Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Surviving NaNoWriMo

I did it. I survived. I spent the month of November writing a novel.

At the end of October, before I started the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge, one of my good friends took me aside and expressed her concern: she was worried that a month of writing would send me into my own little bubble of self-absorption and selfishness...Basically, she didn't think it would be good for me. So I promised to take her words to heart and try not to fall into omphaloskepsis.

By the third week of November, she took me aside again. This time, however, it wasn't out of concern. She reminded me of what she'd said in October and then told me that those concerns couldn't be farther from the truth. She'd never seen me so driven or motivated before--and it wasn't just in writing. I had focus: I not only scheduled times for writing, but also for exercise and for quiet times and for the other things I always mean to do but tend to push aside. It wasn't until she expressed this that I saw it myself--she was right: writing changed my life, but not just because I could now call myself a novelist.

Of course there were things that got postponed...like cleaning...washing dishes...doing laundry...doing anything social... These were the minor yet predictable results. Did it bother me that my room looked like this?

Or that my dust bunnies were mulitplying by the minute and scampering around my floors whenever I walked by? Or that I used every last dish in the place until I was forced to take a break and wash up?

Well, yes, it did. But it was super convenient because my roommates came and went so much in November that I only really had one week when I didn't have the apartment to myself. (...Not to mention that that 5-hour cleaning blitz felt really good after it was over....) So I pretty much had an apartment free of distractions in which to write. My opera subscription didn't cover any operas in November, so all of my Thursday nights were free. And I started at the new school where I did a slew of introductory lessons--I didn't have to plan a single lesson (which tends to take me 4-8 hours per lesson) for the entire month!

I wouldn't have been able to put my finger on it without the helpful insight from my friend, but my month of writing was good for me--it gave me more focus and got me into some good habits.

For one thing, I made writing a priority. I made sure I wrote a minimum of 1667 words every day, striving for more if I could. Because I spent so much time writing, I got antsy. So I started running--every day. I actually got to the point where I was looking forward to my runs, and when it was raining too hard to go out I seriously felt like something essential was lacking from my day. My endurance improved, my flexibility improved...and then I got shin splints, so I had to stay in and write more whether I wanted to or not! One of the biggest discoveries of NaNoWriMo is: I write best in the mornings. Yes, that's right. My life has turned upsidedown and I am now one of those people who is most productive in the morning. This is a truly mind-boggling phenomenon, because all through high school and college I couldn't even think of writing anything before 9 p.m. My creative juices were at their peak between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. Now, I've found, I work best between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. It kind of freaks me out actually, because it seems far more grown up than my previous pattern. But so it is. I've found that a simple morning can demolish even the most stubborn case of writer's block. Amazing.

Perhaps the most amazing thing from my NaNoWriMo experience is that I feel like I've found a niche. I love writing this book. Even the tough days when writer's block drove me crazy were wonderful days spent forcing those words out like garlic from a garlic press. I find myself now fantasizing about my life as a writer--a big, big dream right now--but totally a place where I could find my groove. Janet Fitch, the author of White Oleander says, "But the essence of fiction writing is creating a character you love and, frankly, torturing him. You are both sadist and savior." And playing this role has totally driven me to write what I hope is going to be a great book.

I've writen a total of 57,768 words, or 145 pages...but I'm only halfway through my story. I've met the 50,000-word challenge, but I still have a long way to go--I've got a lot of torture still up my sleeve, and then a possible deliverance to take care of. I'm totally grateful to NaNoWriMo for getting me started on this project, and I'm excited about finishing it. And then, who knows... :)


Lindsay said...

I'll be wanting an autographed copy. Fun saying/thinking I knew her when...

Kristin said...

Wow! What an inspiring post. Congratulations on meeting your goal and continuing on for the joy of it -- I can't think of anything better. Sorry about the shin splints, though. What a drag. Can't wait to read the finished masterpiece!!

Sam said...