With 14 days left in November, I decided to continue NaNoWriMo in hopes of completing it: 1) because I haven’t lost yet, 2) because I was terrified of letting my writing vibe shrivel and die in the wake of a terrible autumn, 3) because I’m a little crazy, as any of the kids in my class will tell you.
Rather than continue the odd, poorly-formed story I’d started out with (along the track of the amnesiac but in a side character’s perspective), I started completely from scratch. I called my first attempt “pantsing it”, but then I at least had some character names and a setting and a vague end goal. This time around, I was most decidedly pantsing everything. I went into it with an unnamed main character and her dog, standing in the middle of a ruined city, pondering life.
At first I intended to scrap the 5,000-odd I had written at the beginning of the month, but as the month wore down I figured there was no point to this and I needed every advantage I had. So I had 14 days and 44,632 words to make my goal.
Also, I ended up writing all but the last chapter (a flashback) in first person present, which I have never done for long stretches. I’m still baffled.
5 days in and 14,000 words down, things were going surprisingly well. Turns out my main character knew plenty. She wanted to be called Ari because it means “lion”, she was her world’s equivalent of an elf or Fair Folk, she was married to the half-brother of a king, and when said king murdered her family and most of her people, she got revenge by killing him. I’m suspecting it was gruesome, but she continued to be dodgy about the particulars. Oh, and she was pretty handy with a quarterstaff. She even had a theme song. To this day, however, the story still doesn’t have a title. (Help.)
Even knowing these random facts, I couldn’t begin to tell you what I would be writing about when I sat down at my keyboard, which is very odd for me. Normally a story builds itself up in the back of my mind and takes on a form I can follow and predict. Characters start acting for themselves and tend to be very verbal. Side plots crop up like rabbits and I have all I can do to stay on track.
This story was very different. I barely squeezed out the required 45,000 words thanks to some info-dumping and exposition. My “boss battle” that should have clocked in around 3,000-5,000 words ended up being less than 1,000. I don’t know if I’ll come away with anything salvageable.
But I had fun with it. I explored my writing and played around a little with style. My character was both older than me and had previously been married. I actively worked against any romantic interests, which was very hard when Ari’s companion was her dead husband’s best friend, who had a peg leg he earned being heroic, was tall and dark, and liked running his hands through his hair for some reason. “You’re begging for a romance!” Fay remarked.
On that note, here’s a shout-out to Fay, who held several word wars with me during her vacation, listened to me rant and brainstorm, showed me some new music, and cheered me on. You, darling, rock.
I don’t think I would have written this particular story were it not for everything that’s happened in the past few months. Ari turned into something of an extension of myself, voice-wise. She took out her misery and frustration either through snark or by avoidance. She was rather melodramatic (I know, I know, she went through a lot) and a bit vain. She didn’t know where she fit in and was afraid of herself because of what she had done in the past. (Ok, that part’s not really like me.)
And, somehow, she got me through a story. For that reason alone, I may try to rework her history into something useable in the future. She came back to life in a sense after years of grief, ran into an old friend, followed rumors back to the son she presumed was dead, fought the bad guy, saved her home, and found a little peace.
And I won! Even without pulling a 10,000 word day like I had hoped (which is my record), even without managing to get a full 50,000 words out of this story, even with no plot and very little structure and one moody main character, even after abandoning my first story 5,000 words in. Even after spilling Wendy’s chili on my laptop at 7:00 PM tonight and spending two hours with Mom taking apart my keyboard and cleaning it and monkeying it back together and writing 1,800 words in less than 1 hour*…I won.
Now I just have to figure out what to call this story. Any ideas?
For December, I’ll go easy on the writing (just enough to keep my creativity limber) and focus on getting through a stack of library books before the year is out. And hopefully blog a little more than I have regularly. Oh, and Christmas shopping, because I haven’t even started that.
Side note: My average typing speed is 85 WPM. If I successfully maintained this for an hour, I’d have roughly 5,000 words. As I’m not nearly that put-together, I was happy when I got 800 words in a 15-minute sprint. Still, think of the things I could achieve if only I had a plot and enough focus!
They (Google can’t narrow it down to exactly who) say the first million words a person writes are just a warm-up. I wonder if blogging counts? What about all of those emails I write for work?
*Word to the wise: don’t be like me – a person who only learns by making mistakes – and eat food while working on your computer. Please. It’s a good thing my computer is touchscreen, because my trackpad is really wonky.