I made the decision late in the game that this year, I would be a participant in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. I’m publicly kind of a non-joiner, so why did I join in this? When I was in college and my early twenties, it was my goal to be a full-time professional writer. I was a big reader of science fiction, and I could think of nothing better than to spend my days as a writer of it. I did write short stories in that time period, and even had a poem published in the magazine Aboriginal SF. None of my short stories were ever published, as I never submitted any of them to any publications.
In 1991 I started taking notes for a novel idea I had. It was titled Manzanar Dreams and concerned the 1970’s California punk scene, the Japanese internment during World War 2, the spread of corporate radio, mind control and a little good old fashioned homicide. I’ve got character notes, plot outlines and even drawings of the characters that date back 18 years. I’ve never gone a week without thinking about this book in that whole time, but in 18 years there is one telling thing I have failed to do. I haven’t written one word of the actual text of the book.
I had actually emailed my writer friend Kelley Eskridge earlier this year to tell her I was stealth attempting to write the book. Then I shelved it in favor of a different project that seemed timely that equally didn’t happen, with the final result of me doing nothing on anything. I decided to change gears and rather than stealthily attempt the book, I’d publically do it as part of NaNoWriMo. It really is time to either do this thing or admit that I’ll never do it, so here I go.
One of the structural challenges that faced me is that I have three main characters: a hero, a fairly sympathetic villain, and a love interest vertex of the interpersonal triangle. When I have thought about the book for these years, 98% of my energies have gone towards the villain. He’s the character that I personally find compelling, which begged the question – if I cared about him more than the other characters, why should I expect the readers to care about the others? Why isn’t the book solely about him as the anti-hero? I had a breakthrough a few months ago, where a very small change in perspective towards the hero made the themes of the book more tangible and also gave me a hook into why I should care about him just as much as the bad guy. From that point, I felt like a bull waiting to get released from the chute.
Yesterday (notably day two of the month, I left the first pass by completely) I wrote the first two chapters of this book, including a scene I’ve been thinking of for most of that 18 years. It flew by. I write the first 1000 word chapter in 30 minutes on my lunch break. I don’t expect all of them to come this easily as I’ve thought a lot about the beginning and end of this book, but the tricky middle where all the story and character arc happens needs much fleshing out. Looking back over the 2350 words I wrote yesterday, it lacks a lot of sublety but I can live with that at this point. I need to get something down on paper to be fixed later, and I’d rather have imperfect, unsubtle prose today than perfect and wonderful words at some indeterminate point in the fuzzy future. This whole month long exercise is about turning off the inner critic, tabling all the excuses for failing to produce and just going for it. That’s what I’m doing, I’m going for it. I have an Amazon wish list for the project that I’m not begging for people to buy me stuff so much as is a resource list for what I’m thinking about. I’ll be buying some of the music on that list to listen to as I attempt to pound out this book.
Merlin Mann actually covered some of the points that bother me about the whole NaNoWriMo infrastructure. You can follow along with me at my author’s page, but be warned I’m not doing much of the social stuff. Like Merlin says, that time you spend on the forums is time you aren’t writing and with my full-time job and a lot of other crap going on, I don’t have much ability to spend my free time not writing while still making it to 50,000 words this month.
I’m scared, I’m exhilarated, I’m happy to be making tangible something about which I have thought so much. That’s the part that matters to me, making it real. See you in December, with my nearly completed or completely completed manuscript. For November it is mostly periscope down, full bore ahead.