At Long Last

I discovered NaNoWriMo in 2007 and jumped right in, then immediately jumped right out. I hovered somewhere around 17,000 words written before I realized I didn't know what the hell I was doing. Sure, I was writing a screenplay and revising several pieces at that time, but NaNoWriMo is a cold, deaf master. It is about discipline, not excuses.

I tried again once every year after that. I failed around 16,000 in 2008 because of PCN preparations. I died around 20,000 in 2009 because I started my new job that month. I decided that this year, at long last, was going to be different. I was motivated to not be shamed for a 4th year in a row, and to prove to my inner critic that I could do it. Except I started my internship that month, so that wasn't conducive to a good writing schedule.

But again: it's about discipline, not excuses. There will never be a good time to sit down and write 1,600 words a day. Something will always come up, and it will feel like an incredible hurdle. So, just past midnight of Halloween night, I put my fingers to typing something incredibly depressing and ridiculous. I won't say what the story is about; It is pretty shamelessly over the top in its darkness and negativity. I will say that it had a lot of legs, but it was so horrible that I couldn't help but laugh when all the datums in my head plugged together and came up with that harrowing spark. It is one thing to come up with an idea. It is another to come up with an idea that makes you laugh because, really, your brain can't be serious.

I had a pretty good train running in the first week. I sat down, wrote a bunch of words, and shut up that voice in my head that was telling me it was all crap for a little while. Jay Smooth calls it The Little Hater, but in school we just called it our inner editor. It is the reason so many stories get left untold or half told. Week two is always where things begin to fall apart, as you run out of story, or willpower, or just grow sick of the whole thing. The middle is always the most boring part. You're full of excitement when you begin, and when you end it's just a downhill race. One of the weekly e-mail pep talks perfectly described the middle as a vast, barren desert.

I got ahead of schedule once, and as soon as that happened I lost track because I was too busy having anxiety attacks about an interview. I fell over 10,000 words behind on my schedule, and attempted to write 3,000 a day to catch up. It wasn't working out. Sometimes I wouldn't even find the time to write the minimum 1,600 and would fall even farther behind. In the last few days, I closed the gap considerably with some exhausting and trying 5,000 word days, and I came to the final day, November 30, just 8,000 words away from victory.

I read the pep talk from Dave Eggers, a favorite of mine, and then went to work writing like An Adult. I hit 50,000 at 11:30 PM with the word, "her." I finished at midnight with 50,534 words and a small sense of accomplishment.

So now that I finally succeeded in this 4 year goal, writing the longest thing I have ever written, finally proving to myself that I do have some measure of discipline if I dig deep enough -- how does it feel?

Mostly, I feel like a shitty writer. That's the default state for anyone serious about the craft of writing, but after NaNoWriMo and the word vomit that comes with it, it is only heightened. You don't write 8,000 words in one day and expect it to be any good. At some point, in order to make it to that finish line, you turn off your better judgement and inner editor completely. It becomes improv writing. You are not really telling a story so much as opening the flood gates between your brain and fingers. If you think it, it goes on the page. It stops stylistically just short of stream of consciousness.

I'm still glad I did it, but it is clearly less of a novel and more of an exploration of an idea. It reads disjointed and clumsy and illogical and is poorly researched. It makes for a terrible novel. But it's an awesome brainstorming session.

I'll probably do NaNoWriMo again next year, even though I already have my prized winner's JPEG. The new goal is to make something with a clearer plan and outline, so that it might even be edited some day into a real longform story that only needs thirty rewrites, as opposed to this piece of shit text file that won't be readable after a hundred rewrites.

Anyway. I'm typing too much. Good night, all.