two hours!
Two hours? Two hours??? How can I spend two hours writing a day?
I log on to the Nanowrimo forums. Some people already have 5,000 words. I console myself by pretending that these people all live in Asia and therefore got a time-zone-related head start. There is a thread called “Why do you do it, you nutcase??” Most answers are “Because it’s fun” or the age-old mountain-climbing answer: “Because it’s there.” One poster espouses the theory that noveling gives one an excuse to ignore his or her family during the Thanksgiving holidays.

November 1, 2007:
A Little Later
I sneak in another 300 words. This is fun, even though I’m positive I’ve written pure drivel. I spend an hour or so on the Nanowrimo forums considering the idea of “sneaking” in more words. But by God, I have work to do! Real work! I have to STOP  myself from writing!

November 2, 2007.
I’m terrible at keeping secrets. My boyfriend now knows. He thinks I am crazy. I probably am.

November 6, 2007
I am wretchedly behind. I look at my word count totals for the first five days: 2,921. 2,132. 2,006. 2,480. 800. I am slipping. My characters hate me and I hate them. Why do people do this, again?

November 7, 2007.
I’m at a “write-in,” a meeting of Wrimos in a public place where writing is supposed to get done. We talk a lot about TV and make fun of the music playing at this coffee shop (the score of Phantom of the Opera) and drink coffee. I think some writing gets done. I get about 500 words in two hours, not nearly enough to make my total for the day.

November 18, 2007.
This stinks. I went away on a vacation (after buffing up my wordcount to make sure I’d be able to enjoy sun and palm trees without worrying about writing) and lost the entire thread of my novel. Not that there was much of one there to begin with. My characters seem flat, my dialogue stunted. In my inbox are three “pep talks” from famous authors telling me not to give up.


November 30, 2007.
I no longer hate my characters or my plot (though it’s so wretchedly tangled I may never figure out who sent the protagonist a note written in invisible ink). Who I hate are the people who have finished, especially the people who finished weeks ago. In fact, I could probably get my last 35,000 words (yes, I’m that behind) just writing about how much I hate the successful Wrimos. But that would be wrong on many levels, so I don’t do it.

I’ve learned a few things along this road of insane writing–the first being that it’s damn hard to do this while holding down a real job. Nanoing in college–a freshman-year experiment–was a lot easier. Yet at least one of the guys I met at the kickoff party in October works full-time and finished, so I can’t use that as my excuse.

I’ve learned that my theory of journalists being better novelists holds true, for me at least. I still don’t think I’m ready to write the Great American Novel, but the people I wrote a paltry 15,000 words about this month seem slightly less flat than anything I wrote before I shoved fiction into the closet.

I’ve learned that though I still mightily prefer nonfiction subjects, the desire to invent is still there.

My one mistake this year, besides stopping writing while on vacation (in a perfect world, I just would never take a November vacation, I think), was giving in too wholeheartedly to the Nanowrimo spirit of “fix it in December.” For most applications of that phrase, it works. But I kept introducing twists that made no sense and then assuming I’d be able to dig myself out of the hole I made before November ended. What I got was a convoluted plot that’s going to require a lot of preplanning and rewriting. And yes, the idea is to write crap, but crap that’s internally consistent. At least that was the goal I was working towards. And I did a great job of that until I crashed and burned. I’m going to need to think seriously about what I want to happen before giving my characters free rein over the rest of the story.

And I’ve learned that 1600 words a day is DAMN. HARD. I respect everyone who finished–even students. Because even without a full-time job, 1600 words a day is a feat.

Congrats to all who finished. For the rest of us, there’s always next November.

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