Archive for October 29, 2017

Practicing for November…

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

As if the average novelist (or screenwriter with an unofficial sister challenge) needs even more reasons to pull out our hair as we practice our craft whether it be fear, sloth, blockheads with wallets or family members yelling in our ears about doing something real, along comes November. Allegedly intended to help writers cut through the shit, the National Novel Writing Month sometimes just adds to the misery and coffee spilled all over our gear. And yet when you hear us talk, we really need to do it. Bucket list item, I think…as in – “I really wanted a novel and when I was done I would never want another.” 

Okay, stealing from Apocalypse Now doesn’t really contextually fit because we always want another novel.

The lure of blocking out the intense focus to write 50,000 words of fictional prose between November 1 and November 30 usually reaches out and twists things on the average writer that just shouldn’t be twisted. Largely because we hate the lack of follow through where we might get three, four, five books right up to the midpoint of the narrative, get bored and move on to the next shiny object. We know we can’t edit anything until we have a draft sitting on our desks laughing at us daring all comers to draw near with a red pen, so we agree to kill ourselves in November. The only job that inspires more maniacs must be firefighting.

When we speak amongst ourselves, we don’t speak about such things until about the middle of September. “Are you doing Nano this year?”

“Yeah, I crashed and burned three years ago about halfway through and I’m getting Ants in the Pants.”

Or “No, I’m already on a book and there’s no way I can block out the extra free time that drives my life to do both.”

And then we start talking about the cool moments from that book bulling through the rolled eyes when we reached a slow part in our narrative. Non-writers, I’ve just explained your writer relatives being weird in November, so please lay off. It would probably only get worse if said writer also is known for other things getting in his/her way: sloth, seasonal affective disorder or even just being a douche and a maniac. Trust me, lay off, throw food through the slot (except for Thanksgiving) and gently listen for the soft clack of keys (not so soft for those of us still on manual old school tools). Then you should run…

How does the challenge work? Pretty much you sign up at the website, the usual bit about giving them an email and making up a password (one of thousands by now). It helps to do this part before Halloween because they do want you to loudly blast that you are working on one specific novel (using up the word count on multiple first chapters of too many books will lose you the challenge and T-shirt). You crack your knuckles and start letting your fingers do the Fred Astaire thing across the keys to the tune of 1,667 words per day.

You brag about your results with a daily update of your word count on the site. About twenty days in, you start posting your actual pages as part of your daily brag. Once the plagiarism filters kick in agreeing that your novel didn’t previously exist under someone else’s byline, the site counts up your results and makes a determination as to whether you deserve the T-shirt (like most modern humans we writers will sometimes do massively crazy things just for the T-shirt). The shirt is the only difference between success and failure, because flaming out halfway through is seen as – “Well, that’s 25,000 words that didn’t exist before. Good job!”

The Nano community, the site, your writer friends and hopefully your non-writing relatives will shake your hand congratulating you on however many words you killed dead during this glorious Wabbit Season. Then they will hand you a bag of trash to take out, because life goes on until next year. Oh yeah, you’ll get emails throughout the year asking for money (Nano is a 501c3 nonprofit that needs to pay for shirts and other writer services) and gently reminding you to do it again next year.

The fact that I’m even posting anything about Nanowrimo should answer the question whether I’m doing it this year. Believe me, if I’m doing my usual “I’m doing Nano in spirit without getting too twisted up about the posting and bragging requirement,” I’ll stay silent. I’ve already worked up a novel idea just a few days ago and have linked up with one writing buddy (you get to trash mail each other to spur everybody on).

I picked an idea that starts from Page One even though plenty of people will fudge the start from the beginning suggestion because they’re hip deep in the alligators they already know. This part plays up the juxtaposition that 50,000 words is only a novel-length story in the sense of official classification (expect the books we actually read to come in between 90,000 and 120,000 words), but it is still 50,000 words that didn’t exist before.

At the moment, I’m breathing down my surprise that I done fucked up agreeing to a challenge that I last officially participated in during 2009. Back then, I busted out 25,000 words of a story about a hot assassinatrix (is there any other kind in fiction?) who realizes her long lost connection to a family of witches and steps in as The Good Stepmother. And then family members yelled at me to get a job making me so goddamn angry that I went into true honest to God writer’s block for 18 months. I didn’t get my T-shirt.

But, yeah, I really do want to scratch off this bucket list item, so let’s do it again eight years later. I hadn’t fully articulated doing Nano again this year, but a few friends posted that they were doing it and so I actually posted “I’m your huckleberry…” in the comments. Kind of like certain power grid infrastructure companies with no track record and three employees winning bids that must now build the pig.

But, I’m already on a book at the moment. Ahh, you might think. How about just using Nano to finish that one out? Well, I picked an epic series requiring at least 600,000 words on which to spend my months leading up to November and it won’t finish until a lot later. Thus, in classic coffee-fueled maniac fashion I’m basically swaggering like John Wayne and I’m going to do both (not to mention blogging). We’ll see how that works out.

I take a day or two to look at all my open projects. Most are shorter than the epic series that has my current attention, but I have a few chapters of everything. I’m operating on the assumption that the point is to start from Page One to prove you can do it, not that they would know if you don’t tell them. And then I hit on a project…Grudge Race (believe me I need a better title), basically Ben-Hur with fast cars re-written with Messala as a good guy.

This project counts as starting from Page One because while I’ve had this idea for some time and chapters do exist, the old version existed in a literary universe that I’ve since decided to blow up. I need new characters to fit what at the moment are extremely vivid archetypes. I nod my head and hunker down mentally just counting down the days to the start and it’s a convenient excuse to actually READ Ben-Hur. TICK-TICK-TICK-TICK! Four days and counting to the beginning my next mostly complete novel (or psychotic break, might be almost as entertaining). Care to join me?