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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Nano Post-Mortem

Well, another Nano has come and gone, and I can actually talk about how I did this year.

As always, as soon as Nano starts, the "real world" decides to gang up on you all at once. We've had major car trouble *every* November. The first year in Nebraska, and it was a blown radiator and engine. The second November in Nebraska, it was *another* blown radiator, but we at least managed to get the car on the road again. And then, this third year, it wasn't a radiator--that part was only a year old--it was a transmission. Now, I knew the transmission was on its way out, so it wasn't that big a surprise...but of course, it had to happen in November.

Losing the car cost me a week of work, because of the distance. I just don't know anyone here who lives anywhere near where I do and drives all the way to Omaha to get to work, so I had no chance at actually getting to work. "Oh, cool," you might think, "a week off work is a whole bunch of extra hours to work on your Nano." Yeah, right. I was so stressed out and focused on landing a new car that I didn't make any serious progress on Nano until I got to work again, the week before Thanksgiving.

I hit seven thousand words on day six or seven. I was behind, but not horribly behind; I could make that up with an all-nighter, maybe. But, when the car died, my progress ground to a halt, and I was still in the same 7k range on the 18th of November. Horribly, almost impossibly, behind.

...but I still hadn't given up.

My job has been quiet, so I was able to sneak out a few sentences at a time at work. Not enough to get caught up, maybe, but enough to keep from falling further behind.

By the 25th, I was actually hovering in the range of 25000 words...that is, I had reached the Nano halfway point, only ten days late.

My darling wife set me the goal of five thousand words a day to the end of the month

35k on the 28th.

39321 on the 29th. Just a few sentences short of 40k...with only one day remaining.

It was a slow and quiet day at work, on the 30th...I was able to crank out a bunch of words. I didn't pay any attention to the word count; I just kept at it, kept hammering away at the keyboard, in between work demands...and I finished my story.

Yes, my story is done. My story reached the end, in exactly the scene I first saw; the scene I told my wife about, back in the September or October time frame. Back then, she smiled, and wished me luck.

She wanted to see me succeed.

Problem is...once I reached the end of my story...I was only at 43k words.

Now, I've always had a lot of trouble going back and adding to a story that's "done"...once the story is told, there isn't all that much that can be added, you know? That's why I've always saved the last scene to be the last thing I write, regardless of how clear it is in my head; once that last scene is done, the entire story is done. So, since I finished it, I've been going back through it, trying to think of threads I left hanging, or questions left unanswered. I've barely added another thousand or so words to that, so, my Nano sits, complete, at the 44k range, because that's what the story called for.

...and the weird thing is, I didn't even know what the story was until I wrote it.

Yes, that's right; I invented the story as I went along. No outlines, no character sketches, no analyzing of the story before it was actually written; I started with a VERY general concept ("Trevor has lost his friends, his girlfriend, his job, and his dad's car (he ran into a dragon), all in the same day--and things are going to get a lot worse"), and a scene at the end...and nothing much beyond that. When I needed another character, they joined the story. When Trevor's ex-girlfriend's house burned down, she joined the crew. When Trevor disappeared on a private quest, not only did I not know he was going to do it, I had no freaking idea where he had gone or where he was going to end up, or more importantly, why.

Yes, it's a fun way to write.

Yes, it's an infuriating, frustrating, annoying way to write...because there were points in the story where I lost precious hours wondering where the heck my story was going to go, waiting for my characters to step up and tell me "hey, I'm doing this now."

I lost count of the number of times a character would just have no lines, for pages and pages...and then suddenly pop in with a friend in tow, "okay, I'm back! Did you miss me?"

And yes, I made mistakes...lots of them. I lost track of stuff. In one scene, my dragon was green, and in another, he was brown. I put it down to the lighting, and started describing him as 'greenish brown' for the rest of the story.

At one point, I had two totally different characters both named "Nick" and had to go back and rename one of them.

Heck, at about 20k, I gave up on the story, dropped down to the bottom of the file, wrote "And at this point, the author has totally and completely lost track of the plot line..." and kinda babbled aimlessly about how I had no clue what I was writing anymore, rant and complain for a hundred or two hundred words, I didn't know why this character had done such and such...unless...maybe he was going to...hmm...

...then I'd jump back up and add another thousand words to the story.

Yes, I missed finishing another Nano, though only barely; that makes five misses in a row. Counting the non-story babbling at the bottom, my final, official word count is 45699, just a bit short of the 50k.


(Yes, when it comes to Nano, there's always a "but"...)

...for the first time, I actually reached the end of my story.

I've just finished writing the longest thing I've ever written; my previous record is still half-finished in the 30k range.

And, for the last, several, near-panic days, I was actually nailing an average of five thousand words a day. I think I actually hit 7k once.

Are they great words? PBPBPBPBPBPB...don't kid yourself.

Twenty thousand of these words were written over a span of five days. Some of those words quite literally jumped from my brain to the screen with the briefest of pauses at the keyboard. Others...well...I think the best analogy there might involve a crowbar, a garden hose, gerbils, golf balls, and axle grease.

Lots of axle grease.

But that's the point, isn't it? It's not about typing great words; it's about typing *words*. It's about setting a goal, starting a story, and finishing it, too, and it took me five tries to actually reach that point.

Next year...?

Next year will be harder; I got lucky this year, with a contract job that was winding down as November rolled around. I doubt I'll get that lucky two years in a row.

Next year, I rip the tires off the car while the kids are out trick-or-treating, and mount them back on when word 50,001 drips out of my cranial cavity.

Next year, either I outline the whole story ahead of time--or I quit freaking out when my characters stop talking to me for the day, after they've only let slip a thousand words. They'll figure out what they're doing, and they'll let me know.

Here...here's how it ends...
The Museum was still a battered, blasted wreck, with gaping holes in the wall, missing windows, shattered exhibits, and the moldering remains of zombies littering the landscape. "You know," Tesla said, surveying the damage, "maybe some other location would work better."

"Kiriana," Trevor said, "I've got a question for you." She raised an eyebrow.

"You know, I've been checking out that prophecy you told me about..."

"You have? I never knew you were an expert in ancient Sildonian."

"Hey, you know me, I'm a quick learner, and I've had a lot of time to myself lately..."

"I see," she said, with a smile on her face.

"Anyway...the prophecy says I'm supposed to try to save the world. And there's this bit on the end, that says if I DO save the world...and if I actually manage to survive the disaster..."


"...there's this line at the end about "winning the hand of an Elf of a long and royal lineage...?"

"There is?" she asked with a smile.

"Oh, definitely," he said. "And...well...we just saved the world, didn't we? And I actually managed to survive, against all the odds, didn't I...?"

Kiriana walked over to him, until she was staring directly into his eyes. Then she put her arms around him, and gave him a deep, passionate kiss--one that made his knees buckle, his eyes turn up until only the whites were showing, and stole the breath from his lungs. Lewis gaped, open-mouthed in shock and surprise, while Tina kept her expression completely neutral.

She stepped back, and gave him a moment or two to compose himself.

"The Necromancer only wanted to rule the world, not destroy it," she said with a smile. She reached up, tousled his hair, and said "Nice try, though." Then she turned to Tesla. "Have you got any juice in this place? I'm thirsty!"

"Dude!" Lewis said. "That was just cruel."

Allan Davis is a programmer, photographer, and writer, currently working as a technical writer in the tropical paradise that is southeastern Nebraska in December, with obvious masochistic tendencies--having failed to complete NanoWriMo five years running and vowing to do it again next year!
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