I am taking part in NaNoWriMo this year. I went back and forth on it a few times before I decided to just suck it up and do it. It’s not a question of whether I can do it. I know I can do it; I’ve won NaNoWriMo four times in the past. No, it’s a question of whether I will do it.
This blog used to have entries dating all the way back to 2008. Every time I wrote something I would come write a blog entry about it after I wrote. John Shea used to poke fun at me because some of my blog entries were longer than the stories they were about. I was trying to document my process and my “writer’s life”. After a while, though, the “writer’s life” became a lack of same, and the blog degenerated into horrible, self-recriminatory “I am such a lazy writer” type posts. I finally deleted it all at the beginning of this year, hoping to make a fresh start.
I love to write. Writing is a catharsis for me, helping me to escape the stresses of my everyday life by describing alternate worlds and helping my characters identify and solve their own problems. I have always been an extremely lazy writer, though, preferring to sit around and watch TV, scroll around on Facebook, and play Candy Crush instead of writing. However much I love writing, I have never been diligent about pursuing it, especially in the last four years.
My longform writing efforts have usually centered around NaNoWriMo. For those of you who might not know what it is, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, a challenge to write a novel of at least 50,000 words during the month of November. There are no prizes for winning; it’s for bragging rights and the pride of completing such a difficult goal. To “win”, you have to average almost 1,700 words a day for the 30 days in the month. It can be done, and some people go well beyond that number, but it takes discipline and tenacity. I do not possess those things in abundance, so my own history with NaNo is checkered. Every year between 2008-2011 I went over the 50,000 line, but have not managed it since.
In 2008 I wrote a fantasy story called Silvershield, set in a secondary world called Sov that I was developing at that time. I wrote just under 51,000 words and finished what I thought was a halfway decent story. Over the next few months I tried to work on revisions to the story, found several things about it that I wanted to change, and realized that it was going to be easier to just completely rewrite the whole thing from the beginning.
I made the Silvershield rewrite my 2009 NaNo novel. I wrote just under 51,000 words again, but did not finish the book this time. I was about 75% through the story when November ended (you don’t have to have a finished novel to win NaNo, you just have to be over 50,000 words when the month ends). I took a break to clear my head after the frantic rush up to 50K at the end of the month and then never went back to it. It remains unfinished to this day.
In 2010 my wife gave me a challenge. She said, “You always write fantasy. Try something else. Write a love story.” I did. I wrote The Girl in the Corner, a romance. It was a romance my way, though, which means there was some fantasy in it, some science fiction, and some action and adventure. It crossed quite a few genre lines. This one was completed, and came in right around 51,000 again. I like it quite a bit, actually. It was a lot of fun, and my wife loved it, and was proud of me.
NaNo 2011 signaled the beginning of a long, arduous period of writer’s block , frustration, and laziness for me, although I didn’t know it at the time, and wouldn’t realize it fully for almost two years. I started an alternate history called Red Skies at Night. I wrote Red Skies as a conscious attempt to follow a traditional three-act structure. The first 20,000 words (the first act) are, in my opinion, some of the best writing I have ever done. The other 30,000 words I wrote that year were crap. I won NaNo, but I got to a point where I couldn’t continue the story any more. I had no idea where to take it. So, I tried to fix it a year later.
2012 was the first year I started NaNo but didn’t win. I chucked the last 30,000 words I had written for Red Skies the year before and started over at the beginning of Act 2. I got about 25,000 words in and realized that I was hitting another wall, so I bailed and didn’t finish. I have never come up with a way to finish that story and it is one of the great frustrations of my writing life. I am completely blocked on it, and it has hurt my efforts to do any other writing. I have been unable to write anything else of substance since because Red Skies has filled my headspace for so long, and built up so much scar tissue, that’s it’s been near impossible to get sunlight to any other ideas.
I didn’t even try NaNo in 2013. In 2014 I decided at about 8 p.m. on November 1 to give it a try. I had no idea, no plot, nothing. I completely pantsed about 2,000 words, which I published on this blog earlier this year as “Snowflakes”. I never did anything after that first night. Last year, I was going to make another attempt to continue Red Skies. I wrote one night, then my mother passed away and writing didn’t seem important any more. I came back a couple of weeks later with a completely different idea and wrote about 1,800 words about an atheist who decided he was called to preach the gospel. It didn’t go anywhere either. If I can ever get my writer’s head back on straight I want to go back to it, as well as the “Snowflakes” story from 2014. I like them both. I just have to be in a better place in order to write them.
So now we are at the brink of NaNoWriMo 2016. For the first time since Red Skies At Night in 2011 I am actually looking forward to NaNoWriMo. I am finally coming into NaNo again with a strong idea that I really like, a sense of how I want to structure the story, and a feeling of excitement about writing it. I feel like i can do this. I hope it’s true. I hope I can get beyond my own laziness and lack of discipline and get this done. I miss writing. I miss my escape. I want it back again. Wish me luck.
I’ll do another post tomorrow and tell you about my idea for this year. I think it’s a good one. I want to tell you about its long, convoluted history–some parts of it go back more than 20 years! I’m looking forward to telling you about it and I’m looking even more forward to November and to writing it. See you tomorrow.