Friday, December 17, 2010

NANOWriting Challenge: A Follow-up.

If you're a regular Ice Cream Diaries reader, you may remember me talking about a little writing project I completed this time last year. If not, here it is. It's affectionately called 'Novel in a Month' and is part of National Novel Writing Month, upon which November has been so dubbed. The website describes it best:

National Novel Writing Month
is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000 word, (approximately 175 page) novel by 11:59:59, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Thanks to recruiting efforts by a couple of regular customers, Kat and her mom Noreen, who themselves had already signed up to write their own first novels in a month, I threw my hat, er pen, into the ring. Starting on November 1 of 2009, I started to write. And write. And write. I wrote in the back of the shop whenever I had someone scooping out front. Instead of sharing my morning coffee with email and Facebook, I wrote. I learned to write dialog. I even took a writing retreat to a friend's condo on the coast in Old Orchard Beach, Maine.

I lived the life of a starving writer for a month. It was (using the first word that pops into my head), awesome.

I followed the website's instructions to the letter. I wrote as fast as I could, not even stopping to reread the paragraph I'd just finished. A little over a week into it, I was nearly halfway to 50,000 words. I was on fire. When I started, I had a rough idea of a storyline, but I had no clue what and who would show up between word one and 'the end'. I've often likened it to reading a book, but instead of turning the page to see what happens next, I let my fingers type it onto my computer screen. I wouldn't go so far as to say I was channeling my novel, but I often got that feeling. A writer's high like none I'd ever experienced.

And since competition is often needed to play at one's best, my co-conspirators and I pushed each other along. The NanoWriting website people sent inspiring emails. We uploaded our word counts daily and savored each little milestone along our way to 50K. It was challenging, exhausting at times, and hugely satisfying when we each got to the finish line of our own word marathons. The three of us celebrated over a great IPA and beef tips at the Apollo Grill.

The next day I sent my really, really rough manuscript to Paradise Copies for its first printing. All 63,214 words of it. Holding those 185 pages in my hands when I picked it up was another writing high, again awesome.

Having immersed myself in my tangled story of love, intrigue, and life lessons for the better part of thirty days, I quickly put the one inch stack of words down and didn't go near them for nearly a month. When I finally did give it a first read, although there were flashes of brilliance, or at least ok-ness, it really was pretty crappy.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

But just like the amateur marathon runner whose only accolade for finishing is personal satisfaction, I had now written a novel, and no one could ever take that away from me.

So in February of this year, I started what turned out to be the much more difficult part of the process - rewriting. My friend Kat and I quickly set up another challenge. We were to exchange rough drafts at the end of April. I did my best to attack this phase with the same diligence and discipline as last November, but it didn't take long to realize I really did write a lot of crap. Character names changed and interchanged throughout. I overused words. Tenses flipped from present to past at the drop of an open quote. Instead of writing at 3000 words a day, it was tough to get through a few pages, even with the caffeine inspiration of my morning cup of Indigo Roasters.

Around mid-April, I finally finished the first rough pass, printed it, and swapped it with Kat. She returned that copy a few weeks later, and although I know she's an art teacher by profession, I learned she's pretty good with a red pen too. Despite all the corrective encouragement, it took me a few more months to muster the motivation to take another whack at a rewrite. This whack coming not without another competitive challenge from my friends. We had decided to claim this November as our own 'rewrite in a month' (or so) project.

Again, rewriting is brutal business. It's one thing to rewrite a 1500 word blog essay, but working through 65,000 words is a much bigger fish to fry. But we each stayed the course. And now here I sit, version 2.0 on my screen, just about to hit the send button on the email its attached to, bound for Paradise Copies. As I tell this tale, I savor a fresh wave of satisfaction for sticking with it through another tough write-around.

So what happens next? Good question. Is it a marketable manuscript? Probably not. At least not in its current form. Too personal. An intriguing storyline I believe, but the main characters bear just a little too much of a resemblance to their creator and his circle.

Could it be marketable?


The confident optimist in me says perhaps.

You're likely thinking, wow, that's a lot of time and effort spent on something that ends up on a shelf for no one to read but its author, perhaps from his rocking chair many years from now. Might one consider my novel a failure? A waste of hundreds of hours of time?

I don't see it that way...

I got a taste, albeit just an appetizer, of the life of a writer. To reiterate - awesome.

I got to exorcise a few demons with the assistance of a handful of characters, some plot, and lots of dialog. Who would have thought writing could be so cathartic.

I'm certain the practice (and critique from friends) has made me a better writer.

I put my mind to something difficult and saw it through.

And I now have a 55,204 word description of 'My Greatest Life Lesson'.

True to many of life's endeavors, its purpose was not be revealed until I was fully immersed. The joy really is in the journey.

Thanks for listening.


Anonymous said...

Intriguing. I'm sure your legions of fans would indeed be excited to get a glimpse of it, if not devour every word.

Glad you found it such an amazing experience.

Kristy said...

This is very impressive Jim. Personally, I think this could never be a waste of time. To create is one of the greatest things we can do as human beings.