The Empty Chair: A Eulogy for Leonard Nimoy and Spock
March 5, 2015
How NaNo Worked For Me: Part One
I'd always thought the whole concept of the National Novel Writing Month was a little bizarre, but I also remember thinking that perhaps some day, when I had the time, I'd give it a shot. I wasn't exactly sure what the point was - surely any novel that could be written in one month would be crap - but it seemed an interesting exercise.
Then came NaNoWriMo 2013. I was writing two novels. One was a major Star Trek: The Next Generation novel called A Million Sherds, which I'd begun in January and was still writing, closing in on 200,000 words. The other was a mainstream novel about grief and aging called The Mortal Part, and I'd written about six chapters, sixty-five pages or so, enough to know that it was working, and that I could market it to an agent, and that it was worth the time and research I was putting into it.
As far as writing goes, I was doing many positive things. My research and networking was valid and successful. I'd travelled to New York in the summer, bringing along my manuscript and a few others', to see several old friends who were agents and to return to my old neighbourhood of Park Slope in Brooklyn for research. I'd made brilliant contact for both novels, and, in the writing of A Million Sherds, I'd rediscovered the whole Star Trek community, which had led me to the discovery of a briliant science fiction writer.
But I had a day job (teaching special education students) and I felt that my writing wasn't consistent. I wanted to go back to writing everyday, something I'd done when I was in my twenties, but had lost during my thirties and forties because of family and personal issues. One of the hypes of NaNoWriMo is that you have to write over 1000 words a day in order to make the arbtrary word count of 50,000, which NaNoWrimo considers "novel-sized." Writing every day was my goal, so I signed up.
Long ago, when I'd been a kid in my teens and my twenties, I'd gotten into this idea that my writing time had to be "just so." My room was a special place for writing, everyone had to leave me alone (you can imagine how well that went over when I was a teen), and I usually played special writing music on my stereo - Puccini, Offenbach, Mozart - or tenor arias. Having a family, of course, changed all that, and my "opportunities" to write in the way I'd been accustomed dwindled as my family challenges grew.
But NaNoWriMo did exactly what it promised, for me as a writer. I learned that I could write just about every day, and easily make my writing goal. I learned that I didn't need a special room, or to be alone, or special music: I can write the novel I need to write anywhere, anytime, doing anything. In fact, I could write in a room full of high school kids and still help the kids who needed help, do the paperwork, and keep my train of thought. It was particularly liberating for me, to be able to throw out all of my preconceived, childish notions about how, when, and where I could write. (And there I was, already published, and yet still had clung to those silly ideas I'd formed about writing as a twelve-year-old.)
NaNo, however, gave me an unexpected gift, completely free - a boon, as it were. I discovered a community of writers so like-minded that they have become my writing buddies, my online writing group, my clients (some of them), and my friends. Networking, something I'd always excelled in as an agent and editing, bloomed on the NaNo forums. Having spent the last thirteen years in a very small community in which there were no serious writing groups, the discovery of fellow serious writers through NaNo not only pushed me into completing my 50,000 words in one month, but kept me going on both my projects during the following year, through two NaNo camps, the formation of my online writing group through the NaNo forum, and into this month's NaNo.
I finished a Million Sherds in September of this past year, and was going to use this November's NaNo as a tool to push forward to finishing The Mortal Part. A car accident two days before NaNo began put a serious crimp in all my plans, but I am still working on my novel, still writing almost every day (the accident forced me into a situation where I discovered that it's impossible to write in the hospital), and still out there in my group, cheering on my friends, and learning about my writing and theirs.
I'm not going to say that I think NaNoWriMo is the greatest writing tool ever. In fact, I have some serious issues with the idea and their business model. However, I will say that NaNoWrimo was successful in helping me as a writer, which is one of their stated goals.