Another November is upon us and veteran writers, as well as “One Day” writers (as in “one day I’m going to write a novel”), begin the annual pilgrimage to 50,000 words. There are arguments against this kind of frenzied, schizophrenic storytelling. I hear them on writing boards and among co-workers who don’t understand the process, first and foremost why wait until November to write a novel? Also, if it’s about the word count, doesn’t the plot suffer?
For me, November allows me to write the kind of novel I might not write over the course of the previous 11 months. I’m a short-story writer. I like my tales shocking and quick, like a well-hung flasher in a dark alley. Shorter tales are already complete in my head, nearly fully formed, nothing a little oxygen and UV light couldn’t fix. I almost always know before I get the first words on the page how it will end. I take my readers by the hand, shove them into a dark closet, tell them something shocking, and push them back into the bright light, blinking and disorientated. It’s fun and the number of shorts seem infinite in my head.
November makes me flex the verbose muscles I deliberately neglect in my short tales. NaNo is not a word dump for me, but a matter of getting on a disciplined writing schedule for 30 days. I don’t have a regular writing schedule anymore and every November is like a boot camp for me. I should be working on it now, my goal to crack 5K before bed, but writing a post seemed like a nice diversion. November gives me an opportunity to brainstorm while I write, exploring characters and scenes and backstories. Short stories don’t lend themselves well to long backstories. I can’t stop in the middle of 900 words of action and say, “wait a minute, lemme explain something”. That kind of time doesn’t exist and it can bog a story down. I can’t dump it all in the beginning either, it’s like being fed rice and potatoes before the steak arrives. The reader is full and leftover steak just doesn’t taste good by the time he actually gets around to it.
November also makes me write the stories I would normally avoid. This isn’t to say November is for my B-material, but it is a chance to get those half-formed ideas out of my head to make room for the stuff I usually write – a bit like removing a parasitic twin. I’ve kicked around ‘Fates Cove’ in my head for years, making notes here and there, half-heartedly researching the material when I accidentally came across it. Over the last 34 months (the three years minus the Novembers) if I wanted to start a new project, I always by-passed ‘Fates’ in my files for something I was actually excited about and make an excuse to myself as to why it wasn’t ready to be written. Last NaNo’s ‘The ‘Messenger’ was another mutant parasite that was trying to grow legs over ‘The Caretaker’. The steampunk in ‘Messenger’ was never going to mesh with the contemporary ‘Caretaker’ so last November, I excised it, and won NaNo for the first time since starting it in 2003. It’s still lying on the autopsy table of a flash drive, waiting to either be examined for possible reanimation, or dumped into the Potter’s Field of my imagination, never to be pondered upon again. Sometimes our babies are stillborn and as writers we accept it as a fact of life, rather than dwell on what could have been.
So here I am again – 29 days ahead of the end and about 2,000 words into ‘Fates Cove’, a tale of superstition and the Powers that drive it. I hadn’t even decided on writing this until October 29, and settled only because preliminary notes had already been carefully filed and were conveniently handy. I have a general idea of where this will go, but for me it’s more about getting Samantha and the trio of Erinyes out of my head and settled into their new home in the morgue so I can finish Never and polish the other three. ‘Fates’ is the parasitic twin with a mouth that moves when Never is talking. It’s distracting and November is scheduled surgery.
NaNoWriMo isn’t about sloppy storytelling. It’s not about standing over a page and crapping out 50K. It’s about seeing if those malformed babies can be given a second chance at life, maybe growing the right amount of limbs, a functioning set of lungs, and God-willing, the ability to go out and make enough money to put Mommy in a real nice senior community in Boca Raton.
My NaNo coach (the husband) is telling me that since the previous 786 words can’t count in my novel, I have to close this post and get back to killing people in Fate’s Cove.
Who knows, maybe November 30 I’ll have one of those novels that’ll join the ranks of the other NaNo projects waiting to make their professional debut. Right now, it’s not one of my favorite children, but there’s still a lot of time left to impress me.