Nano Redux

[November 2006] I think I tricked myself into writing a novel this month.

As you may know, this is NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is simple: write a 50,000-word novel during the thirty days of November. I did it last year and found it to be an exhilarating experience. Didn’t finish the book during November, but I wrote something like 75,000 words and completed the first draft a week or so into December.

This year, I wasn’t sure I wanted to participate. I was nowhere near as well prepared as I was last year, when I had a pretty good overall outline of the novel in my mind. I was also cognizant of the fact that there were nine days out of the month when I might not get any writing done at all.

I registered for NaNoWriMo at the last moment. My intent was to kick-start a book that I’ve been wanting to write for two years, but which has been languishing on my desktop for most of 2006 without attention. I had 19,000 words down, but other work got in the way, and I hadn’t even looked at the pages since June.

I’m never going to get 50,000 words done in November, I told myself. No way. And, as the early days of the month passed, I saw how true that prediction was. I was getting no more than 1000-1200 words written each day, when the average daily output has to be 1666 words to meet the goal.

Then along came the World Fantasy Convention. Three days in Austin where I wrote absolutely nothing, even though I took my laptop with me hoping to get at least thirty minutes or an hour in each day.

I saw the goal fading farther and farther into the distance, and I consoled myself by saying: I never thought I’d make it anyway. If I get 30,000 words done, I’ll be doing great, and I will have pushed well ahead into the novel.

Then a funny thing happened. I started kicking into high gear. Instead of a paltry 1000 words, I was writing 2000 words. Some days 3000. As many as 4000 on one or two days this past week. I started getting back on track. By the middle of November, I was exactly where I needed to be to reach the target: 25,000 new words.

So, I allowed myself to hope. As much as I’d told myself that not meeting the NaNoWriMo goal didn’t matter, deep inside I knew that it did. I don’t like to miss deadlines or fail to meet goals, arbitrary though they may be.

Still, Thanksgiving weekend looms, and I’m going to be away for the better part of six days. I don’t know if I’ll get any writing done at all. So, failure is still an option. It doesn’t matter. Not really. (Yes it does!) No it doesn’t.

Really. It doesn’t. I’ll probably take the manuscript with me to read and revise while I’m traveling. I’ll take along a journal to record any notes that occur to me. I might even end up writing longhand sections.

Or not. The important thing is that, even if I wrote nothing else this month, I’ve added 25,000 words to the manuscript, I’ve figured out a lot about the story and the characters, and I’m halfway through the novel.

In the book, one character is a novelist who has just finished a manuscript that is vastly different from anything he’s written before. He knows it’s good, but he also believes that his agent, his publisher and his regular readers aren’t going to like it. While he’s contemplating what to do about that, he decides to work on a novella that he agreed to contribute to an anthology being edited by a friend. Something short and manageable. Something that doesn’t represent a long commitment of time. Four weeks’ work, tops. Blow off some steam.

But a funny thing happens to him. During the first session, he falls into the zone and writes eighteen pages. The next day, same thing. Suddenly he realizes that a novella won’t contain this story. He’s accidentally started writing a novel. No fanfare, no rumination, no psychological preparation for the long haul that a novel represents. It simply happened to him when he wasn’t looking.

I know exactly how he feels.

And it feels great!

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