Check that shit out -- right there on the left side of this post. That's a NaNoWriMo Winner! badge. Wanna know how I got that? I wrote a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. That was it -- all I had to do. It didn't have to be good, it didn't have to contribute to the national conversation, it didn't even have to be spelled correctly or use good grammar (although you can rest assured my novel does both those things, and does them well). It just had to be 50,000 words or more.
I committed to NaNoWriMo somewhere during the last week of October, when another blogger I like to read was talking about how she was going to do it, and used the word "again." I thought to myself, I'm being left behind. Left behind by people who don't even really write fiction. And so I figured I'd look into it, maybe give it a try this year. The main rule, other than the 50,000 words, is that you have to work on something new, not something you've already started. I'd had the germ of a potential chick lit masterpiece (um, right!) working its way around my brain for a few weeks leading up to this, so I figured I'd go ahead and commit that to paper. Or computer. Or whatever. Upon hitting the forums for the challenge, I took some advice from folks who have completed it in the past and decided to make an outline. Something I've never done in the past when working on fiction.
I got off to a really slow start. The entire first week of November was really busy for one reason or another, and I wasn't able to sit down in the evenings and start writing. In fact, I don't think I even started until maybe the 10th. So already, I was way behind. Apparently you want to average around 1,667 words per day. But once I get going, that kind of word count comes easily. It was just getting to the final tally that would be an issue. And once I did get started, I immediately started to feel it -- the feeling of obsession that's always come to me when writing fiction. I was suddenly distracted all the time, thinking about my characters, thinking about their wants and needs and hopes and dreams and motivations.
And that was the biggest road block, eventually: I've always written organically. My characters do what they want to do, or what they're going to do, whether I've gone into it thinking that they would do A, B, or C. And then I explore that, and let them go on their way, and see where it takes the story. It can be slow and arduous, but it's the way that works for me. And to force myself to use the outline and push forward the word count was nearly counter-intuitive for me. I wanted to go back and flesh things out; I wanted to revise as the characters matured; I wanted to add entire scenes. But I didn't. I stuck to my outline. And ultimately, I reached 50,767 words.
I reached it with a whimper, not a bang, around 5 o'clock this evening. I was starting to lose steam, as was the story. It has its good moments, but it has more bad and cheesy moments. If the purpose wasn't the word count, I'd have scrapped 60% of it and revised already.
But if the purpose wasn't the word count, I wouldn't have started it at all. I certainly wouldn't have pursued it till I reached 50,000 words. So what it was really about was reminding me of something I'd all but forgotten: I'm a writer. A writer. I've always been a writer. And I'd lost sight of that for the last few years. Busy with work, and taking care of my family, and all the distractions that cable television provides, I haven't written more than about 4 pages in the last five years. But now, I've written about 140 in the last three weeks alone. About 60 just this weekend.
Don't get me wrong. I don't want to make a habit of writing 60 pages in one weekend... unless I'm actually getting paid for it.
But I do want to get back to the habit of writing fiction all the time. Because it's what I love to do.