Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Gearing Up for NaNoWriMo 2011

Last year was my first experience with NaNoWriMo--for those of you who don't know, that stands for National Novel Writer's Month, although the concept has gone international.  Basically, what it boils down to is this: each November, insane people like myself commit to sitting down and writing an entire novel in one month.  Yes, you read that correctly.  In order to "win" NaNoWriMo, you have to write a 50,000 word novel, which boils down to 1,667 per day, every single day in November.

When I first heard about this, I thought it was utter madness--exciting madness, but crazy all the same.  I mean, who can possibly write an entire novel in 30 days, right?  After all, I've been writing novels since about the time I learned how to hold a pen, and I think the fastest I've ever written one was maybe six months or so.  Most of the time, though, I tend to labor over novels for years at a time.  Mainly, this is because I don't always like to write when I don't feel "inspired".  I sometimes go through these periods of mania where I JUST HAVE TO WRITE, and all is good.  But, more often than not, writing feels like work and, well, avoiding work is the human condition, right?

For several years, I made up excuses for why I couldn't do NaNoWriMo.  Mostly, these excuses centered around my kids because, as any parent knows, your kid is the ultimate excuse for everything.  Don't want to go to work?  Call the boss and tell him/her that your kid is sick.  Didn't have time to get around to doing all those things you were supposed to do?  Tell yourself it's because your kids keep you so busy.  Don't want to commit to sitting in front of your computer and--gasp--actually making yourself write something?  Convince yourself that you can't possibly do it because you have kids and, therefore, zero free time in which to do things like write novels.  It's pretty easy to convince yourself of this.  I should know, as I did it multiple times.

Finally, last year, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and just do it.  Now, something to know about when I write: I tend to agonize over word choice, syntax, comma usage--in short, anything that gets me out of having to actually take a risk and type something.  Now, that just wasn't going to work for NaNoWriMo as the ultimate goal is, really, to get the words down.  That doesn't mean you'll actually be able to do anything with your novel, but the point is to just write, so that's what I decided to do.  I would sit down, type what came to me, and I would NOT, under any circumstances, allow myself to edit as I wrote which is, naturally, what I normally do.

In the end, my "novel" was nothing more than a bunch of random gibberish and whatever flotsam was floating through my head on the day I wrote that portion.  In other words, what I wrote had no hope of ever becoming anything that even remotely resembled a novel.  However, I was not upset by this.  On the contrary, I felt amazingly liberated.  I realized that I could, in fact, write 1,667 words a day.  I just had to give myself permission to do so.  I had to muzzle my inner perfectionist and let my inner free spirit loose to just write and write and write.  It was gorgeous, really.  It showed me that taking risks can be awesome and, if not flush with extrinsic rewards, replete with intrinsic ones.  And while most of us tend to stress the extrinsic rewards of anything, the intrinsic ones are really the ones that bring us the most happiness.

What NaNoWriMo taught me was to take a risk, an idea that I've embraced with gusto.  I decided that, in order to continue to challenge myself, I would not only do something crazy like write a novel in 30 days each year, I would also try a different genre each year.  This year, I settled on YA dystopian fiction.  Why?  Because I read a lot of it and I think it's just awesome.  If you're curious, you'll find some links to my favorites of the genre as I think all of these authors deserve big props.

At first, trying this genre out seemed crazy.  You can't just arbitrarily decide you're going to write in a different genre.  That's putting yourself outside of your comfort zone and if you're to have any hope of anything workable, you have to have a good feel for the genre.  I think this is particularly true of things like fantasy, sci-fi, and dystopian fiction because there's so much world-building involved.  In order to make your story believable, you have to be able to create a logic within your own world.  This is NOT an easy thing to do--at least not for me.  For me, it's much simpler to just write modern mainstream lit in which my characters are people not that different from myself.

Given this, I knew I couldn't fly by the seat of my pants this year as I did last year.  So, with the help of my trusty friend Microsoft OneNote, I began setting up the world for my dystopia, and I realized that this could really be fun for me.  I'm very opinionated, and if I had to boil good dystopian fiction down, I'd say it's the author taking an issue and then exaggerating it in order to make a larger point about the dysfunctional nature of society.  For someone who's as passionate about various issues as I am, it's actually a dream genre.  Here's a chance for me to take an issue about which I have a passionate viewpoint and transform it into a work of fiction that illustrates just why I think this particular issue is such a bad thing.

So, what IS my big issue?  That will ultimately be for my readers to figure out.  My would-be English teacher genes forbid me from overtly telling people how to interpret a novel, after all.  I will, however, post some excerpts in this blog here and there, whenever I feel like I have something that may be worth sharing.  Hopefully, I'll feel that way after ever single day of typing 1,667.  But if this year is anything like last year, I'll feel that way a total of zero days.

Still, this isn't discouraging me.  After all, were it not for NaNoWriMo, I wouldn't have even thought of taking this risk.  That would have been a real shame as I'd have been missing out on something that has stimulated and excited me in a very intellectual fashion.