It’s November again and all over the USA, writers are midway through the marathon of National Novel Writing Month, known cordially as NaNoWriMo. We call it Nano, but some people call it goddamn it’s four in the morning on a weekday and why did I agree to do this?
The goal of Nano is to write 50,000 words in thirty days. When I first heard of it, I thought it was insane. I’d never written more than ten pages of anything in my life. Even my poems were short. The idea of producing an entire novel seemed as feasible as eating an entire ham. Raw.
But I had started a novel when my father died that July. It seemed a fitting tribute, even though I knew he’d never read it. He and I both had a fanatical interest in World War 2 aircraft and never passed an air museum we didn’t visit. I wanted the book to be a story about a bombardier who gets shot down after a harrowing series of missions over Germany. Beyond that, I really had no idea what would happen.
Nano sounded like a dare. I had written about 20,000 words written by the end of October, so I figured what the hell. I had recently lost my job and my kids had moved away to love with their mom in New Jersey, so it was literally swim or sink into the self-pitying morass that has dogged me my whole life. I got to it.
I soon found the rhythm and blasted out two, three and even four thousand words a day. The benefits of unemployment are sparse, but ample writing time is among them. I wrote and wrote, amazing myself. I was on a roll. The story was coming together. There was a love interest and a villain, plus a whole new section of material that was never part of the original idea and yet seemed to move the novel forward.
Sure, I got stuck a bit here and there, but I plowed on. Stephen King likens it to driving in the night fog with your headlights illuminating the fifty feet of pavement in front of you. King says that when you feel this way, there’s only one thing to do: step on the gas, with both feet of necessary.
I finished my 50,000 before Thanksgiving but kept right on going. Around mid January I wrapped the book up. 135,000 words. A masterpiece, I thought.
Then I read what I had written.
The word disappointment has its roots in the French, desappointer originally meaning “to be ill-equipped for a task,” and thus un-appointed to complete it. These days it is our go-to way to express expectations unmet. Nebulous expectations are to resentment what cookie dough is to cookies.
I had these ideas of how good my book was. Pretty much done, I thought to myself. Of course, I edited it right away and made only glancing revisions.
I was wrong. It wasn’t done. Three more huge revisions lay ahead, months and months of work and restructuring. I wrote a sequel, and then sequel to that. I pulled the book from self-publication and hired an editor, then did more revision. I changed the title. I changed the ending. I started querying it. It’s frustrating, but I have come to see it in a new way. I appreciate this book more than I did when I had just finished it. It’s not a masterpiece, but for a first novel, it’s not bad.
None of it would have happened had I not cranked out that anchor 50,000 words in November 2013. I have taken part in every NaNoWriMo ever since. It’s not so much for the sense of community as to give some shape to a nebulous, never-ending process.
I am on novel five this month. So far, so good. It’s another sequel. I hear series characters have some legs.