Thursday, November 30, 2006

A picture is worth...

Official NaNoWriMo 2006 Winner

A good alternate title for this post might be "Why I haven't written anything here all month."

Sometime in mid to late September, in my random meanderings about the Internet, I stumbled upon the website for National Novel Writing Month. By month, these folks mean just that. The sole objective of their crazy competition is to write a 50,000-word novel, entirely in the month of November.

Of course, I had to try something like that. I like to write, and I enjoy doing things that are about that quixotic. I am, after all, trying to write a dictionary, of all things. What's one short novel?

It turns out it's quite a bit. If I had done it religiously at the 1667 words per night into which it evenly divides, it would have taken me a minimum of two hours each night, and I'm a fast typist. It doesn't go that fast, of course. There's the sitting there, thinking about what to do, and if you're anything like me, there's the reading back (some of it accidental) over what one has done thinking what a bunch of rubbish this all is and pondering the three zillion other things that would surely be a better use of time. Entire guilty days went by without a word, prevaricating about where to go next.

I did not actually have a plot in mind when I began. The contest permits making as many notes in advance as you'd like. I had a few, thought up after I decided to participate, but they were a general concept rather than any semblance of a plot. The approach I took was something more like putting some characters in a box, introducing a disturbance, giving the whole thing a good, hard shake, and seeing where everybody ended up. It surprised me when a couple of characters I thought were incidental ended up center stage, but it mostly all works, taken as fiction.

I'm not done. I got to 50,000 words this evening, and I've written the ending, but there's another character, one of the main ones, that needs to be developed. Now that I know where he ends up, I think I can write the stuff in between that gets him there, something I'll likely be fiddling with it for some time to come.

There's also editing to consider. My manuscript still has the safety pins in it, along with a few largish holes full of nothing but air, waiting for the stuff in my head to reach my fingers, to knit the whole thing together. I'll confess I also have some filler to trim, scenes of minimal relevance, compounds dehyphenated, and extraneous, excessive modifiers introduced to fill space when I was groping for a broader direction. I will be tinkering with it into December, though I may take a break first and catch up on my sleep.

Can you read my novel? Certainly, not yet. For one thing, it is far from coherent. I have to go back and put the scenes in the order that they take place, rather than the order in which I wrote them. I have to recheck that nobody appears before he is introduced or after he departs.

It's also still a little too close to my heart. A novelist is an actor playing every part and making it up along the way. I'm not quite ready yet to release these characters upon the world, with so much of me in them. If you're curious, though, click the picture up there. It takes you to my profile on the website, where you'll find a graph of my progress (the flat bit was me being offline over Thanksgiving weekend, where you may note I actually made quite a bit of progress, even if I didn't record it right away). If you click around a bit, there's a short excerpt there, too. I promise, no spoilers.

Why did I do it? Why do people climb mountains? I did it to see if I could.
All in all, I think it came out better than I feared, and worse than I hoped. Oh, and I woke up a few mornings ago with a totally different idea in my head. Of course, I jotted it down for next year.

So what's a picture worth? This month, a minimum of 50,000 words.