NaNoWriMo: A New Approach
When I was young, I wrote all the time, from the time I was nine until I was nineteen (and had my daughter). When I was inspired, I went right to the typewriter/word processor/computer. But for one assigned short story in eighth grade, I didn’t finish anything. I wrote for the joy of writing. I didn’t know much about plot and character arcs and conflict. I primarily wrote about couples getting together and breaking apart, whether in small towns or space, whether they were teenagers or teenage vampires. I loved drama for the sake of drama. Big emotions were my specialty.
I’ve written before about what a snob I was about it, but to reiterate: I was a total snob about it. I was a Writer. I failed my first college composition class because it wasn’t “real” writing; I didn’t connect composition to the non-fiction (not-fiction) papers I was supposed to be writing for the next four years. So I just didn’t go to class. Social anxiety kept me from dropping the class–I didn’t know how, and standing in the long long line to do so threw me into a panic–and so I failed. Instead of writing four years of papers, I had drama!!! and then marriage and a child. I wrote less and less as the years went on, especially when I was a single parent.
I got a job once, writing scripts with an ex. I had no experience, but the ex went to film school for writing and I knew how to flesh out people and create drama. The script we finished was never produced. I think the company went under.
I also finished two full drafts when my daughter was very very young. I just wanted to FINISH something, you know? So I did it. The first one was hand-written and ended up in too many places with too many lost sections; the second was in Corel Wordperfect and is now primarily in jibberish in a file somewhere, having been converted badly to Microsoft Word.
And then…nothing. I went back to school and started writing papers, not stories, and I lost the spark. I wanted to write, but I didn’t write. It was a combination of time, energy, and, most of all, guilt. I felt guilty if I was writing. If you’re writing, you’re not cleaning, you’re not working, you’re not looking for work, you’re not spending time with your family.
I mocked National Novel Writing Month when it first began, because it works on that faulty premise that “everyone has a novel in them.” I don’t believe this is true. We’re not all magically writers deep down, in the same way we are not all painters or dancers or even plumbers. When we perpetuate this myth, we diminish the creativity and hard work that writers put into their works, their careers. Do I think everyone can write 50,000 words? Maybe. But they won’t all be good words.
Still, it was something to get me back on the horse. I “won” a few years in a row, but I had neither draft nor the spark back. I just felt like I was cranking out crap in order to reach a deadline. Then I was said no, I’m going to aim for a full draft. I plotted and planned, put scenes on flash cards, and worked on 21 Days to a Novel. For two years, that didn’t work. I overplanned. I got bogged down in the idea that everything had to be great, it couldn’t just be writing for the sake of writing. I hated it all. I started over and over and over. I loved my idea, but characters kept getting flatter and flatter as I panicked.
I didn’t write most of the rest of the year, except the occasional night where I’d knock some things out, like it or not, and then put it off another six months.
There was still no spark. Maybe I’d feel like something was good for the first thousand words, and then pffft, out like a candle. And I was still working on the same handful of ideas I’d been working on for years.
So the other night, as an experiment, I sat down and just wrote. No real ideas, just an image, and stopped when I felt like it and moved on to the next thing I felt like writing. It was much more joyful. The guilt of non-completion is still there, though. But I want to stomp it out.
My new NaNo goal is to write for the love of writing. To start when I feel inspired, and to stop when I cease feeling inspired. To feel the joy of creation and, more importantly, discovery. My brain is making stories, not telling them, and that’s a huge part of what I felt like I was missing these past few years. Will it get me to 50K? Maybe not. Will I end up with “a novel”? Probably not. What I’m doing right now is a series of stories led by two characters, almost like Alternate Universe versions of them. In each one, there’s a different apocalypse scenario (as described by Charlie Jane Anders in this article). The two characters navigate this world. They can be white, or black, straight or gay, cis or trans. In one, they are teenagers. Another, adults. A third, robots. And I don’t think too much about it before I sit down. I just write.
It’s fun. It feels new.
Now I just have to work on letting myself sit down. How do you deprogram guilt?