01 December 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011 and beyond

During the month of November I participated in National Novel Writers Month.  I have to admit to several serious inner conversations during the 30 days which centered on two primary questions:  "What do you think you are doing?" and "Just who to you think you are?" 

First of all, to "win" NaNoWriMo one has to come up with 50,000 words.  Some really famous novels are not much longer than that, "As I Lay Dying" (William Faulkner), for example.  When I passed that word count goal this past Monday night (very nearly Tuesday morning), I'd also produced 200 double spaced pages of text. 

Second, until a friend in late September invited me to explore the possibility of participating this year, I had never, ever considered writing a novel.  For the entire month of October I wondered if I had a story in me and if, through 50,000 words and 200+ pages I could possibly keep my story straight.  The answer to that last question is a very clearly articulated "absolutely not."
So, here I am the day after the deadline.  With the imminent addition of maybe a half dozen chapters the story will be pretty much told.  Then, I will have to decide what to do next.  Even a pretty good first draft is just that and, believe me, I'm not claiming "pretty good" by any means.  What I have in 200 pages is full of inconsistencies, forgotten details, missing characters, lost opportunities.  The rewrite, I suspect -- should I persevere, will be harder than November's "thirty days and nights of literary abandon" (a quote from the NaNoWriMo website).  But, I'm thinking I have to press on.

There's a reason for that hunch.  I am 58 years old.  Through the arc of the past month I have been as focused as I think I've ever been.  One of the longings I have had during my life has been to find myself truly involved in something.  I'm not looking for the same sort of pressure as one might see in a movie where the main characters have 24 hours to save the world or anything.  Too intense.  I'm more interested in being deeply involved, engrossed, wholly caught up in a project that has captured me. 

During my working career, yes, I was involved, but most of what I was doing was what others wanted me to do.  I was conscientious and dedicated and thorough.  Sadly, for most part, I was running scared, ever fearful of not getting it all done and of being judged negatively.  But for the past 30 days I've thought about my characters, deliberated over making up a location for the action or setting the story in a known place, wondered what could happen next and how the main character might react, worried about characters that hadn't been heard from in dozens of pages, been honestly surprised at what appeared on the screen in front of me. 

I have been with the story and those characters for 30 days and I've loved every minute of it -- even when I was too tired to type another word, when the story was going nowhere, when my inner editor was telling me terrible things, not only about the story, but about me, when it felt as though the 50,000 total was eluding me rather than moving closer. 

Here's the thing: I was loving it even when I was hating it.  That's what I'm talking about ...  

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