obligatory nanowrimo post

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Friday, October 27, 2006
To nano or not to nano... After giving it some serious thought, I think this year is a not to nano year for me. One reason is that I really REALLY need to be working on my applications for school and studying for the GRE. (Although I have half-convinced myself that library school is a foolish pursuit as well. Maybe I just need to embrace my foolish pursuits instead of fighting them all the time.) Another reason is more directly related to writing. The first year I participated in nano I didn't know if 50,000 words in 30 days was something I could do. I'd never written 50,000 words on a single project before in my LIFE, but I wanted to try. And I did it! It was a complete shock and rush to me that I did it, but I did.

I never finished the story (I did sketch out the ending), but I met the word requirement and the deadline. There are great chunks of it that I cringe to remember, but there are parts that aren't so bad. The important thing to me was that I finished that year and also for the next two years. Now I have three of these mutant creatures sitting on my hard drive, which is fine... but I haven't given them a lot of thought or started anything else either. Where is my drive? Where is my ambition? In my (feeble) defense, I have been blogging consistently (I did say it was feeble!) and I also write in a journal almost every day, but that doesn't really count. (To me, for me -- I'm making no statements or judgments about anyone else's writing habits or motivations.)

The whole idea of writing is fraught for me. (I'm such a delicate flower...) I've been writing in one form or another my whole life, but always as a lark or with the caveat that I'm just fooling around, because if I really tried, it may become apparent that I suck. I know this is a familiar song to a lot of people: if I don't try very hard, I can conveniently avoid discovering whether or not I could be any good if I did. Of course this notion that trying is all it takes to find out one way or another doesn't hold up against something ELSE I truly believe, which is natural ability or affinity will only get you so far -- what gets you the rest of the way is a lot of hard work and dedication to improving your skills. This is but one of many contradictory thought processes constantly running here in the Brain of Jen.

One of the things that keeps echoing in my skull is Neil Gaiman's writing advice. He gets asked a lot about what to do if one wants to be a writer, and his advice is the most simple and of course the most difficult to follow that I've ever read: "You write. You finish what you write." It doesn't really get more direct than that, does it? So, I have these three nano creations which I have varying amounts of pride and fondness for, but I wouldn't say that any of them are finished, except in the sense that they are at least 50K words long and were written in 30 days. And that's yet another reason why I won't be participating this year. I've proven to myself that it is physically and mentally possible for me to churn out the required number of words in the required number of days, but I haven't proven to myself that I have the tenacity to stick with something and freaking FINISH IT to the point where I could let someone read it without getting the vapors and needing a fainting couch. Nano can't help me with that. Maybe nothing can and I should just start shopping for the couch...

I do love the feeling of manic camaraderie that Nano engenders. Being involved in this insane venture with thousands of other people at the same time is a lot of fun and I may return to it next year, but this year I think I'm going to sit it out. In the meantime, though, here (for the first time ever in public) is some information about my three languishing efforts:

With all three, I took the advice of nano founder Chris Baty and chose a genre which I not only enjoyed reading, but had read widely. My three projects all fall into the category I would call "romantic adventure." Early stand-alone Elizabeth Peters novels are old favorites of mine, and I thought that it would be a style suited to my interests and temperament. (I barely have the patience to READ a detailed police procedural, for example, let alone perpetrate one. On the other hand, hunting for some crazy treasure while being chased by some crazy people in the company of a mysteriously attractive yet also crazy person? That's more like it!)

2003: I had such fun with this, but also made so many classic beginner mistakes! It's first person, which isn't a mistake (it's common for the genre) but I was twisting myself into pretzel-like contortions to make it clear that the heroine was not me! I see now, of course, that you can give as many contrary descriptors as you like, but it doesn't matter. They're all me -- even the whackaloons. (first person to say "what do you mean, "even" the whackaloons?" will be the recipient of some jen-delivered physical violence.) I also gave my two main characters names that sound too similar. So confusing!

I think this story has my favorite characters by far, and I still find the adventure I devised for them to be very fun and full of promise -- but I could NOT work out what made the two main characters click with each other -- without that the rest doesn't really matter. This is the story I have spent the most time on, to date. I went through at least one major revision, but it seemed like every time I tried to take on the main problem I just made it worse. Maybe enough time has passed that I'd be able to take a fresh look at it, but it's also possible that I'll never be able to work it out.

2004: When I finished this, I was convinced it was THE WORST piece of writing I had ever done in my life. I thought it was lost when I replaced my hard drive (since it was so terrible, I had made no permanent backup or even a print out), and I wasn't even that fussed about it. I was able to recover it and made myself read it through my fingers -- I now think it is actually the BEST of the three nano stories I've done. I'm not sure why I think that, since I don't like the characters as much and the story itself has major problems... but there's something there that draws me back to it. I think part of it is the locale (I set it in portland's old town/china town section which sits on top of a series of underground passages) and... well, even with all of the problems (there are MANY), I think it could be a lot of fun. This would probably be the easiest one for me to go back and work on since I was much less emotionally invested than in the first one. (this was the nano year that I started this blog!)

2005: I really like the IDEA of this story, but ultimately I don't think it maps as well onto the stand-alone romantic adventure template. This poor girl would need a series! I introduced a really complicated element (why? WHY???), and 30 days wasn't long enough for me to work out the kinks. I think this one also has potential to be fixed and interesting, but I'm least invested in this story. (Of course, I also haven't looked at it once since I finished it, so maybe it's not as bad as I remember.)

Anyway, there you have it. My nano career in vague, non-disclosing terms. Just writing this up has helped to clarify some of my ambivalence, which is something, I suppose.

edit: I have edited this post so many times (to clarify and de-stupidify as much as possible) that I could probably spend all of November just tweaking this! Post in haste, repent in leisure!
2 comments on "obligatory nanowrimo post"
  1. My personal "I don't need your stinking rules theory" is that nano is whatever you want to make of it. If it's your goal to write a 50,000 word novel-ette in 30 days, awesome! If your goal is to write every day for 30 days, good on you. If it's your goal to apply to schools spend an hour every day for the GRE, then go you! Just as an aside, I see that I could have a future as a motivational speaker for my people (i.e. slacker non-comforists who don't like rules). I wonder kind of Holland type that is???? Anyway, my point is you just have to find your motivation where you find it and use it to your advantage. For example, I am happy that you won't have the stress of nano-ing, because you can now devote yourself to cheering me on when you're not studying and writing brilliant, well crafted admissions essays. Hey...if you want, we can set up some work dates, where we can go for coffee or the library or something and work on our projects. I bet the discpiline/structure would do us both good!

  2. Hee hee! You could give seminars, although I don't know how well they would go down with your target audience of slacker non-conformists. OOH! I know! You need to target the wannabe slacker non-conformists. Them, you can push around.

    I am all for people doing whatever the hell they want to with november -- I just wish that I was able to take the good feeling of hitting that 50/30 goal (it did feel good, all three times!), and transmute it into feeling good about beating one of them into coherence. (or coaxing! I could coax instead of delivering the beatdown... I'm flexible and not unreasonable, after all.)

    coffee/library sounds fun! We should do it for sure.


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