So I signed up for NaNoWriMo this year—the Extreme Writing Event wherein crazed participants skip sleeping for the month of November and work to turn out a 50,000 word novel in 30 days… And those of you who have been reading here for a few weeks know that I pledged not to blog about the thing till it was over—but here I am (unapologetically) breaking my own rule. The reason I didn’t want to write about it was because I thought there would be nothing to say except for word-count reports and possible excerpts of whatever my brain was spewing into the keyboard in the wee hours of the morning, but it has turned out to be a much more enlightening experience than I’d anticipated.
Cranking out a word-count has never been my challenge (as anyone who hears me rattle on in person can confirm—“Verbosity R Us” is my husband’s joke about the pair of us, as there’s never a lack of conversation to be had in our household, and the same seems to apply at the keyboard). The word-count achievement I don’t expect (or wish) to beat was a 45,000-word freelance job, researching and writing about 600 dive-sites around the world, which I turned out in four days. (I hadn’t slept so little since I was working on my Master’s Thesis, and I certainly don’t consider that a “sustainable” pace, but I can do it.) Halfway through November, I’ve already put out far more than 50K in non-Nano-related writing this month.
So my challenge to myself with NaNo wasn’t whether I could plow through fifty thousand words, but whether I could invent a fiction to sustain fifty thousand words in some coherent and unified piece that at least resembled a novel. If nothing else, this would be a great learning-experience about myself and my own writing. That’s the science-major poking her nose in things, treating my writing as an experiment to observe. And frankly, the Scientist’s Lab Notebook is far more interesting to me at the moment than the Writer’s story, though I’ve been having fun with the latter and I don’t think it’s a bad little creation so far.
In college I declared a Zoology major straight out of the gate, but pretty soon I was adding literature classes and writing workshops to “dilute” the heavy lab-load of my schedule, and ended up five years later with a double degree. (This was aided, I must confess, by convincing my English Committee that they should count science classes toward the 20 credits of “electives” for the English degree, because “a real-life writer needs something to write about,” and science was it. They bought it.)
One of the exercises I remember from those writing-workshops, and which I’ve applied to the NaNo project, is the idea of “timed free-writing.” A professor would set the clock and tell us not to lift the pen from the page until time was up, no matter what random drivel might be spilling into our notebooks. That was my beginning approach to NaNo, that whenever I sat down to write for it, I would WRITE, without stopping, regardless of whether my writing was “to the purpose” (ANY purpose)… and see what came of it.
As a result (so far—we do still have half the month left) I’ve got the beginnings of that fun little fictional creation that actually is shaping itself into, well, something-or-other… And I also have thousands of words more, typed into my “NaNo” file, that have nothing to do with the fiction, the novel, the story, or NaNoWriMo in general. The fact is, there’s a lot more NON-fiction in that file than fiction. It’s highly probable that when I cull out the actual fictional story from this file, I won’t have a novel of sufficient length to submit to the official NaNo word-counter and declare myself a “NaNoWriMo winner.” I’m okay with that; being a NaNoWriMo participant was the object all along, in my case. And although I don’t intend to abandon my story (my ten-year-old Reader is likely to enjoy it, if nothing else) it’s the Lab Notebook of my science-self that I’m turning to with interest. Here’s what she sees about my Writer-self…
- The Writer finds people fascinating, believes she’s surrounded by Stories every day, and maintains an ever-expanding file of sticky-notes about things she’s heard, seen, and experienced that she wants to write about. Even with a blog-posting every day, there’s no way she can keep up with her sticky-notes, and she’s not worried about ever running out of “material” to write about.
- The Writer does have a well-exercised imagination, and keeps it in a healthy state of fitness with the help of her children, but fictional inventions don’t hold her attention for nearly as long as the REAL stories playing out around her on a daily basis. When it comes to creating fiction, she’s liable to get distracted by a “shiny thing” in the form of an actual event or observation, and go haring off in pursuit of capturing that instead. If she keeps this up, her fiction is likely to get sulky and feel neglected.
- Initial findings (pending completion of the full NaNoWriMo experiment): this Writer has no reason, aside from the commitment to her November project, to spend her time inventing things. She’d do better to put her time at the service of the existing Stories that attract her interest. Fiction-writing is a good mental exercise for her to push her boundaries, but she seems to be a Non-fiction Writer at heart.
As if to highlight and emphasize this “discovery” about myself (and because God has a sense of humor!) we have the synchronicity of a note I received through this blog last week. A New York book editor (bless her generous heart) commented that she is “impressed by [my] writing” and I should get in touch with her for an expert’s advice when I’m ready to publish. It isn’t as if I’ve been offered a book-deal or anything, but I won’t lie: that little “ping” from the publishing world made me downright giddy. No joke: it took me two days to wind down enough to reply with anything resembling calmness (though I probably blew my “cool” by confessing that fact in my email to her). Yup, that’s me: the giddy teenager who just got told she might get asked to Prom someday. I try to keep “Publication” off my list of reasons WHY I write—but we all know I’d be a phony if I claimed it didn’t interest me. I said as much to her, shared my (or rather, the Scientist’s) observations on the NaNo project, and asked for any advice she’d have for a writer settling into nonfiction as a venue of choice.
The “greater” experiment, this Fall, has consisted of my choice to take on Writing full-time after my seasonal summer-job ended at Labor Day. I put out feelers for freelance jobs, launched this blog as a setting to keep myself writing “for myself” as well as for pay, and thought I’d try on “Writer” as an honest descriptor of myself. Not the way I’d worn it before (I-think-I-do-it-well-and-I’d-like-to-consider-myself-one), but as a descriptor of what I actually do with myself—and see where the experiment took me. A crazy-ass choice, seen from a practical or financial viewpoint (I’m making regular money with freelancing, but it’s nowhere near “making a living,” just keeping gas in the car and helping out with a bill here and there)—but I can’t help but be astounded at how positively that crazy choice has been playing out in just a couple short months.
I’m focusing myself (now with some greatly appreciated guidance from an Expert Mentor) and I’m feeling that I’m doing something I’m meant to do. If there are just a few things that God really designed me to do, I think Parenting is one (when I’m Sober!) and perhaps Writing is another. Writing non-fiction, that is. We’ll see where that takes me!
My husband and I were joking the other night that there’s always something to write about, even in the “nothings” of a regular day (rather Seinfeldian philosophy, I suppose) like curling up with the kids and our books on a rainy afternoon… Case in point, just now: 1400 words in twenty minutes on the fact that I’m “failing” NaNoWrimo… If you’ll excuse me, the Scientist needs to go jot that observation in her Lab Notebook.
Write on, NaNo-ers! I love reading fiction, and I’m glad there are so many people out there better suited than I to create it!