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The NaNoWriMo Experiment

It's 11:18 pm, November 12, and my first experience of NaNoWriMo is now roughly halfway finished. My son, who's idea this was, has met a girl, and his enthusiasm has turned to other things. We did spend one lovely evening together at a Timmies typing away -- a cool memory. He has 18 days left to get his priorities realigned, although I am not holding my breath.

For him and NaNo, there will be other years. For him and the girl, who knows?

The cool thing, though, is despite his abandonment, I am far from alone. I've got buddies on my NaNo website. I've joined my local NaNo facebook page. I've met writers I didn't formerly know, and am tracking wordcounts with both them, and with writers already of my acquaintance. And I have to say, this may just be the best aspect to this entire NaNoWriMo thing. Writing is a solitary gig. For the month of November, I am in constant communication with others who are busy doing exactly this same thing. I like it. To me, this new social circle feels like a big win.

I'd been working on a different novel the week before NaNo was to start, and when the minutes ticked down on October 31, I found myself a few thousand measly words away from completion. I also found myself sick as a dog. It was hard to leave my so-nearly-finished manuscript and begin a new project, but I did. And the flu turned into a blessing in disguise. First, since misery loves company, I decided to give my character the flu, too. She is arriving at the scene of a brand new job, stumbles out of her truck to collapse into the arms of her new boss, then coughs right into his face. Ha!

Also, I was actually really sick. This meant, I unexpectedly stayed home from work. I slept, did my best to eat well and drink lots of orange juice and be responsible, but I also wrote. I ended up having seven days straight off of work. This gave me a huge unexpected boost on my word count, by day, and by night, I actually finished off the last 5000 words remaining in my other novel. When I finally headed back to work, I'd finished the first draft of one novel, and was a solid 19,000 words into Rock Bottom Ranch -- the working name of my NaNo novel.

Even with all the time I'd had off, I wasn't fully well yet when I returned to work. This meant I came home exhausted at the end of my day. Writing really wasn't first thing on my mind. Still, I chipped away a little something every single night. At this point, my highest word count in one day has been 4,399, my lowest, 499. Today, back on days off, I managed 3,363, to sit, currently at 30,701 words -- written in 12 days.

So, now, here's the thing -- THIS IS FRIEKING AWESOME! And I am celebrating my word count, because it is a win.

Here's the other thing -- I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE HECK I'VE WRITTEN! I have no real sense of this book. Oh, I have a rough outline, and I have a definite conclusion in mind. There was one day where I have to say, I just absolutely fell in love with my hero, who was standing up for the rights of his group of therapeutic riding kids against some small town biggots -- and that was HOT! But still, when it comes down to it, I have very little sense of whether this book is working or not.

There are pros and there are cons, it turns out, to silencing one's inner editor. The pros are obvious. Since I'm not constantly reworking previous material, it's quite amazing how much writing is getting done. Word counts actually pile up when you simply write without censoring yourself or permitting yourself to delete chunks which you know are doomed to the second edit chopping block.

I really like watching my word count climb. The NaNo website has a tracker app which lets a writer update their progress. I find this visual counter inspiring. So much so, that some days I update after every new paragraph. Don't judge me! For me, the app is hugely beneficial and motivating, although I suppose it might have precisely the opposite effect were my word counts stagnant. Then the word app would be little more than a red flag waving a distress signal in writing land.

The cons, I think, to NaNoWriMo's 50,000 words in 30 days philosophy is that potentially the focus on the word count may take away some of the quality of the writing. Sure, this is not an insurmountable thing. That's what editing is for. Except, there are also moments where I feel so emotionally distant from what I am writing that I fear the magical symmetry which occurs only when I am interacting with my characters as I write may ultimately be missing from this story. And I'm not 100% certain that dynamic spark can be editing into a second -- or tenth -- draft.

There are things I can't tell about this book. I can't tell, for example, if Pearl and Tim have shared too many longing looks at this point. Maybe it is time already, Tim, for you to just grab her and get it on. I can't tell if the bonding moments between the kids at the ranch and the adults are working at all, or if my subtle little advances are moving too quickly or too slow. I know whodunnit for two out of three of my petty crimes, but have no idea who burned down the cookhouse, and I can't seem to decide whether or not the cook was inside at the time. I do know that there are way too many characters in my book, although that is a me problem, not a NaNo problem. The things is, though, if I took the time to do re-reads (as I normally do while writing a first draft), I might have a better grasp of how to handle certain nuances, rather than just sticking to the script (outline) I have prescribed. I also think that possibly I would be a better writer if I took weekends away. Think about something else, let my subconscious mind work and my conscious mind step away to play.

That's been pure discipline, writing something, each and every day. And though discipline makes us stronger, there have also been moments where I have simply lost interest, not in writing the book, but in writing at all. Which is a dangerous thing. I can already say that after November, I will not write every single day. I'm reasonably certain that I would burn out, stop writing altogether, and I will fight to make sure that never happens.

And so, for me, NaNo has become something of an experiment, a writing exercise of sorts. Baring something very strange, I will reach 50,000 words. In fact, at my current rate, I am projected to reach that by November 20 -- a full ten days (one-third) of the timeframe in advance. My ability to reach that target, once a concern, is now a foregone conclusion in my mind. And I am proud of that, and I think it is a valuable thing to know about myself and my capabilities. Now, though, I am most interested in my first read-thru of the final manuscript this writing experiment produces. And then I will see which parts of NaNo are valuable enough to keep, and which I will toss away.

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