Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Notes on the End of NaNoWriMo 2010

Now that National Novel Writing Month is over, for me anyway, I feel two things quite distinctly. I want both to write more immediately and not to write another word for a long time. (That’s a relative span of time; though I might want not to write for awhile, a very long time for me to go between writing sessions would be a day or two.) There were times during November when I was working on the day’s words and getting up to (and now and then slightly past) two thousand words, and my head would just start to swim and I would sit back in my chair and think that there was no way I could go on. As much as I had looked forward to the start of November, so I could finally start writing down all of the ideas I had been having for the novel, I was starting now to look forward to the end of November, so that there would no longer be this enormous pressure to hit a certain mark every day.

At first I thought it was going to be bad luck that I had to close on the last two days of November, but it actually wound up being good luck. Starting last Wednesday, on the 24th, I made a conscious effort to squeeze more words out of each day than I had been getting, so that I would have a cushion for the last two days. By Wednesday I was closing in on 40,000 words, and was much farther along than I had imagined I would get; and I wanted to make sure that I got all the way to the end. Last year, it quickly became obvious that I was disastrously behind and that I would never be able to catch up. This year, I never got that feeling once. There were days when I got behind, depending on what my work schedule was like, but I was always able to bounce back a day or two later and make up whatever ground I had lost. And then, last Wednesday, I started down the home stretch.

I started to accumulate more words per day than were needed for me to keep pace; I began to amass a word budget surplus; and I kept that going for the next four days, until I got done with the writing on Sunday night and found myself at 49,300 words. It was another one of those nights when I don’t think I could have written another word - not one single additional word; but I was awfully tempted to try, as close as I was to the end. But if I had tried to press on, just to get to the finish line that night, I would have written 700 very bad words; and then I would have had to wake up today and fix (or, worse, delete) those 700 words. So I left it, and when I woke up this morning, I had those 700 words left to go, and they just poured out of me. As soon as I passed 50,000 by the word count at the bottom of my word processing file, I uploaded to the NaNoWriMo website for an official count, and it was a skosh under 50,000, but not by much. Then I took out the date markers, deleted a sex scene that seemed to fit at the time I wrote it but afterward just sounded icky, and changed most of the character names. That put me a few hundred words under, but there was so much more to write now that it was no longer a question of getting to 50,000. It’s even conceivable that I could do some writing tonight when I get home, and tomorrow afternoon - so the question is really going to be how far beyond 50,000 am I going to get?

But I made myself stop at a certain point this afternoon because I wanted to take a short walk around Irvington to celebrate what I had done. (Now that I’m thinking back on it, I realize that I didn’t take any pictures. I had planned to snap some pictures on my walk, as a record of what Irvington looked like the day I won NaNoWriMo for the first time - but I completely forgot to do it.) That’s the lucky part about having to close the last two days of November, particularly today. I almost always work a nine-to-five shift on Mondays (which I. Fucking. Hate.), but got the close shift today because the manager who usually closes on Mondays is on vacation. I finished the last few tweaks on the novel in enough time to walk over to the coffee shop and back before I had to get in the shower and get to work. And even though all the leaves were already down and nothing was really going on, it was a nice walk - on a fairly warm afternoon - and it made me think how nice it would be if I could really make a go of this writing thing and do it well enough and consistently well enough to make a living at it.

And really, that’s why I want to sit down and get right back to writing - because the actual doing of it is the only way I’ll ever be able to get to the point where I can make a living at it; and now that I have accomplished a 50,000 word novel in 30 days - and one that is reasonably coherent and has a distinct beginning and end, even if there are some pretty big holes in the middle that need to be filled - going back to the pace I was at before, barely 500 words a day, seems like child’s play. The story I was working on before NaNoWriMo had begun to drift out of focus because of a set piece with one character that just went on and on and on; and even though I have trashed a piece of writing only to immediately start it over far too many times, I am going to do that one more time and begin anew with the story of a football widow who, despite strong feelings of commitment to her family and strong religious beliefs, finds herself gradually falling in love with a customer at the local farmers market who is also a cook at a local restaurant. He is, of course, more than that, and it’s probably important to point out that he’s a cook at a local Italian restaurant. Now why would I go to the trouble of pointing out that it’s an Italian restaurant? For exactly the reason that you think. This story is also going to get into some themes - religion, marriage, the Mafia - that I have wanted to explore but have never been able to get to coalesce into one particular thing.

I will be doing some copy editing work for a fellow novelist for a good part of the month of December, while at the same time hopefully making notes and plotting the trajectory of this new version of the aforementioned story; but I hope to start on the new novel at the stroke of the New Year. I also plan to change the direction of this here Blog-O-Rama as of the beginning of 2011. There will still be the occasional post on film, the occasional fake tweet, and other such miscellany; but I plan to focus mostly on writing and reading, to continue the progress I have made in 2010 toward becoming a serious writer. But in the meantime, Happy Holidays! And, in the words of the inimitable Kurt Vonnegut, I thank you for your attention.

Monday, November 29, 2010

National Novel Writing Month 2010 - Progress Report #4

I just uploaded my novel for word count verification, and here's what I got:

Officially verified word count is 50,391. Title of the novel is "I'm Only Passing Through," and here are the last two paragraphs:

I wasn’t sure what I thought I was doing either but I took that walk around the park and thought about that song and about the girl who had spoken lines from it to me years before they became lines in a song. I no longer ached for her, but the memories could come back at any moment and they could come back strong; and though I no longer ached for her, I sometimes wondered where she was and what had become of her. We had never had our time. I kept hoping to get a card at Christmas or a letter out of nowhere, but it turned out that she really had been only passing through.

As you get older, you can start to understand about a thing like that; but when you are in college, especially when you are new in college, it’s hard to get your head around just how fleeting everything is. This is especially true of time and of friendship. You can’t do anything about time except to stand by idly as it gains momentum and moves a little faster every day. Sometimes there is not much you can do about friendship, because sometimes it is just in our nature to do things that hurt other people, whether we mean to or not. But it does not do to dwell for too long on the past, although it is sometimes necessary to spend a little bit of time in the past to be able to understand it as best you can and to be able to get on with the present. It is just so dangerous to spend even one moment too many on that return to innocence.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

National Novel Writing Month 2010 - Progress Report #3

The third progress report for this year’s National Novel Writing Month finds me at just past 40,000 words - more than double what I had last year, and still on pace to get to 50,000 by month’s end. However, I was looking at the calendar at work last night, and I realized that November 30th is a Tuesday, which is the one night a week that I have to close at work; and Tuesday afternoons, one of the two afternoons a week when I have Jackson to take care of by myself, are not generally big writing afternoons. What all of that means is that I’m going to have to up the daily output to make sure I have enough time to write what I need to write next Tuesday and upload the finished product to the website for word count verification before I go to work.

And as for the story itself, it has gone in directions I had not anticipated, which is usually what happens when I write. I’ve always believed that it’s healthy to let the story sort of lead you by the hand, as long as you have a general idea of where you want it to go. Unfortunately, this has not yet proved a successful strategy for writing a whole novel - at least not for me; and yet I feel constrained even thinking about working up an outline. This story was supposed to be mostly about one character and a series of short glimpses into his life at various stages, starting in college and moving into his twenties as an adult. But at 40,000 words, it’s still in the college phase, and still in the “main” character’s freshman year. This is territory I have always wanted to mine, but I have never been able to get it just right. I’m not sure that this just right, either, but I have managed to keep it on course and mostly focused - though the focus has drifted from one “main” character to three - one of whom is a sort of alter ego of the “main” character, and the other of whom is something of a foil (also of the “main” character).

Also, what was supposed to have been five 10,000 word sections has turned into four sections of varying length. Each of the three sections has been from a different point of view, and in a different person - both of which were things I wanted to accomplish when I started this project. The final section - which is what I have left to write - will revert back to the same point of view and person as the first section, bringing the focus back around to the “main” character. And if all of that works out the way I have it planned in my head, then I should have a very solid piece of writing in hand at the end of the month; and I will have hopefully exorcised a demon that has been gnawing at me for years. The work will not be ready for prime time, of course; but if it holds up to a re-read, probably after the new year, then it will have been a very successful National Novel Writing Month.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

National Novel Writing Month 2010 - Progress Report #2

I haven’t done a very good job with progress reports on this year’s National Novel Writing Month project, but I have a pretty good reason for that; and that pretty good reason is that I have actually been keeping up with the pace necessary to get to 50,000 words by the end of the month. I have just started the writing for tonight (November 12th, which I only specify because I tend to write, and do blog posts, near the technical end of the night, as the witching hour draws nigh and then fades into the rearview - so in one sense, the writing I do tonight could be thought of partly as writing for November 12th and partly as writing for November 13th, though I think of all of it as writing for November 12th), and assuming it goes as well as it has gone to this point in the month, I will surpass, by a relatively considerable margin, the entire output I managed during the whole of last November.

I haven’t been in 1667-words-per-day shape for a long time, and no matter how fast you type, that’s a lot of words to get down in one day - especially when you devote a relatively small amount of each day to getting those words down. Of course, now that I think about it, I churned out three progress reports last year, every tenth day, at the same time that I was getting down far fewer words than I’m getting down this year; and if I manage to finish and post this progress report, that will be two for this month, with over half the month left to go - while I’m averaging almost 1700 words a day.

And at the end of today’s writing, I’m at 20,263 words, which is 259 ahead of schedule for the month. In fact, I have only failed to hit the daily pace four out of twelve days so far. There’s still a long way to go, but the story is flowing smoothly and I haven’t felt stuck once yet. The second of the five sections, which I should have finished tonight, is going to go over the 10,000 words I had planned for it. That’s all right, though, because it might bode well for the future of this piece of work beyond the scope of the National Novel Writing Month project.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

National Novel Writing Month 2010 - Progress Report #1

Okay, here we are three days into National Novel Writing Month, and I am in a much better place with the pacing than I was last year. I hit the daily word goal exactly on the first day, then was way off on day two, and brought it back today on day three to 5118 words, which is 117 words over what I needed to be on pace for the first three days. (Last year, I didn’t hit 5000 words until November 8th.) While looking at the NaNoWriMo website, I came across something to give me a bit of extra motivation to get the 50,000 words done in the 30 days - “winners,” which are people who get to 50,000 by the end of the month and upload their work for word count verification - can get a free printed copy of their “novel” from one of the NaNoWriMo sponsors. I had planned to include in this post a little bit about what I’m writing, but I’ve run out of time, so that will have to wait for the next post.