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Day One: Do Not Trap Characters in the Phantom Zone

November 1, 2010

Alright, I’m done wallowing in smoke-free misery. It’s November 1st, and you know what that means…

It’s day one of NaNoWriMo! This will be my third year participating in this month of novel-writing insanity. I’m one for two so far, having failed the first year and succeeded the second. For me, the first day of November finds me filled with  a mixture of excitement and fear as I embark on yet another quest to write 50,000 words (or possibly more) in 30 days.

I know that my writing doesn’t have to be good. If you read this blog, you know I’m not above ridiculous metaphors or drawn-out parenthetical phrases that occur for no real reason at all. As much as I value brevity, I’m not too good to shamelessly stretch a simple, basic sentence into a lengthy, comma-laden monster that virtually stands on its own as a paragraph by liberally tacking on an overflowing cornucopia of superfluous adjectives and adverbs. Since my standards are so low, one might wonder what exactly it is about starting a new Wrimo draft that frightens me.

There are several things about beginning a new creative project that are scary, not the least of which is that whole “beginning” part. I’m actually not bad at finishing things once I’ve gotten started, but I’m also really good at staring at a blank piece of paper for hours, on the verge of tears and totally unable to write. So apart from my issues with starting something new, here is a list of what frightens me most (for the next 30 days, at least. On December 1st the list reverts to the following: 1. Heights, 2. Enclosed spaces, 3. People who are shorter than I am, 4. Having to ask someone to repeat themselves more than twice, and 5. Scott Bakula’s eyebrows).

1. Total, abject failure

I signed up to do Script Frenzy at the beginning of this year and failed utterly. I had an idea for a screenplay involving a suicidal cross-dressing Mexican janitor and an alien named Poon. I wrote maybe three pages and then just stopped. There was no real excuse for this, I had other stuff to do and never bothered to make time for more writing. This fall, I’m a bit nervous about a repeat of this terrible performance. I don’t want to start out strong and then watch my novel fizzle, like a bottle rocket being swallowed by a camel (I don’t know why a camel would swallow a bottle rocket, but I’m pretty sure it would fizzle).

2. Finishing 50,000 words of meandering crap with no ending

Again, I know my writing doesn’t have to be good, but to me a major part of writing a novel is crafting a manuscript that has a clear beginning, middle and end. Last year, even though I technically “won” Wrimo, I didn’t actually FINISH the story. I wrote a couple of thousand words past the 50k mark, and then it was the end of the month so I stopped. I effectively doomed my characters to floating around in Incomplete Plot Limbo forever and ever, like General Zod trapped in the Phantom Zone (except not really, because General Zod got out). This year, I’d actually like to attempt an ending, but I’m not entirely sure I can do it.

3. My subject matter requires me to read books and think about stuff

For past WriMos, I’ve gone the extremely easy and mindless route and written fantastic science fiction that required no research or forethought on my part. This year, my planned setting is a mental institution and my planned plot requires that I know something about psychology. I am fascinated by psych, which is why I decided to use this particular plot idea, and I’ve studied it a little bit, but I’m not as knowledgeable about it as I am about, oh, say, poetic meter. Usually I can bang out my requisite 1,667 words a day in just about an hour, maybe two if I’m slow that day. My fear is that this year I will be frequently interrupted by the need to research a particular disorder or medication and so my speed will be reduced, which may directly contribute to Wrimo  Fear #1 becoming a reality.

4. Post-Nano Depression

As much as I enjoy NaNoWriMo and I think it’s a great way for me to overcome my inherent perfectionism and unwind from work-related writing, at the end of it all I usually feel a little disappointed in the entire process. I know some people are actually able to ever look at their NaNoWriMo drafts again, but I tend to consider it something of a throwaway exercise. That’s the only way I can get through the month, because I’m often so ashamed of the quality of the writing that I would probably just stop trying if I thought I actually had to correct all the mistakes.

So I don’t reread my drafts. I don’t even try to revise or edit. It’s probably for the best, because I can imagine weeping and tearing of hair when I reach the point in my first Wrimo attempt where the main character gets amnesia and the plot starts all over again. But it also makes me feel like I’ve wasted a month of writing. I know this is stupid, because practice is practice, whether or not it yields anything usable. It’s just that, in the fantasy land that is my head, writing a novel in a month means creating a pristine draft that makes SENSE and has structure and brilliant characters and plot twists the likes of which this world has NEVER SEEN! I can dream…

Anyway, good luck to all of you who might be participating along with me this year. May your characters not need to get amnesia and start all over again at the beginning for you to finish your novel.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Summer permalink
    November 1, 2010 6:36 pm

    As long as you get those 1677 words a page each day you are golden!!! I wish you the very best of luck!!!

    Keep us posted on how you are doing – your fans are routing for you! 😀

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