Writing in Boots

I’m in my second year of blogging, because I’m cool like that. Around this time last year, I started noticing a secret club pop up. They spoke in weird slurs and shot random numbers out like they were going for a prize or something. When they didn’t take their secret handshake into the clubhouse and shut the door, but taught others and put on coffee, I decided this needed to be looked into. What the hell kind of secret club doesn’t keep themselves a secret?

NaNoWriMo

See. Weird slurs. And it’s all about The Number: 50,000.

I quickly discovered that while men were out growing mustaches, people were also hunched over their keyboards pounding out an average 1,667 words a day to reach the daunting goal of 50,000 words in a month, or, furiously typing a first draft of a novel.

I clicked the Red X so quickly my computer asked me if I was sure I wanted to navigate away because the page was still loading.

My go-to answer when someone finds out I am a writer and asks the inevitable “what, like books or something” has always been No. No, I do not write books. No, I have never written a book. No, I don’t plan to write a book. No. Just no.

Really though, that’s a seriously annoying question. I don’t have to tell you this, but I tell people all the time, writers write more than books.

“What do you do?” asks pestering person.
“I’m a writer,” I answer. “And you?” I ask.
“A writer!” exclaims pestering person. “So, what, you like write books or something?”
“No, I’m not a novelist,” I explain.
“Well, what else is there to write? I mean, like, what?” says now very confused pestering person.

There are hundreds of thousands of books floating out there, and with the rising popularity and wild success stories of self-publication, millions of books will be released to the reading world. I am not one to think I can compete against that, and I’m not willing to lower myself to the grammar level of a third grader to pop out the next bored housewives book of the month.

Yet, I was intrigued.

Once the fervor settled, and the month ended, I went back, and, after some deep breathing exercises, I looked around the NaNoWriMo website. I read some, and hid under my desk some. My coworkers worried until I told them I was hiding from the temptation of a future goal. They seemed to understand that, or they already knew I was the wack-a-doodle and just to let me rock myself and suck my thumb.

So for the last eleven months I’ve thought about it. Would I? Could I? Should I? I decided I wouldn’t. I decided I couldn’t. And I decided I shouldn’t. Why in the world does the world need another book, and why should that book come from me?

Well, the world does need more books. We haven’t stopped reading. This doesn’t mean the world needs a book from me, but thankfully NaNoWriMo isn’t about putting together a submittable draft. It’s about setting a goal and accomplishing it.

I hear my procrastination skills will transfer nicely.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I realized what it is, and it’s taken me twelve days to admit I’ve joined what will become an estimated 400,000 writers working towards a common goal of 50,000 words each.

I’ve tried to let that sink in as I’ve filled in bits and pieces of my NaNo profile. Look at me being all cool (read: trying to embrace the fear).

NaNo Profile

I’ve read through some of the forums. It’s enough to make anyone turn and run. With what I saw, I expect I’ll be certifiable, in wrist braces, sleep deprived and over-caffeinated,  thrilled with the accomplishment and mortified at the resulting novel or never-talking-about-it, don’t-even-ask-me disappointed with the failure. When I had enough of that, I read through some of the tips for first timers. There is so much, so I gave up.

I picked a profile picture, which was easy. I went with the same one I use here and on Twitter. I wrote my author bio, which was easy because I copy/pasted and edited the About The Author from this blog. I introduced myself to my region and checked out the calendar of write-ins. When I ran out of things I could do to without really mentioning the, gasp, book, I opened a blank Word doc and stared at it. For hours.

Then I gave it a title and went for a drive. I was driving home from work, but a drive is a drive and the muse is ever a passenger. Am I really going to do this? Am I really going to sit down and give a character 50,000 words of attention? More, really, because to finish would be to finish and I’ve read the average novel is upwards of 50,000 words. It was on the internet and since everything on the internet is true, it must be that 50,000 words will get us to climax, and then put the characters out in the cold with no cuddle time.  Then I worried about myself until I got home because who the hell thinks of that?

I picked 2,000 words a day for 25 days as the overall goal and numbered my blank page 1-25, and then stared at it for a while. I started thinking about my vocabulary words from my literature and writing classes: character arc, plot arc, character development, timeline, setting, rising action, climax, denouement. Then I started thinking about how cool a word denouement is and said it out-loud to myself a few times.

It all flashed before my eyes. I saw the people and the places. I saw what happened, and I saw how it needed to happen. I answered my own questions. I really am going to do this and give this character her story. I put the timeline down in 25 pieces. It worked out nicely. So I haven’t done anything in three days. That working out surely means disaster is around the corner.

I went back and read on the execution of all these vocabulary words. I read about the process and the planning, and I read about being willing to throw that to the wind when the characters get a wild hair and take you on a ride. I read about more detail versus less detail. I read more about writing than I have read since I was a not-teacher major studying reading and writing.

I had a six hour drive Friday and Sunday. So you don’t have to do the math, that’s twelve hours of driving. I spent six of those hours alone in my car. I thought about that timeline. I thought about the characters, their families, and their friends. I thought about their position in society. I thought about their education. I though about reoccurring themes. I had my doubts when I couldn’t figure out transitions between times and chapters and characters and settings and ohmygoodness make it stop, so I bought some coffee and I thought about the title.

It’s tentatively titled Bear It Away. I hate coming up with titles before I’m finished writing. The temporary title is from a Flannery O’Connor novel, The Violent Bear It Away. I like Miss. O’Conner’s work. I’m a fan of her writing in the same way I am a fan of Edgar Allen Poe. It took one story, one single trip into the macabre and I was hooked.

Several years ago I met an author. I don’t remember who he was. I remember he had a large number of books under his belt and a few had been turned into Hallmark movies. He talked to a small group, many of us college students, all bright-eyed and goal-oriented, and told us one way to know if we had the stamina to write a novel is to pick one, on the shorter side, he said, no War and Peace, and type it. Take a book, he said, one you’ve read, and sit down and copy it word for word, beginning to end.

He said this would be an exercise in the time it takes to write a novel. That typing the story and being forced to experience it word for word would give us a feel for the beat of the story, for the rhythm of the characters. It would give us insight into the story and the process of a story in ways we wouldn’t get by reading no matter how many times we talked about it in class.

I typed The Violent Bear It Away. It took more than a month, but I wasn’t wearing boots.

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29 thoughts on “Writing in Boots

  1. Melanie,
    Nonowrimo and One Post a Day are two initiatives that produce duds, more than anything. Yes, it is an incentive to “write more”, but it produces quantity over quality. In you I trust, as a writer, and I will cross my fingers…
    Le Clown

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    • Getting to The Number is more of the focus than anything else, or so it seems as a first-timer reading people going on and on about the sheer volume of words and the “write now, edit later” attitude. I do have the benefit of time and quiet to write (and an obsession for editing), and I’m curious to see if I can create that much life for a character.

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  2. Somedays will likely quantity, other quality. Either way, making a commitment to spend time with words on a daily basis is a good thing. Keep your boots on and your fingers moving, Melanie. I’m rooting and believing 😉

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    • It is a good thing. I do write most days. I work as a writer during the day and I play as a writer at night. 2,000 words a day isn’t unusual for me, but by the time I’m finished editing, not many of those words are left. The challenge of this will be spending time with the same characters every day. I think. I’m a newbie in this, so I really have no idea what I’m talking about.

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      • It’s going to be a great experience. Like getting stuck in an elevator with someone you didn’t know. There will be moments of claustrophobia and some anxiety, but eventually you’ll walk away knowing that person better than anyone and conquering your fear of tight spaces.

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  3. Pingback: 16 drafts | This Is My Corn

  4. This was so good. There was something so nomadic about the way you relate to your own craft – it’s really quite inspiring in its own right – funny you should mention procratination – it’s a topic I covered last week in partial glory! Anyway, you’ve given me some food for thought, and I’ll be sure to reference you in for thanks.

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  5. This was seriously (ugh, I hate using this word, it sounds sooo cheesy) *sigh* INSPIRING! I love your writing!!!!! You seem to be a lot like me.

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