Is There Life after NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo ended November 30, 2017. The good news is that, despite my children coming home for Thanksgiving and my driving to Indiana three times between November 16 and December 2, I finished my novel on time: 52,146 words churned out within the month of November. The bad news is that it was not possible for me to keep writing the novel and writing blog posts: it was a difficult decision, but I dropped my blogs and went with NaNoWriMo.

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Snow on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Now, a month after my last post here, I wonder whether abandoning the blogs was wise. During my first week of abstaining from WordPress, I missed it terribly: like most bloggers, I found myself composing posts in my head that would never make it onto the keyboard. I missed reading other people’s posts and hearing about their lives. But then I lost the blogging rhythm. Three weeks off is all it took. I began to feel distanced from the blogging community. It would be easy to slip away silently, particularly since I am behind on Christmas preparations. Presents? The very word paralyzes me, yet presents for my family must be bought. Should I take a long vacation from blogging again?

Why do we blog, anyway? Each of us has a slightly different answer to that question. My posts are motivated by the desire to share something, with a caveat: whatever I want to express or share requires feedback. Some thoughts can be spilled out into a journal, but other ideas ought to be bounced back and forth, or fleshed out more formally. Aside from sharing what is inside my head, I take and share pictures of the natural beauty that surrounds me. Not surprisingly, when I ceased blogging, I backed off on taking photos. Mid-November isn’t the most photogenic time in western North Carolina, anyway. Fall color had come and mostly gone.

So what brings me back to blogging, half-reluctant, half-shy? Well, I have snow pictures, and those photos cry out to be shared. Yes, Asheville had an unusually heavy December snow last week. The airport’s official snow count was 8 inches, but we measured 11.5” in places! Snow in December usually causes conflicts and cancellations, and this snow was no exception. There were positive aspects: my son and I went sledding, while I enjoyed walking with my daughter and my husband on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which has been closed because of treacherous icy patches. There were two precious days of driving almost nowhere. Quiet. Walks. Beauty. So, yes, I’ve got photos to share, although it snowed so continuously last Friday that I didn’t risk getting my son’s good camera wet.


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And I’ve got a few reflections on NaNoWriMo to share. Winning NaNoWriMo left me feeling less satisfed than I’d expected. Yes, I wrote what technically meets the definition of a novel: “a fictitious prose narrative of book length, typically representing character and action with some degree of realism.” I tried to represent character and action realistically, but how difficult I found it! Moving characters from one physical location to another was challenging, and the passage of time baffled me. Not having any plan for where my initial plot was going—I’m a Pantser, in NaNoWriMo lingo—I found myself sticking very closely to my main character for the first several chapters. Where she went, I followed.

In answer to my question as to whether I should report on every emotion my character was experiencing, one of my readers helpfully advised me not to do that. Halfway through, my daughter—who has completed novels via NaNoWriMo’s contest twice before—read me a pep talk from NaNoWriMo in which the suggestion was made to change point of view. That was a life-saving suggestion, since I was tired of viewing the world from my main character’s perspective. I’ll never be good at plotting, I fear, but I found the flashback was an easy way to work in background information. One of the most delightful surprises I encountered was how new characters popped up in unexpected places. With both fear and elation, I let my characters lead me into the next episode of the plot.

For now, I’ve decided not to read through my novel even once until January, when my college kids have gone back to school. In January I tend to feel that nothing good will ever happen again. Once or twice, I’ve been tempted to get the novel out and tweak some inconsistency that occurred in my hurried writing, but I’ve resisted: if I can figure out how to resolve the ticket dilemma now, I can figure it out again in January, can’t I? On my last day of writing, when I churned out 7,101 words, I was tying several threads together so that the book would feel like it had an end. Frankly, I’m terrified of reading those concluding chapters, but, at the same time, I’m intrigued to see whether it hangs together.P1140001 (640x480)

My writing got sloppier as the novel progressed and the deadline drew closer. Near the end of November, someone asked what my first sentence was. When I went back to check, I was disappointed by the brevity and the blandness of my opening sentence: “Waiting.” So much for brilliance. I started my novel with a female character riding a train to a job interview; my confidence was seriously jolted in mid-November when I listened to a children’s audiobook that also opened with a female character riding a train to a job interview. A character on a train is a very obvious beginning for a novel. Ah, well. I’ll wait until January and find out whether what I have written should be shelved as an unsuccessful experiment or maybe—there is just the tiniest chance—edited until it is in good enough shape to be read by someone else. Now I understand why my daughter has never let anyone read either of the novels she wrote.IMG_1348 (480x640)

But I did it! I wrote something fictional. I created characters who took on a semi-autonomous existence and did things that surprised me. The last time I remember writing a story was in junior high, and that story was based on something that had happened to me. Parts of the writing were fun; writing dialogue was always enjoyable, while writing descriptions was often agonizing. Remembering what characters had done in previous chapters or what names I had impulsively given minor characters turned out to be much harder than I’d anticipated. It was very difficult not to start editing earlier chapters as I worked, but I tried to resist that temptation: I knew I’d never get done on time if I succumbed. (I’m an inveterate editor.)

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Go out or stay in?

On December 1, I found myself wondering what the point had been. Did my novel have something meaningful to say? Perhaps, in a very minor way. I had wanted to write a children’s book; I spent about an hour trying to write the first chapter of a children’s book. Then I gave up and wrote about a pivotal moment in the life of a youngish person who is trying to get from one day to the next without screwing up her own life or the lives of others. Not exciting. Not deep. Probably not marketable. So much for filthy lucre. Was it worth the minor sacrifices that were involved? I could not have finished, had we not eaten take-out food numerous times during the week after Thanksgiving.

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The Holly and the Ivy

So here’s a shout-out to the family members who left me alone while I typed away furiously, who let me talk to them about my characters and my plot problems. Without their understanding and tolerance I’d have failed. I appreciate the encouraging words of my fellow bloggers and Facebook friends after I posted about my writing challenge. While success has been strangely hollow, failure would have felt worse. Haven’t you worked intensely toward a deadline, thinking, “I’ll be so glad when this is done?” Only I’m not. I feel almost lost without Time’s winged chariot closing in behind me. Writing the novel was lonely, for the most part, and I don’t miss being trapped in a world of my own imagining. I don’t miss the self-doubt or the lack of feedback. But I do miss the feeling of satisfaction from writing my daily quota of NaNoWriMo words. I miss checking my novel’s stats on NaNoWriMo.org. Most of all, I miss the sense of importance I felt while writing: briefly, I felt like Jo March when “genius” burned. I felt like an Author.congratulations writer (640x354)

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Trees with a Twist of NaNoWriMo

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North Carolina Arboretum (11/4/2017)

I hope this opening sentence doesn’t make anyone click away, but I’m not quite done posting fall photos. Remember how I’ve taken more than 400 fall photos this fall? I wanted to share a few more. This is likely to be my last “fall photo” post, so please come back if, like my son, you find fall color a bit ho-hum. If you like fall color, this post is dedicated to “Fall Color around Town.” When I couldn’t resist, I would snap a photo or two of a particularly brilliant tree. The reds were remarkable at the end of October; the oranges were slower coming along, but they got there.

Originally, I had thought of doing a series of posts on fall in different locations: fall at the Carl Sandburg House, fall at the Biltmore Estate, fall in the neighborhood—you know the kind of thing. Then I signed up for NaNoWriMo. I delayed it until the first day of November, and I made no plans whatsoever for this novel that I was planning to write. But I did commit to NaNoWriMo, and, much to my astonishment, I am still “in the game.”

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Waynesville, North Carolina (11/2/2017)

What kind of person commits to writing a full-length work of fiction as part of a game? Yet the worldwide count for NaNoWriMo participants in 2016 was a staggering 384,126. Even the language on the NaNoWriMo website speaks of it as a game: “How do I win NaNoWriMo? What are the prizes? Is there an entry fee?” There’s a WikiHow article on how to win NaNoWriMo (I ought to bookmark that). It may be hard for WordPress readers to believe, but there are people who don’t know about NaNoWriMo. I had to explain this writing phenomenon to a woman at my son’s basketball game on Monday. She had never heard of NaNoWriMo, but she was curious as to why I was sitting in my van, typing furiously away on my iPad, during the 30 minutes or so before the basketball game started. (The coach likes players to arrive 45 minutes ahead of time. Thanks to my son’s choice of a less traveled route that GoogleMaps advertised as nine minutes faster, we did arrive 45 minutes early on Monday—which gave me more time for NaNoWriMo.)

To my surprise, she seemed very impressed that I was writing a novel. Were she to read my draft, I suspect she would be less impressed. I find little that is impressive about pursuing this objective: I did it more out of peer pressure than anything else. Last year, my daughter, along with a few of my nieces and nephews, participated in NaNoWriMo. I advised her against it, but she persevered anyway. We have this strange relationship in which she encourages me to do things (some creative, some housekeeping-related) and I discourage her from doing things: she knows I need encouragement, and I know that she tends to overdo. On the whole, I have been helped more by her encouragement than she has by my discouragement—okay, I haven’t seen much improvement in the housekeeping arena, but that has taken on the status of a lost cause, so I am not surprised.

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Biltmore Park (11/3/2017)

She has “won” NaNoWriMo twice, but I have not been allowed to read her novels. This saddens me, as I feel that my gifts really lie more in the editing department than in the creative department. (You won’t be able to tell that from this post, into which I am determined not to put much time, since I am supposed to be busily at work in the housekeeping arena today. A prolonged dentist appointment changed my mind: I felt that I deserved a reward for having an unexpected procedure. What better reward than writing an impromptu post? But the housekeeping needs aren’t going to go away just because I’m ignoring them. The piper must be paid eventually.) My daughter’s novels belong to the potentially lucrative genre of science fiction, and she is a good writer. Maybe one day I’ll persuade her to let me have a look.

Now that I’ve written a third of my own novel, though, I can see why she doesn’t want to let anyone read hers. I am literally making it up as I go along, and I find it difficult to believe that anyone could be edified by a perusal of my 15,881 words to date. Technically, I haven’t quite reached the one-third mark: 50,000 words is the official goal. Here’s the teaser from NaNoWriMo’s site that got me hooked:

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.

Three phrases did it:

  1.  “seat-of-your-pants.” I am the original fly-without-an-outline writer. I can make outlines because my high school teachers forced me to, and my writing is better when I do, but I so much prefer to hit the ground running.
  2.  “goal.” I doubt if I would play the piano today if my mom hadn’t offered me the incentive of a new Nancy Drew book if I practiced every day for a month. I cannot seem to successfully meet my own goals, but I have a decent success rate of achieving goals that others set for me. Sad but true.
  3. “anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.” My thoughts of writing a novel have mostly been motivated by my desire to earn filthy lucre. I much prefer writing essays, but I never heard of anyone who made money writing essays. (Please correct me if I’m wrong. I’d even make outlines if that would help my essays make a bit of money. I did submit an article speculatively to a magazine back in my college days and received a small sum when the article was printed, but that was a fluke. I tried that blind submission tactic a few times as a new mom and met with rejection.)

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Barn at the Carl Sandburg House (10/14/2017)

But, sure, I’ve thought about writing a novel. I had no idea how difficult novel-writing was until November 1. I lifted a plot from a suggestion a Facebook friend had made and tweaked it a little, but finding ways to advance the plot has not been my problem. My difficulties have been technical. How do I move my character from the commuter train (which I stupidly set in a real location), down the sidewalk, and into the Boston Public Library? (Oops, I gave it away there. Yes, a visit to Boston and its suburbs would help me right now, but there’s that filthy lucre problem that I mentioned earlier.) Do I need to tell every thought she’s having? Every text she’s receiving on her phone? What if the owners of the actual house that I’m writing about have a problem with their address appearing in my novel? I’m getting ahead of myself there and assuming that this assortment of words will be published. Why would it be?

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Asheville, North Carolina (11/5/2017)

Also, I find myself borrowing from every person or situation I’ve ever experienced. I’ve always wondered how novelists manage not to alienate their family members or friends. There is Thomas Wolfe’s well-known example—and he was a resident of Asheville, North Carolina, too! It would be a little too neat if the book that offended people from Wolfe’s past were You Can’t Go Home Again; that book was published posthumously, so it didn’t matter how many folks he offended. Wolfe’s earlier book, Look Homeward, Angel, reportedly resulted in his receiving death threats from residents of Asheville, which he had fictionalized in his novel. As an Asheville transplant, I am aware of the angry local reactions to Wolfe’s novel. Perhaps that’s why I chose Boston and its suburbs instead as the physical setting for my “novel.” (The quotation marks are necessary.) But, oh, how much time I am losing, zooming in on maps of Boston and images from the library, looking up schedules on the MBTA’s website—and all for what? So that I can claim to have won a game at the end of November?

For the moment, I am trying to ignore all the reasons that I shouldn’t keep writing and forcing myself to try to meet the daily quota of words. (Even my encouraging daughter told me that I shouldn’t expect to “win” the game on my first try. I think she’s concerned about the cluttered condition of the house. Or maybe she’s concerned about my sanity.) But, if you see me here on WordPress a little less for the next couple of weeks, you’ll know why.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, if I disappear until December 1!

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East Asheville (10/18/2017)