November 1st will be here soon and with it comes another year of NANOWRIMO – the National Novel Writer’s Month, where the goal is to crank out 50,000 words in the 30 days of November.
I did it in 2010 and it nearly killed me, but I met the goal. Lynn had written me off as an absentee husband. Spencer started calling the Xbox ‘Daddy’ and acknowledging me as a guest who lived in the home office. Friends and relatives failed to understand why it was important to me. Even writer friends who did not participate in Nanowrimo saw it as the arbitrary goal it is and thought it was nuts.
Still, I did it. Considering that I work 50+ hours a week and still pulled this off is really quite amazing, and for all my effort, sacrifice and time, what did I create?
I wrote an insufferable, meandering first draft titled, Find My Baby. This was intended to be a heartfelt story of a likeable couple, attempting to adopt a two year-old boy from a Ukrainian orphanage, and the obstacles they faced along the way. What I actually created was a steaming pile.
At one point in the story, somewhere around the 40k word mark, I had sewer cannibals storming the hotel in Kiev, seeking to recover the heir to the Russian Cannibal Sewer Kingdom’s throne, who happened to be the newly adopted boy. Sewer cannibals.
What can I say, I got bored with my own story. Did you see what I admitted? I GOT BORED WITH MY OWN STORY. As I typed each word, I knew it was complete crap. I knew, when editing time came, entire chapters would be cut, but I was hell bent for leather on a word count goal and writing instinctually. Quality was not a factor and couldn’t be, if I was to meet the goal. While it was liberating to just write with abandon, it was also hollow and didn’t feel good.
Writers know what I mean. You know when the words are flowing or when you are forcing it. You know when the words are on the mark or not. You know if it’s rough but will be good once edited. This was none of those things. I knew this storyline had taken a tragic turn to failure with each key-strike and I did it anyway. I drove a bus full of characters off of a cliff and into a chasm of certain death for the sole purpose of meeting a word count goal.
When I was done, I had written just over 50,000 words and most of them sucked. I was a winner at finishing a novel I was ashamed of. Yay me.
In 2011, I rewrote this same novel in the 3-Day Novel Contest, and because I had a better outline to follow, it was a better story. It wasn’t publishable by any measure, but it was better, and produced a 39k word second draft.
I then drafted it a third time, and came up with a story that was 30k words long, but was told it needed to place the focus on the tension between the MC and some Russian hackers, with the adoption being the back story.
So I started a rewrite again, now as a geeky cyber-crime thing. It’s like The Net, only loaded with technical references and lacking Sandra Bullocks’ charm. I’m still not happy with it.
Here is what I must do:
I must write the story I want to tell. I must have a big high and a big, big low in a three-act story, and it must be written efficiently – maintaining a healthy cadence.
I have the outline completed. I really do, and it is a good story – not meandering, like the first draft. Not pandering – like the second draft. Not my story anymore – like the third draft. I will finally write it as I want to write it. If a publisher won’t publish it, then I will. Maybe it will be read. Maybe not.
As for Nanowrimo this year – I’m blowing it off. I say, write with abandon or write with trepidation, but write. There is value in an exercise like Nanowrimo, and some Nanowrimo writers are published. It’s just not what I need at this point in my journey. If you are doing Nanowrimo in November, I wish you the very best. Enjoy the horror of it all. The horror.