NaNoWriMo 2020

The relationship between Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner is legendary. It has been the subject of books and television documentaries, and during the period when it was happening, it was the subject of sports news pages on a regular basis.

This pair of pictures seems to portray the Love/Hate nature of the relationship nicely. Same press conference, two different moods.

For me that is an apt analogy for my relationship with National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWritMo, as it is generally abbreviated. I, being an extremely lazy person, generally further abbreviate, especially when talking to others about the event, to NaNo, which also sounds like a decent name for an Icelandic tecnho-synth band, so should all the pieces someday fall into place, I’m calling dibs.

Nobody’s Fault But Mine

I do not blame the event for the root of the yin/yang. I like just about everything that has to do with the concept of NaNo. The problem for me has always been the timing.

I have to believe that a good deal of thought went into selecting November as the month in which to encourage writers all over the word to produce a 50,000 word book within the confines of the month. It must have been determined through aggressive study of the trends and tendencies of working writers, as well as the social traditions of every nation in the world to determine that November is the ideal year-inning in which to do this thing. Or maybe it was because the month shares its first four letters with the word novel, which as I noted, figures dominantly in the event’s title.

For me, at least for the past three years, it’s never quite worked out, time-wise. And yet I’ve signed up each of those years, and honestly intended to carry the task out to completion each time. But a look at my record, (which they are nice enough to keep on the website to remind me), shows that I completed the goal only once, and I’m here today to clear the air about that.

That record shows three years, three books, one completion. And that was in the first year when the book I chose, The Beauty of Bucharest, had already been drafted and I used the month to do the first revision. So yes, I cheated, and for that I am ashamed. Perhaps to a degree similar to this young person. Perhaps to a greater degree.

But this year is different

The first difference is that I decided not to participate. Because by October 31 I hadn’t yet met my previous goal of finishing the first draft of Three Witches. For the last two weeks of the month writing time came at a premium and the distractions were constant and of the sort that needed to be dealt with. For a writer there are always distractions, and the general means of dealing is to ignore them. Put the phone on silent and point the screen down. Put music through the speakers and turn off the computer’s sounds so that every Facebook notification doesn’t steal you away.

[Author’s Note of Confession: I allowed myself to be distracted once the Joe Biden’s presidential election victory had been announced to watch a little news. I figured is was kinda important.]

So as of November 1, I was still pretty sure I would not declare my participation this year.

Then on November 3, two things happened.

I finished Three Witches, and a friend encouraged me to participate in NaMo.

The Backup

Here’s a neat thing about being a pathological writer. There’s generally something laying around waiting to be developed. I’ve written before that most of my career I have been what we writers call a “pantser.” We use that term for a writer who doesn’t plan the book ahead. They don’t outline, they don’t make character notes, and they don’t make setting notes. They just write.

That’s worked alright for me, but I had always felt that plot development was my weakest skill, and I sometimes was unhappy, even in books that I published, with where the narrative ended up, and they ways it got there.

Then I saw an ad somewhere for the Plottr app. I’ve written about it already, so I won’t go into a long infomercial on the product. This story is more about my learning to use it. About the time I’d finished with my most floundering explorations of what the program could do, I got an idea for what I originally thought would be a children’s book. Maybe even a picture book, and at most an early-reader chapter book. So I decided to give the Plottr program a full workout. I plotted the story, developed the characters, researched the setting, and basically developed a full plan for the story. Then I immediately set it aside, because I’d already begun work on Three Witches, and had good momentum going with that. This was in July.

I told you that to tell you that this experiment in learning to use my plot development program led to an situation in which I was perfectly positioned, upon meeting my one requisite condition – i.e. finishing Three Witches, to jump right into NaNo.

Ideally, if one is following the suggested course of action, the month of October is supposed to be your prep month. You’re supposed to do whatever it is you need to do to be ready to start writing on the first.

But on the first of November I was paragraphs away from finishing a 100-thousand word book. So like I said, I still wasn’t even thinking in terms of participation.

But then came November 3. The draft was finished and there was no longer any reason not to, other than I had no book to write.

But obviously I did. I had a full book plotted and ready to start. And I had a friend starting her book, as well as another friend who was writing for NaNo as well, though she chose not to participate “officially” through the website.

Mental Flips

While I was mired in the final pages of the previous work the idea of NaMo felt like a burden. A task that I have not successfully completed without cheating, and not at all for the last two years running. I had tried, when thinking about the prospect of participating, to think of it as a challenge. Something I could rise to.

But it had been a stretch of crappy weeks, and the concept of a “challenge” felt a lot like setting myself up for an “impending failure.”

Why did everything change on November 3? Why did I suddenly feel like a “challenge” might translate into victory? Not 100% sure. I know that having friends on the same bus helped. Bus rides are always better with someone to talk to about the scenery.

It think as the voting numbers continued to be tabulated I was also feeling a sense of growing optimism with regard to the presidential election, (but I’d felt something similar in 2016, so there’s that dark memory, and then the tabulation took a few days. But ultimately, hell yeah!)

And then today, after two great days of work, the first two FULL days of writing on the NaNo project, my friend reminded me (and the rest of her readers) that as long as you’re writing, you can’t really fail.

Today is officially Day 8, (it’s really easy to keep track because it matches the date! It’s so clever! And I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who’s figured this out!), and I am officially about 3333 words behind the pace to complete 50k in 30 days, but I am writing above the par on a daily basis now, after a meandering start, so things should balance out.

And besides, my goal is to create a book I can be proud of. The numbers are just an incentive to maintain forward progress, and to encourage my friends to do so as well.

Here Comes the Lesson

You knew there’d have to be a lesson, right? You looooovvveee the lessons, right? Well this is your lucky day because I believe I can probably scoop a couple of lessons out of this pumpkin. (And yes, I know you don’t really love the lessons).

Today, as is usually the case, the lessons are intended for the community of writers, but applicable to a wider base, I’m sure.

  1. When an idea comes, even if you’re already working on something, write that stuff down. If it’s got legs, sooner or later you’ll get around to it and you’ll be glad you scribbled down some notes.
  2. Never say never. I was so sure that I wasn’t going to do NaNo that every time I got an email about it asking me if I was ready for it, I generally said NSFW words. To the event, to the email, to the whole month of November, and probably a few other things. It was stressing me, and I wasn’t even doing it. Not doing it, as things turned out, was just as anxiety-provoking as the thought of doing had been. It was starting to look like it was going to be another crappy frame in the game of ten-pins called 2020. But before I realized what was happening, it became exactly what I needed. I’m not taking any kudos for this, other perhaps than to say I was open to the shift from “no way” to “all the way.”
  3. Grab some friends when you ride the bus.
  4. Don’t be intimidated by the goal. 50,000 words! Big number. That’s book-length, son. But it’s under 2000 words a day. You just have to write everyday.

For me, lesson four or, more accurately, the last sentence of it – is the whole point. If you’re a writer you write. Its an almost overly simple statement, but it is, in fact, a much deeper pool that the first glance would indicate. Because there is a flipside to that coin. If you don’t write, you’re not a writer. If you go with this definition, and I do, then writing is the only career where you can never take a day off, or you’re out. It’s okay, though. Because if you write tomorrow, you’re back in.

Obviously this is honing things to a laser-fine point, and it may be a little overly-dramatic. We writers are the biggest drama queens in the world.

And I’m just talking about the men.

But for me, writing every day isn’t a choice. I write constantly. It’s not always focused on my main project, the vaunted WIP. A lot of times it’s posts, such as the one you’re currently reading. I journal. I write poetry. And, in general this works.

This month, however, I need to find a way to sit every until the end of November and put the time in. As it turns out I have a very workable idea, and new ideas – scraps of dialog, flashes of action – bombard me. I’m using the “notes” section of Plottr a lot.

Wrap It Up, V.

Okay. Listen. Just don’t sell yourself short. Don’t say “can’t.” Say “haven’t yet.” You are capable of so much more than you will ever know until you take the first step and realize that this is new and wild and wonderful and holy crap.

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