30 November 2009

this year in NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo, the conclusion: this year's NaNoWriMo was for me both a breakthrough and a catastrophe. It was a breakthrough because I finally found an outlining style I liked and that seemed to be effective. It was not a catastrophe because I got so few words done, even though it's true the finally word count was only in the four-digit range — I've already "won" twice and like to think I've proven to myself that I can write 50,000 words in one month.

The catastrophe was that just around the middle of the month, I found out life was imitating art and that some central details to my story had become true for someone I know, someone who had no idea what my novel was about, or even that I was participating in NaNoWriMo. Ethically, I don't have any trouble with, say, taking a cool picture frame a friend owns and describing one just like it in a story (with a different photo in it and placing it in a different room than in real life). But I do worry when my story sounds just like something that actually happened, even if I did come up with my story first.

The one good thing that is coming out of this is that I now have a story on the go that is much less likely to be true. Or, if true, much less likely to have happened to someone I know personally.

I sincerely hope that last paragraph isn't tempting fate (or coincidence) too much.

14 November 2009

when support causes failure

Writing, as we are so often told, is a solitary activity. For some people, that makes it more difficult to write. For part-time misanthropes like myself, that's a good thing. Don't get me wrong: for part of the time, I love being with friends and family, giving and receiving affection and attention, helping each other out... but only for part of the time. For the other part of the time, I'm quite happy to be on my own, writing.

When I was a teenager, I was able to write in my journal and carry on a conversation about something completely different at the same time. For example, the journal would be about why high school sucks on that particular day, while the conversation would be about whether or not Echo & the Bunnymen would ever re-form and go on to make more music (aside: I am ever-grateful that they did). I can't do that anymore. Partly it's because I'm no longer able to pull off eccentricity like I did when I was a teenager, and partly it's because my friends no longer feel bad about yelling at me if they think I'm ignoring them.

What this means, though, is that the solitary joy of writing has become even more precious.

That makes NaNoWriMo a problem. On the one hand, support is everywhere: on Twitter, with my friends, on the NaNoWriMo site itself. On the other hand, all that support can be in itself distracting. You're here to help me through my 50,000 word count? Great. I appreciate it. Talk to you 1 December.

There's only one thing worse than having writer's block, and that's having a friend call you up to offer their support just when you were getting in the groove (or, more likely, thinking that you would start making your word quota in five minutes, just as soon as you finished your cup of tea). It makes me think of that Camus story where the famous painter, desperate for some quality work time, locks himself in the cupboard under the stairs and refuses to come out until he's done his painting.

Camus's protagonist dies in his self-imposed isolation, but there's got to be a happy ending that suits the part-time misanthrope and the part-time gregarious parts of me (and you, and all creative people) together. I don't want the support to go away, and I don't want to stop supporting people.

I just want to get the damned novel done, too.

Know what I mean?

01 November 2009

and so it begins

This is my fourth NaNoWriMo, which I think gives me enough experience to muse about how different they've all been for me.

The first year I signed up, it was an abject failure because that was The November Everything Happened — my grandmother died, my 17-year-old cat died, and I lost my job all within two weeks. I got through the funeral, the last trip to the vet's, and finding a new job as well as one could be expected (was only unemployed for two weeks, all told), but that didn't leave me with enough energy to write a novel, much less in the remaining days of November.

Two years ago I joined with a bunch of other people who were in the writing group I belonged to at the time. As it turns out, only myself and one other person completed. I was surprised, because there were a number of very strong writers in the group who had signed up, and they didn't finish. It was a good lesson in quality versus quantity, but at the same time it made me want to finish again next year. I have to admit that I didn't use entirely new material per the rules that year. Instead, I wrote fifty thousand new words on a story that already had about seven thousand words done on it. I justified this by not claiming the completion certificate, which according to the NaNoRebel forum is an acceptable thing to do.

Last year I was back, this time with a story that didn't get started until 1 November. I wrote the entire thing in eighteen days of the thirty available, which meant lots of marathon sessions and a photo finish on 30 November (which made me late for a craft event at a friend's but was so worth it! Luckily the ever-chaotic Tara was understanding.)

I tried editing the novel I wrote for NaNo 2008 in the spring, and discovered it needs a lot more than editing — more like a full rewrite. Maybe someday. Right now I want to push ahead with new ideas.

This year I have one five-day weekend and two three-day weekends in November, thanks to a stricter take-your-vacation-or-else policy at work. I'm also creating a phase draft for this year's NaNoWriMo novel, thanks to Lazette Gifford via Johanna Harness. What this means is that instead of pulling away as quickly as I can towards the 30 November goal of fifty thousand words, I've written just over a thousand words just to put myself on the chart, and now have retired to writing the rest of my phase draft. I know the ideal would have been to get the phase draft done before November started (um, next year?), but this is how things worked out. I did use the phase draft as I had it so far to write my first thousand words, and it did make things much easier. At least I have those vacation days to put in some marathons and get caught up.

Happy NaNoing!