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Let Me Tell You About My Novel . . .

. . . no, really!

You might be hearing this a lot in the coming weeks, as NaNoWriMo kicks off its 10th of year of inspiring lots of people to try to write a novel (well, a 50,000 word opus, which is just above the smallest accepted size for a novel). Last year 167,150 people participated and about 20% of them finished (a percentage that has gone up just about every year). It inspires hatred and also brings out famous writers who encourage people to do it. In 10 years it has become a virtual cultural icon, and has spawned at least one bestselling author (Sara Gruen, known in particular for her novel Water for Elephants). Given the number of participants, that’s much better odds than winning the lottery. But more than a chance to perhaps write something noteworthy, NaNoWriMo is a sign of our geek-flavored times. And this year, I will be attacking it with all of my geek power!
Love it or hate it, NaNoWriMo is, at its heart, a geek’s endeavor. Many of the novels that get published are in geeky genres, and some groups of geek writers gear up for the marathon. It has a lot of geek appeal: it is a competition, it is a creative endeavor, and it can create social connections through that endeavor. It’s like writing fanfic, but with a focus on being a fan of fiction itself, with the completion of a novel as the result, rather than some new slash configuration in the Harry Potter world (although I think the only pairing left there is the dead spider and the caretaker’s cat). But it is also a snapshot of life in our mega-hyper-postmodern times, shot through with imagination, perseverance, narcissistic undertones, and excessive aspirations.
It is about finishing a novel, but really just the core of a novel. One month is not a lot of time to write a novel, and is a lofty goal for any writer to achieve (unless you are a prolific word-conjurer like Isaac Asimov or Jay Lake). You have to be very sure of yourself to get through it, or at least think you have what it takes to make the attempt. And, as I already pointed out, many do not succeed. I know what that’s like, because I am one of those poor souls.
I have participated in NaNoWriMo four times since its inception, and failed to finish in my first three attempts (and for one of those, never really got started). Now comes the fourth time, which I hope to be “the charm.” The first time I did it out of curiosity, which was insufficient incentive to finish. The second time, I did it out of hubris: “I’m a writer! I can write a 40-page critique of Foucault! How hard can THIS be?” I found out when I faltered at a merely 9,000 words; it’s pretty hard! The third time was right after my Mom passed away; I never got past setting up my “author info” on the site. Grief can sometimes inspire, but it can also syphon away your will to do anything creative.
Now, I approach NaNoWriMo with a combination of hope and calculation. Underemployed, motivated to pursue my writing due to several life changes, and hungry to dive into a new project, NaNoWriMo provides me with a goal and a structure to pursue novel-writing. It is a challenge, but one that also allows room for missteps. The final product is a zero draft, written on the fly, and should be considered no more than that. It is an opportunity to jump-start my writing. I do it not for pride, or out of inquisitiveness, but because I want to write, and find the constraints compelling.
And with those considerations in mind, I wanted to choose a story that was somewhat straightforward, and that I felt could be roughly hacked out in 31 days. So, I looked through my writing file for an idea that I would enjoy developing and a story that would be fun to write about. I chose, of course, a sword-and-sorcery tale, one of my literary loves. So on 1 November I will begin writing A Crown of Crusted Blood, the tale of a band of tired rebels who defeat the Big Bad, and have to keep the world from falling into chaos. It will be a joy to write, and I hope to play with all kinds of genre conventions and twist them into interesting shapes.
Because, at the end of the day, NaNoWriMo is about serious play, being creative without thinking too much, and letting your ideas flow and mix and fuse. It is about opening your brain up and letting its contents pour out onto the screen, to see what story lies within. Do follow along via the link at the title, and in December I’ll let you know how it went, and what I learned along the way.
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