Beyond The Woods
Editor: R. Bail
How NaNoWriMo Got Me Back Into Writing
When I first heard of National Novel Writing Month back in October of 2002, my immediate reaction was "You're all insane!" A novel - a fifty thousand word novel, in only thirty days? What kind of fool (other than my friends, who I know are insane) puts themselves up for that sort of punishment voluntarily?
Apparently, this kind of fool. I found myself signing up for it on October 15th, 2002, wondering just what I had been sucked into this time. I had to be crazy, absolutely out of my mind, to think I could do this; I worked full time, I had a long-distance relationship to maintain, I was coming down with the yearly set of winter illnesses - and furthermore, the longest piece of fiction I had ever written was only 1910 words long! I was going to fail, and fail spectacularly, I knew it. I was DOOMED.
Or rather, most of me was convinced that I was doomed. There was a tiny part - the part that got me into signing up for NaNoWriMo - that wasn't so sure that the only outcome for me was failure. You have stories to tell, it would whisper to me sometimes, stories you want to tell. Lots of them. Remember how much you used to like telling stories, when you were a kid? You can do that again. Just try it. It's just one month, and if it doesn't work, you don't have to listen to me ever again.
Still, I resisted. I thought I was an artist, much more than a writer. I hadn't done more than make a vague attempt at writing any of my ideas down in years, not since I started drawing frequently. Oh, sure, I thought up lots of little tales when I was younger, even finished some of them, and I'm sure if you had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up when I was about ten, "a writer" would have been at the top of the list. Heck, I loved it when my English teachers would tell us to write fiction, I'd really let loose then, spinning characters and worlds out of nothing. But I couldn't do that now, I thought. I didn't have any ideas.
Despite how prolific I was about putting images on paper, I was really, truly convinced I didn't have a single story idea in mind. Somehow, all of those half-finished worlds that I had played around with in my head for the past twelve years never occurred to me. But this didn't mean that they weren't there. Oh no... they were there. Lurking. Waiting. You see, there's something about a story that wants, needs, to be told, that has only ever come out in small bits and pieces - it doesn't go away. It sits there, in the back of your mind, changing and evolving, and just waiting for an opportunity to come out.
And so it was with me. November 1st, 2002, I sat in front of my computer with a glazed stare while most of my brain wailed that it didn't know what to write! Meanwhile, that other, small part prodded me to take that first step. Just put those fingers on the keyboard, start typing out whatever was in my head. Just do it...
It was a very long month. I got bronchitis, my hands and wrists ached, I suffered under the self-imposed discipline of writing at least 1667 words a day. It was hard. I had rarely ever forced myself to write any amount in a day - and here I was, writing about the same amount as I did for essays back when I was in school, every single day. I fumed, I wasted a ton of time on the NaNoWriMo forums (especially in the "I Hate Myself and Want To Die" forum), I cringed at every second sentence. I wanted to throttle my muse when he suddenly announced that I should change the entire direction of my story, mid-way through, but only refrained due to the impossibility of throttling an incorporeal being.
And mid-afternoon on November 30th, 2002, I finished at just over 54,000 words.
I was shocked. The little voice in my head was smug. And above all, I was proud of myself. I had... I had written a novel. Sure, I thought it was utter crap, totally unsalvageable, but by gods I had done it!
This didn't stop me from refusing to look at the file again for another two years, however. I let my friends read it, but I didn't want to hear anything about it. Not really. Even though I hadn't gone back and read a single thing I had written - I had just dashed ahead and gotten it all down, no time for reading! - I knew for certain that I would hate it. I wasn't going to waste my time reading the thing. Even if my friends were saying that they liked it. That they... wanted a sequel. No, no way. And I certainly wouldn't do NaNoWriMo again...
But the funny thing about making myself write such a large amount in such a short period of time is that it dug into me. Other story ideas started clamoring for attention, and new ones popped up. When NaNoWriMo 2003 rolled around, it turned out I couldn't resist doing it - a story idea I had had since I was twelve was yelling loudly into my ear. I couldn't ignore it. I had to get it down... and what better way than to join in the madness of thousands of other people, and just write, full out?
So I did. And even though part of my mind whined that I was just writing crap, it was drowned out completely by the middle of the month. I was posting the chapters as I went for my friends to read, and they liked it. They liked it! And I had to admit to myself that I rather liked it, too. I made the goal by November 30th, but the story wasn't done. I ignored the advice that it was best to finish the novel before you put it aside, because it would be that much harder to pick up - and found out the hard way that it was true. But A Function of Time got finished, despite it all, three months later.
As 2004 rolled in, I noticed a strange thing had happened to me. I kept wanting to write, even without a looming deadline ahead of me. In fact, I wanted to write, well, all of the time. Maybe... maybe even... try to get something published. My discomfort with the usual careers and jobs finally resolved itself into one moment when I realized that I wanted to be a writer. It was a frightening realization at the same time it was enlightening. I finally realized what I truly wanted to do - and boy, it wasn't something with a lot of job security, was it? But I wanted it. I was focused.
Of course, I knew that I wouldn't be able to leap out and get published. I knew that, first of all, I had to get used to writing regularly. And while I didn't do a stellar job of it, I wrote over 38,000 words of fiction in the past year, and more words of nonfiction than I care to count, through WoodWorks and freelance (paid!) writing.
And I even went back and read that first novel I wrote, SCHISM, knowing that to get something published, I'd have to rewrite one of my manuscripts before I sent it out - and SCHISM was an elephant looming in the corner, finally too big to ignore. I found out something as I read - it wasn't crap. Oh, sure, it needed a lot of rewriting, a lot added to it, but I realized it's a good story. It was a story worth that first month of pain. And from that moment on I couldn't get it out of my head. Ever since I've been working on rewriting it, and this November, in a 50,000-words-in-one-month spree, I'm writing its sequel.
What do you know. I still want to be a writer when I grow up, after all.
National Novel Writing Month - www.nanowrimo.org
Woodworks is now combining Beyond the Woods and Your Story. Everyone has a story - we want to hear yours!
Minimum 800 words, pictures not required but encouraged.
Although based in Sweden, the realm of Elfwood encompasses the entire planet. We speak different languages, come from different backgrounds, and our daily lives are led differently. While we are all artists and writers, some of us are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Pagan, Islamic, or Atheist. We come from countries with different political policies. Some of us live day to day with war while others live in blissful peace. In spite of events that embroil our world, Elfwood goes on - but we are not left unaffected.
Talk about how you, your community, and what you do are affected by local/world events. Give background to events if possible/needed.
Or, tell us how Elfwood has influenced or affected your life. Has your life changed because of Elfwood? Did you meet your spouse or boyfriend on Elfwood? Have you found opportunities as a writer or artist through Elfwood and its related communities? We'd love to hear your stories!
This is -not- investigative reporting, nor is it a forum to voice opinions about something you don't like. We want to know about what is already happening - not something you make happen.
If you would like to write for this column, please
with the following information:
Include a brief description of what you would like to write about.
About | Contact | Submit | Advertise | Donate | Archives | Staff