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Monday, November 29, 2010


The Bandit

Is this your first NaNo? How many have you done? How many have you won?

This is my second NaNoWriMo. I first heard of NaNo right here at The Friday Challenge in July 2009, thanks to a fantabulous article written up by Al Davis (http://thefridaychallenge.blogspot.com/2009/07/glutton-for-punishment.html). Fifty thousands words in a month was daunting, but the concept appealed to me. I had a huge story idea that I had been promising people I would write that just wasn't getting written fast enough, and I figured it'd be a good experience of what it's like to actually be a writer pumping out words regularly.

I got a late start (which seems like a common experience for beginning wrimos), but I worked hard on the weekends reaching four thousand words most Saturdays and Sundays and finally pulled ahead to be a NaNoWriMo winner (which seems like a much less common experience for beginning -- heck, even repeat -- wrimos)! The victory was exhilarating -- and absolutely terrifying. You see, having just finished producing fifty thousands words within the period of one month, I had indeed gained the experience of what it was like to be a writer pumping out words regularly. It was a heck of a lot of work. And the fifty thousand words I had written hadn't even taken me one third the way through my novel! The thought of 1.5 more NaNo's work left to finish intimidated me so much that I did not pick it up again for several months. (Yes, I did eventually pick it back up, and though it's on hold currently because of NaNo, it's up to eighty thousand print words and about three quarters finished.)

What's your story about for this NaNo?

Y'all probably remember my "Summer of My Dreams" entry back in August, which got reviewed at the special summit of Friday Challengers at the writer's convention. The warm response to the story idea -- by both people here and others who read it -- as well as some comments regarding its theme inspired me to take the story and develop it further into a youth lit novel for NaNo.

How did you come up with that story?

I had this dream, you see....

Actually, I had a scene that I wanted to capture, one that had been flitting about in the back of my consciousness and needed to be netted and pinned down onto the display board of my blog. The particular Friday challenge was just an excuse to do that. But to turn it from a scene into a story, I needed a set-up, which lead to the idea of dream control, and from there... well, things just kept snowballing until I had a story that was bigger than I had expected and not enough scenes to wrap it up.

Do you intend to finish the novel, or are you using it more as an exercise?

I hate starting things that I don't finish.

Writing this first draft has been a mess. Side characters are completely underdeveloped. I'm writing more essential conversations and scenes than anything, and in my opinion so far I've created nothing but a boring novel with disjointed pacing. The second draft is going to be intense, and probably involve much more serious writing than anything I am putting out right now.

When the end of the month comes, I'm going back to last year's NaNo project. I want to complete it, and revise it, before returning to this project. It may end up on the back-burner for a couple of years. But I'd like to finish it eventually.

What do you like about NaNo?

I like finding other friends who are participating in NaNo. I like watching their word counts rise alongside of my own.

I like how NaNo gets me to write -- not just a little, but a lot.

NaNo last year taught me to just write. It doesn't matter that everything flowing from my fingertips is limp and fetid. After pushing on for a little while, the inspiration strikes again and I get some really good scenes. Then I can go back and re-write the crappy parts, after I better understand the scene and when I have time to be finicky about my style and tone. If I just waited around for those inspired moments, then sure, I'd still produce some nice scenes, but at a pace that would never raise me above the level of a dilletante. NaNo reminds me to appreciate the first draft, to make a goal to be a writer and then to stick with it, come hell or really, really lame dialogue.

I have an original Bandit Quote from this year's NaNo that's pretty much echoing what I learned from last year's NaNo:

"First drafts are like constipation: It takes a lot of work and, if you’re lucky, you end up with $#%!"

How do you compete in NaNo and not lose your mind?

All of the riffs on this one have been taken already.

It helps when you lose your job. That's given me a good deal of free time to dedicate to NaNo this year. And it's given me a good opportunity to see how I might behave -- or at least start to direct some discipline into how I should behave -- should I seek to do writing more professionally.

Though before you cry "Ah ha! He's cheating!" I've really not taken advantage of all the extra time the job loss has given me for NaNo. I find myself having to buckle down at nine in the evening and force myself to crank out the day's 1,667 words before midnight, just like I tended to do last year when I was working full time. What is it about laziness that's so hard to overcome until the deadline is looming threateningly over you?

I also do things to help myself psychologically. NaNo can be as much of a curse as it can of a help. Three days off, and suddenly you're looking at making up a deficit of over six thousand words! Have a bad week, and you're over ten thousand behind! I see that kill a lot of wrimos' spirits. I know I am weak in that area, so I try to constantly write extra. This year I stayed up late on Halloween and got my first day's words in before I went to bed on Nov. 1. Then I did another day's work the next day! The head start gave me an edge and made me excited. And also proved to be helpful when I wasn't able to write at all the next weekend.

I also push myself harder than the minimum requirements. Any day that I can, I go for 2,000 words. And I've been counting print words instead of word count words, which gives me a hidden edge of nearly one hundred words per thousand that will give me a boost at the end of the month. This gives me both a psychological safety net and a psychological goad to work harder.

Anything else for the hobbitses (and hirsute elves)?

Don't let the pacing weed you out of the race. As Al pointed out in his article that originally turned me on to NaNo, you may not be an official "winner" at 20,000 words in a month, but that's still 20,000 words you might not have written otherwise. NaNo's pacing is ridiculous. I find that I hit points in my story where -- despite having learned the lesson of pushing through the writer's block -- I start getting angry and frustrated at the prospect of writing. I find myself flat out unhappy at the idea of writing more of the story.

So I don't. I take a break for a couple of days until my batteries recharge. It's got me working at over a 4,000 print word deficit at the moment, but whenever I return I'm usually renewed and energized enough that I can start making up for lost words. Everyone has a different creative process. I'm finding that my best writing is when I've had a scene in my head for several days or even weeks before I sit down to try to relate it to another through the printed word. I say that I've got the story percolating in the back of my mind -- makes for some really savory writing.

That doesn't work for NaNo. So if that's what I required for myself, I'd have to switch my expectations within the contest. Maybe I'd consider myself a winner at 25,000 words or more. At my first NaNo, my actual goal was 40,000 words -- and then when I got there, and 50,000 was so close I could taste it, that gave me the extra drive to complete the NaNoWriMo challenge outright. I would have been a winner either way.

So, NaNo may be over. It may be too late for you to get your 2010 NaNoWriMo winner .gif. But that doesn't mean you should sit around and wait for next year. If you got behind on NaNo this year and feel like you'd like a second chance, I've got a challenge for you: Go for 11,000 words in 7 days, starting today. Then post back here if you make it. If you do that, you'll still be a winner in my book.

The Bandit is hoping to get over that 50,000-work mark tonight. I completely expect that he will.
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