In late 2002, I was fresh out of Library School and still a new arrival to L.A. I only knew a few people, and none of them very well. I didn’t know the city at all. I had very little money. I had a tiny, tiny apartment and a PC that was on its last legs, although I didn’t know that quite yet. On that little old PC, I had started writing again, after taking a break following my graduation with a B.A. in Creative Writing.
On November 1st, I started writing a novel. I didn’t have a great idea. I didn’t have an outline. I had a couple of characters and a concept that had had two false starts already. So why did I start writing? That day, I read an entry on Neil Gaiman’s blog that pointed me toward NaNoWriMo.
I love the whole concept of NaNoWriMo. I know how easy it is to let those story ideas fade away without writing anything down. It’s even easier to write down the idea and abandon it when the writing gets hard. And it’s much, much easier to stop writing than to force your way past that Internal Editor that tells you that if your story isn’t perfect right away, then it isn’t worth writing.
NaNoWriMo gives the wanna-be writer a ridiculous goal: 5o,000 words in 30 days. If you want to finish, you have to keep writing. When the story stalls, you have to keep writing. When the story takes bizarre turns you never planned, you have to keep writing. When the story starts to look like just a bunch of clumsy words, you have to keep writing. There is no time to go back and edit. There is no time to polish up that prose. There is no time to lose momentum in research.
If you want to “win” NaNoWriMo, you just have to write.
I “won” that first year, writing 51,008 words. There was a beginning, a middle, and end. There was also a huge digression into what should have been an entirely different novel, and there was a character I referred to as a “brother ex machina” when he appeared halfway through.
Somewhere, I have a print-out of that story, that novel, and that is the only copy, since that particular computer crashed and went to Digital Heaven six weeks later.
I took on the NaNoWriMo challenge again in 2003 and 2004, but both attempts remain unfinished. The 2004 novel stopped at 32, 143 words. The 2003 novel met a sad fate. It exists as several “untranslatable” files.
And that was that. Until this year, when I got an itch to start writing again. When I saw a mention somewhere about the authors who would be doing the pep talks this year, I signed up just to get those in my inbox. And, of course, I couldn’t just leave it at that. So, on November 1st, I started a new novel. You can see my word count in the sidebar. As of this moment, I am at 42,012 words. Apparently, if I don’t write much fiction for a few years, it all comes pouring out at once.
It’s a messy first draft. I’ve shifted character’s traits and altered the timeline in ways I will need to go back and fix. I have things that need to be researched to round out my best guesses. But it’s a draft. There is an actual story there, on the page, instead of just floating around in my head. And, more importantly, I’m writing every day. For me, that’s the point: to get back into the habit of sitting down at the keyboard and putting words on the page (screen, whatever).
After November, I can revise. I can edit. I can turn this messy draft into a real story. I can work on the art and craft of writing something worth reading.
It’s not too late for you to join in.