Friday, October 29, 2010

Writing Downhill - In a Good Way

NaNoWriMo starts in three days and I’ve been note-taking, outlining, character arc-ing, and the closer I get to the sheer cliff face that is November, the larger it looms, and the steeper it becomes.  I had intended to do it privately so no one would see me fail, but I was overcome by the moment and “came out” a few days ago.  Being an acknowledged participant not only gives me one the most time-honored incentives to not give up (shame and disgrace), but also allows me to be an active part of the NaNo community, sharing and receiving tips, anecdotes, and pep talks.  Plus I get to play with word count widgets.

I’ve been reading about other writer’s strategies and philosophies relating to starting a novel, especially one that’s supposed to be all done thirty days later.  I consider my own strategy to tackling the novel-in-a-month  mountain and realize this:

I don’t have one.

It took me nearly three years to finish my last – and first – novel.   In the time it took me to write it, I changed careers, then changed back again.  I moved three times, bought a car, went back to school (again) and had to quit (again).  I broke up with my girlfriend, then later met a beautiful, spunky waitress and married her.  I also became a father to two teenagers.

Writing was, in my head, a priority, but everything else got in the way.  I love to write, but somehow it became a chore, something I had to do.  I tried everything – writing schedules, deadlines and quotas, dedicated space to write, changing scenery.  Nothing helped.  It wasn’t my strategy that was the problem; it was my approach.   I was writing uphill.  A finished novel was the unattainable goal, number one on my “bucket list” and gateway to my future as a Beloved Author.  Some days I would whittle off two or three thousand words in a day, but that was rare, and never more than one day in a row.  More often, I’d hammer out a couple hundred, or none at all, waiting until everything else in my life was taken care of, or I was in the mood, or some other excuse to push the goal further away.

I’m taking a different approach this time.  I’m not going to climb the Mountain of November, but rather I’m riding the ski-lift to the top now so I can throw myself down, building up speed as I careen toward December 1st using whatever analogy (skis, soapbox derby cars, super-happy-fun slide) you prefer, hopefully spilling 50,000 plus words and a complete novel all across the finish line.  No writing schedules, no quotas, no perfectly feng shui-ed writing space.  Just me and the novel.  It’s not my adversary; my novel needs me as much as I need it.  Nothing technical has changed, just my attitude, but that could be the most important change of all. 

Writing shouldn’t be an unconquerable mountain.  It should be what it is: a super-happy-fun slide.


  1. I know the dilemma Dan. The absolute of story writing Vs the real life. Both are endearing, but it's so easy to lose sight of why you like both. Almost drove myself into the ground doing this.

    Have fun during NaNoWriMo Dan, I'll make sure to follow your progress.

  2. Thanks, Ben. Balance is probably the hardest thing to achieve. I know I can devote more of my attention to my book, but I also don't want to ignore family, work, etc. The best scenario is to find a way to maximize the time you spend on both. Easier said than done, I'm sure.