In less than 72 hours I will begin work on this year’s NaNoWriMo challenge.
I’m currently filled with equal measure dread and excitement. I’ve done enough of these to know exactly what I’m letting myself in for but I’m also fully aware that anything can happen over the next month.
For my last post before NaNoWriMo I’ve decided to take a look back over the last seven years’ worth of attempts and look at what went right and, more importantly, what went wrong.
DEATH IS JUST A DAY JOB
Back in the summer of 2007 I had a short term fling with my first online writing group and was taking part in my first SFX Pulp Idol competition when someone pointed me in the direction of www.nanowrimo.org. I was told that it might just hold the key to dealing with my inner editor.
It seemed simple enough. Sure, 50,000 words looked like a large figure but I didn’t, at the time, have any concept of how much writing that was. I’d never written that much before and I had no idea what the word counts were of books I read.
As I passed through October of that year I signed up to the site (under the now deleted Briman79) and started looking at my ideas folder (my ‘ideas’ for stories greatly outweighed actual written product). I settled on something I’d been toying with for a few months that involved a down on his luck guy who becomes friends with the Grim Reaper. All I had was a pub scene I'd written while bored in the office one weekend and decided to take it from there. No other characters, no setting and no plot.
And then November 1st hit.
It started well. I’d spend the work time just daydreaming ideas and then get home, boot up the PC and start writing whatever my brain felt like ejecting; a little before dinner and a lot after. My wife loved it because she owned the TV for those first few weeks.
I did hit some road blocks along the way but, instead of stopping, I thought about where I was heading next and just started from there, knowing I could go back later. This in turn led to some strange happenings especially when a character was killed off and then returned five chapters later with no explanation. I guess that’s what editing’s for.
And so I ploughed on until I hit a much bigger road block in the form of an Xbox 360. It was a stupid time to get one and my word count took a massive hit because of it. As I neared the end of the month it looked like I wouldn’t cross that finish line on my first attempt.
And that made me mad. So the video games stopped and I knuckled down. Three very late nights later and I crossed the finish line on November 29th.
Of all the things I have written or will write, DEATH IS JUST A DAY JOB will always be the piece I’m most proud of. While it still lingers in first draft limbo I always have an eye on it and am determined to dust it off one day and release it into the wild.
With something now complete I moved straight onto my next project and began planning a superhero novel. I’d just finished reading Austin Grossman’s ‘Soon, I Will Be Invincible’ and had an urge to novelise a comic book I’d written in college.
Unfortunately when November came around I wasn’t feeling it and instead started a project I felt was more manageable; THE ADVENTURES OF MAXWELL COOPER. This was a YA fantasy that was designed to be built of five different adventures across one single quest. I thought I could write it bite sized and get through it a little easier.
I didn’t make it past day one and have never really counted it as taking part that year.
I was determined to not miss another year and so I went back to my super hero novel called JUSTICE. This went smoother than my previous two attempts with only three days of non-writing across the month. Unlike 2007, I never found myself stumped and went straight from beginning to end in a nice, cohesive manner.
I AM BROKEN
By the time this NaNo rolled around I had received some bad news that inadvertently lead to a very nice silver lining. In September of 2010 I was made redundant and put on Garden Leave. This meant that for four months I was still getting paid but was not allowed to look for another job. With November approaching I found myself with a lot of time on my hands and was determined not to waste it.
With thirty whole days and nothing else much to do I got on with I AM BROKEN, another of the many, many stories I started years before. This was the first NaNo that I began with anything close to a full cast and not much more was added. The plot however exploded thanks in part to the music I was listening to. I’d been using movie soundtracks as the background to a lot of my writing including all the previous NaNo’s. But 2010 was the first time I picked one specific soundtrack and played it on a loop as I wrote. I think this helped keep things coherent theme wise.
Thirty day later I was done. At 57149 this was the most I’d managed to date and I only had one lull around the two thirds mark. I crossed 50,000 on the 24th and just kept going. Despite the free time I had though, I AM BROKEN still doesn’t have an ending.
THE ADVENTURES OF MAXWELL COOPER
After 2010 I went into the following NaNo with a lot more confidence. Other than a new job I’d started a few months earlier I had no other commitments.
I decided to take another stab at my failed 2008 attempt. I planned a lot more this time with character sketches and chapter plans, something I hadn’t done in previous years. There was a hell of a lot of ‘Pansting’ in the first few but I decided to give ‘Planning’ a try.
Once again this story beat me although I managed to get further. Still, I knew it wasn’t working and, two weeks and 15,000 words later I gave up.
One day I will finish Maxwell’s story.
If the last year was bad, this one was much worse. I don’t like excuses but for this one time, I think you’ll agree that failing wasn’t much of a choice.
With another idea from the vault I dived into DEAD DOLLARS, a zombie western inspired by the scene in ‘A Fistful Of Dollars’ where Eastwood is shot several times but just won’t die.
I say dived in but, due to the circumstances surrounding November 2012, I’m surprised I even thought about trying to write anything at all.
The wife and I had chosen to move in with her father while she was pregnant and we looked for a bigger place to live. The space we had in my father-in-laws bungalow was limited as was TalkTalk’s excuse for Broadband. This is in itself would have been a challenge for most NaNoWriMo participants but for me it was just the tip of the iceberg.
Another redundancy loomed and suddenly writing a zombie western didn’t seem like a priority in life. During the last week of October I decided to skip it and focus on other things but, fickle as I am, I changed my mind back by Hallowe’en. Why not, I thought. It will give me something to focus on during all the crap.
So I began. It was as tough as I thought with limited internet access and nowhere to sit down and write comfortably. But none of that mattered by the middle of the month. Our son was due at Christmas of that year but he decided that that was too far off and wanted out sooner. Right in the middle of November.
Needless to say, DEAD DOLLARS didn’t get much further.
MIGHTY GRAY: SEASON ONE
A year into a new job, still stuck in a bungalow with no room to move and now I had a one year old son.
I should have failed.
Instead, my episodic ode to Buffy became my most successful NaNo project to date, breaking all kinds of personal NaNo records on the way.
Somehow, by taking my crappy Netbook to work and writing a little before shift and a lot during lunch meant I hit the daily target of 1667 before I got home in the evenings. Sometimes I was managing 3000-4000 words a day which for me is impressive.
I powered on with each ‘episode’ hitting around 17,000 words and finishing on a climax before moving onto the next and the next. These mini endings made it easier to move on instead of aiming for that one finale that was miles off in the distance.
Even now I don’t know how I managed to accomplish what I did last year, not with so much against me when I struggled on much easier years. The main thing is it became another project under the belt and another NaNoWriMo certificate on the wall.
And that leads us into this year.
During the summer, while working on my CampNaNoWriMo project, I looked at projects I might want to pick up when November rolled around. Was it worth taking another stab at my 2011 or 2012 failures? What about the planned sequels to my 2007 or 2009 projects? Or there was that second season to 2013’s MIGHTY GRAY that was begging to be written?
No, no and no.
I decided to take on my most recent idea, FALLEN SWORDS. More episodic than MIGHTY GRAY and taking a leaf out of Betsy Streeter’s excellent ‘Neptune Road’ project I have a plan to write as much of FALLEN SWORDS as I can during November to give myself a nice head start. I’ll edit what I have and then release a chapter at a time starting early next year as I continue to edit and write.
And that’s my history with NaNoWriMo. It’s been pretty awesome. Whether any of my drafts get any further I can’t say. I’m proud that they exist though. Some people always talk of writing something and never do. I have four first drafts that are just waiting for me to get the courage to edit them. I hope I don’t let them down.
Good luck to everyone taking part in NaNoWriMo this year. Feel free to buddy up. I’m under Brian S Creek.
I’ll be back this time next week with an update to my first few days’ progress.
See you in seven.