|The terror of the blank "page"|
November 13, 2017
How to lose National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)? Start late, do little prep work in October, change your plan in the first week, and, finally, be sidelined by uncomfortable health issues that make it impossible to focus on much, let alone write, for days on end.
I don't mean to sound like I am giving up, but, oh... I am giving up. But only on reaching 50,000 words by the end of the month. I will continue (uh, start?) working on my novel this month and it will be interesting to see where my final word count for the month lands, though I truly doubt it will be anywhere close to a "win."
Of course, giving up when it is the 22nd and I have less than 500 words written is something of a misnomer. There really isn't a path to victory left at this point.
I first sat down to write this post on the 14th, but I have not had the headspace to even finish writing these words since then. At that point, a win was still technically possible. I would have needed to average 2,700 words per day for the rest of the month, but that was not far off from my 2012 average. However, it would also have required doing little but writing for the rest of the month, which would not have been possible even if I was healthy, especially if I was healthy, so I was already prepared to claim my defeat for 2017 at that point in time.
I knew that completing 50,000 words this year would be a challenge heading in, so my initial goals were very much the same as 2013, which was to get back into the habit of making creative writing a regular and integral part of my creative process and routine. That year, the goal was to work towards finishing the 2012 novel, but this year I started off with the plan to bang out a simpler novel by the seat of my pants.
A couple things happened this year creatively on the way to NaNoWriMo "failure," though. First, the health issues took me out of the game entirely after the first weekend. This was the primary roadblock this year. But very close behind those issues were the lack of prep, the lack of "October work," heading into the book.
I very quickly found that a vague idea for a starting point for the novel was not quite enough to inspire the large daily word counts I enjoyed in 2012. Sure, this was meant to be a seat of the pants project from the get go, but I very quickly found that I needed more than a vague starting point to really get the story rolling. I needed to identify a few characters, I needed a solid hook for the opening chapter, and I needed a better sense of where the plot was heading beyond "a stranger comes to town and takes the protagonist on a journey."
Being a sequel to the 2012 novel, I did know "the stranger" well and the world was fully built before diving in, and I looked forward to learning about the new protagonist as I rode the story out by the seat of my pants, but it just wasn't enough to really get the ball rolling, to get to the point where the story was alive enough in my mind to write itself through physical discomfort and pain, to inspire me to find extra time to write instead of needing to talk myself into sitting down to write anything at all...
The idea was strong, but it was still only just an idea, it was not a living story in my mind yet.
Through this, I've gained a ton of appreciation for the thorough prep work I did in 2012, before starting in on the first draft. I had long character sketches for all of the major and minor characters so they were "alive" to me long before they were ever introduced on the page, and I had detailed, scene by scene outlines for the first half of the novel and a more open, chapter by chapter outline for the latter half, which was getting filled in to the scene level long before I reached those later points in the story.
Because of all of that work, the story was so real in my head that the actual writing often felt more like I was just typing up the fully formed scenes in my head rather than wrestling through the match word by word... Of course, there was still room for spontaneity and new ideas, but they all served the outline, for the most part, rather than being creative farts blowing me down dead end rabbit trails.
In some ways, it was like reading a book after seeing the film. I knew what was going to happen, for the most part, but it was fascinating to see how the vision became realized on the page, to learn all the little nuances and details passed over in the movie...
For all of the benefits that come from this very structured approach to writing, I still miss the days where I would sit down with a vague idea, pull out a notebook, and follow the words one by one through a story. Of course, that works better for simpler, shorter stories. I still think that the new novel would be a good candidate for this sort of writing, but I still need to have a little more put together than I have so far.
Finally, diving in a few weeks ago, because of the lack of prep work, I turned to the earlier novel to "brush up" as I was starting in on the new book. The good news is that I fell in love all over again with the older story. This was also the bad news, and quickly I decided to work on both at once, to go rebel in 2017, with a goal of writing 50,000 words and finishing at least one of the books. I needed to re-read the old book before working on it, but I figured I could make a solid start on the new book while this was happening.
Unfortunately, almost immediately I became so physically miserable that I was unable to muster the concentration for any of it. For close reading the old book, for hauling the new book out of the dust and rubble of creation...
So, with all of this failure with NaNoWriMo 2017, how can I find any victory here? Well, easily. I am thinking about writing in a very real way again, and regardless of my November setbacks, these novels are not going back on the shelf to collect another year or two's worth of dust. I am fired up to finish the 2012 novel and to write the 2017 one, more so than I have been in years. I did complete enough prep work on the new one to get started (though I want to rewrite the few paltry words I did complete), and I am solidly reacquainting myself with the world the novels are set in.
I've been going through something of a creative slump for the last year or more due to some complicated life issues, and writing is where I've decided restart. The projects that have occupied so much of my time for the last several years, and the other photo / video work... These endeavours are not going away completely, but for right now, writing is the best fit for me logistically and creatively due to some huge life transitions going on right now. The reset button has been hit on my life, and as I start rebuilding, I find myself wanting to start with the neglected loose ends, which definitely means finishing up the oldest loose end first.
I am very excited about the future, and I expect great things to come out of the next few years, knocking down these books, completing the non-fiction project on the Historic Columbia River Highway, and continuing work on the National Parks and Monuments project, which is still in a phase of early development, really.
NaNoWriMo 2017 has been the start of this process. While I may end up accomplishing little during the month itself, I did start something, and I plan on sticking with it through to the end. By this time next year, the 2012 book will be done, and the 2017 book, I hope, will have, at a minimum, a solid first draft.
Starting over, this is where I choose to dive in and to devote the bulk of my creative time and energy. I am very excited by this, and cannot see the inspiration provided by NaNoWriMo as anything but a victory as it lifted me back on my creative feet, ready and willing to move ahead once again.