Thursday, November 12, 2015

My First NaNoWriMo; or (How I Lost Control of My Fictional Characters in Only 11 Days)

This is the first year I have participated in the annual novel writing event, the NaNoWriMo as it is commonly called. The goal of this endeavor is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Hundreds of thousands take part in this lofty assignment, and though I have known about this for several years I have declined to challenge myself. I write slowly, methodically, and the idea of pumping out that large of a story in only 30 days, frankly scared me crap less.

But this year I decided, what the heck, take the plunge, you can do this! First I took the characters from a book I just sold and sketched out where I wanted this book to take place, who the villains were going to be, and roughed out the first three chapters. By Halloween night I was ready.

Sunday morning, November 1st, dawned sad and gloomy just as the weather had been for days. I sat down in my favorite writing space, turned the television to mindless drivel and began clubbing my outline into real words. The first three days were amazing. The words flowed, the outline fleshed out into a story and for those three days I thought, "What was I so afraid of? This is no problem."

Then came day 4, where my progress slowed as I worked to grow the outline into a full length novel. Suddenly I was beset with insecurities. Did I like what I was writing? I wasn't sure. The action began to diverge from the direction I intended when I started this endeavor. Should I continue this vein or wrestle everyone into the niches I wanted them? The feel of my writing became soggy, as if I were forcing myself to run through red Georgia mud on a cold day in winter.

At last I found myself at over 15,000 words. I earned a badge. I was as proud of that day as any time I earned a merit badge as a Girl Scout. That one little circle on my NaNo dashboard re-inspired me. I took to the keyboard with a madness borne of word count. By the end of the first week I was flirting with 20,000 words and I had the beginnings of a real story. Success would be mine.

Entering this second week, I planned out my goals. I was shooting for 25,000, the next goal badge on the NaNo dashboard. I felt like Pavlov's dog motivated by the rise of the line on a graph. Unfortunately, my characters noticed the change in my work ethic and began to make decisions by themselves. Without my permission, the story began to veer from its pre-almost-determined plot line, into a quagmire of new decisions, strange action, and the completed abandonment of the project for an island in the South Pacific. Preferably one with all the amenities of home.

So here I am, at 31,000 words, with a villain who has decided to abscond with the money, two heroes who've decided to hide out until the whole thing blows over, and a hot mess to work them out of, in 20,000 words or less. Maybe I'll let the bad guys leave, maybe I'll make them stuck in Atlanta airport for flight delays (happens all the time in real life). That'll teach them to jump ship in the middle of a story.

My heroes however, are quite adamant about hiding out and drinking beer until the whole thing is over. I've yelled, I've pleaded, I've threatened to give them all impotency, but nothing. Damn Irish, always doing whatever takes them to the nearest pub.

As an exercise, I can see the appeal of an event like NaNoWriMo. It builds a community of writers who support each other as we struggle through our daily word counts, and moan through the endless hours where the page is blank and the clock is ticking. That alone is a mighty gift. Writers are by their very natures, introverted. We don't want to talk about what we're working on, as if by the very mention of it will bring on a jinx such as writer's block.

And I will soldier on, obediently updating my word count, chatting with others in my area as they type on with feverish abandon, content in the knowledge that, I have no idea where this novel will end up. But that's okay, because in the end it may build me into a better writer, who plans more before I sit down and let the lunatics out to roam. However, in the meanwhile, if you have any ideas on how to rope in drunk Irishmen, I would be most appreciative.

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