Saturday, December 27, 2008

Temporary Insanity

Two years ago my good friend came to me, brimming with excitement over something she’d discovered. I poured the coffee, and she poured forth a tale so unbelievable that I feared for her sanity. It went something like this: “Let’s write a 50 thousand word novel in thirty days.”

Imagine my horror. As I tried not to choke on my cookie, she waved a slim, tattered copy of a book in my face and beamed at me. Her chatter faded into the background, but I caught a few words, mainly “50,000” stuck out—and “one month.” As the book flew back and forth I managed to catch the blurred title: No Plot, No Problem. Well, it sounded innocuous enough.

Still, I was a classic story-starter-and-never-finisher. This idea she was on about, this “finishing” disturbed me. I broke out in a sweat. Deadlines, frankly, gave me the heebie geebies. My comfort zone lay somewhere between: think a lot about it and never actually write it, and write like mad for a week and then get distracted by something shiny and change projects.

I guffawed in the face of her excitement. However, she can be relentless at times. Eventually, I caved and agreed to read the book, but I had no intentions of lending credence to this preposterous concept. Enter: No Plot? No Problem.

I began to read the book, shaking my head in disbelief. I chuckled. I gasped. I caught myself thinking, “maybe.” I came to my senses and kept reading. The book is written in quite the seductive manner. It’s ingenious; it’s hilarious. I thought--this just might be possible. Who said that?

By the time I’d read the entire thing, I was game. I mean, it was only May and the ludicrous event didn’t even begin until November. I had plenty of time to come up with a reason to back out. Then the oddest thing happened. I got excited. I found myself pacing the floor and watching the calendar. Would November never get here? In early October, the website woke from it’s annual silence, and the message boards burst to life. The anticipation of thousands of authors waiting for Nano to start is infectious. I thought, I’m really going to do this.

October 31st rolled around—midnight, and they’re off. I wrote three words and went to bed. Oddly enough, the next morning I wrote more. I made my daily quota. I continued. That first year, and the next as well, went something like this:
WEEK ONE: enthusiasm overflowing, writing like mad. Word count way ahead of schedule. “This is a snap—I’m going to finish early.”
WEEK TWO: sleep. I need sleep more than word count. I’m ahead, right? What? I fell two thousand words behind?
WEEK THREE: Crap. Write, dammit. No sleep, no housework, no exercise, WRITE. Only a thousand behind, go go GO.
WEEK FOUR: I am a writing machine! If I cut out eating, I can finish a day early.

And just like that, I wrote 50,000 words in a month. Twice. Was it a torturous, insane, caffeine filled, blur of temporary insanity? Oh yes. What a ride.

So what was the point? There really isn’t one. I did learn to finish, and that feeling can be so addictive that your find yourself unabashedly finishing all sorts of things. I think I learned a bit about working to a deadline—a necessary skill for an author. Primarily, it was a wild, fun ride, and I intend to be there next year, and the next.

Of course, there are rules. They make the insanity possible. First, no editing—at all. (gasp!) Worse, no reading what you’ve written. (double gasp) Other than that, just sit and write. Start at the beginning, at put words down like mad until you reach the end. Voila!

Then there is the post-nano let down. You see, writing the manuscript is great, winning is great, but you get about two days to pat yourself on the back before you realize you have to edit the bastard—maybe re-write it. Friends and family don’t help things. You’ve just spent 30 days neglecting them and your ordinary duties. Expect resentment. Don’t expect congratulations, … much. Tend to them again, and they will forgive you. Resist the temptation to shout at them, “I wrote a novel, a novel!” Wait until they go to sleep to dance in circles hugging your rough manuscript as if it were a newborn. All will be well.

Sound like fun? Feeling brave? Grab a copy of No Plot, No Problem and get reading. Drop by the website and explore: http://nanowrimo.org
Why not? You’ve got ten months to come up with a reason to back out.

See you in November,
~Frances

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