Brittle Skillet

Sparks of passion and items of interest.

Archive for December 2007

Suicide by Novel Writing: NaNoWriMo Killed Her

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Did I succumb to the seduction of compulsive word counting and incessant discussion monitoring? Did I find reasons to do the writing “later”? Did I fail to achieve 50,000 words because I don’t actually know that many words? Yes, yes, and no.

Of course, I know enough words – and some will inevitably be repeated anyway – but I couldn’t get 50,000 of them down in black in white within 30 days. As any procrastinator will tell you, “I have my reasons.”

For example, the amount of laundry needing to be done on your average month suddenly grew. Cleaning projects that were once easily ignored became aggressive, loudly demanding immediate attention. The cats were feeling especially neglected and needy during the month of November, and who can resist those sweet, imploring eyes; you’ve all seen Shrek, right? Then of course, there was Thanksgiving with family obligations and mounds of cooking followed by hours-on-end of eating. And those are just a few of the distractions that interfered with my word count.

I wanted to participate fully, be present for my fellow writers and engage with new friends via the regional and topical discussions. I didn’t want to miss an invitation to a write-off event – wherein participants gather at a local venue and vigorously write en masse. The energy of such gatherings promises to inspire and shove you out of stuckness.

And don’t tell me that if you are trying to achieve a certain number of words, you don’t need to count how many you’ve already written. Of course you do. You need to count your words – at least once every 15 minutes – to make sure you are on track and to give you that “I can do this” feeling.

And such was the demise of this writer during my first NaNoWriMo challenge. It was not for naught, as they say. I learned a lot about myself, the writing process, concentration, The Zone, and my family and friends.

One of the reasons I wanted to take this challenge was to exercise what I like to call “total freedom writing” – anything goes, don’t bring a map or a plan, follow whimsy and stream of consciousness. I tend to get hung up with my inner editor, negotiating word choice and the application of punctuation to the detriment of any real progress. I wanted to completely abandon any inhibitions and run nakedly through the vast expanse of white pages and black words.

It was absolutely wonderful! This is a sense of freedom I will keep close and use to remind myself to have no fear when the dark clouds of self-doubt are looming. Emotionally, The Land of No Judgements is the most fantastic place I’ve ever been.

It is in this land that I found The Zone. A place I had heard about, but couldn’t really imagine until I experienced it myself, this place of endless oxygen, clarity, and free movement is addictive. This aspect of theNaNoWriMo challenge helped me tear myself away from the distractions trying to hog-tie me into defeat and submission. If I got nothing else out of the experience, this one is a forever shining gem.

I did take Chris Baty’s advice by telling every one of my friends and family that I was attempting to write 50,000 words – a short novel – within the 30 days of November. I did try to create a schedule whereby I could corral specific spaces of time for the writing. And while the support from my people was mixed, my discipline to the schedule was miserable. For details of how I failed with the schedule, revisit paragraphs three and four above.

At this point, I am less than 7,000 words in. I’m still unclear about what genre I’m writing, and I still don’t know why I’m following these particular characters or what their story will ultimately be. There has not been a lot of action so far, but the characters are well-sketched and I do care about them. That’s got to count for something.

Many of you wrote to me to lend support during the NaNoWriMo challenge. Thank you! These booster shots of encouragement were like my favorite desert with no calories, delivering an energy rush minus the bulging thighs. Without your enthusiasm to balance out some of the neutral support I was experiencing, I don’t think I would have even gotten as far as I did.

So, the event didn’t really kill me, no. But it did kill some of my preconceived notions about writing a novel. It also killed some of the expectations I have for getting outside support and encouragement. While I did have quite a few cheerleaders, I need to find a way to keep their voices ringing in my ears to drown out the others that didn’t get it. No one outright said anything discouraging, but I can read faces and I know when someone thinks I’m a lovable fool.

I would recommend NaNoWriMo to all writers. It’s good training and gets you in shape in ways that other writing does not, no matter how many words you end up with, and no matter what kind of story evolves. The insight you gain into yourself and your own world is unique and unattainable through any other methods.

First published by Inkwell Newswatch (IN)
Under the nom de plume Penelope Jensen

© Julie Pierce and Brittle Skillet, 2009-2011.

Written by Julie Pierce

December 21, 2007 at 10:25 am