by Heidi Sussman, TWC Adult Student
After hearing about it for a while, I decided that 2014 was the year to take the NaNoWriMo challenge. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) happens every November when people commit to writing 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. To complete the project and reach that goal, I knew I needed to pace myself and write 1667 words a day.
I started the following journal of my NaNoWriMo experiences only when I was well underway. I didn’t want the voice in my head to tell me that what I was doing was futile, a waste of time and energy, that an extra two hours of sleep was more important than the drivel that came pouring out under the guise of a story.
With barely an outline of my novel in hand, I began the challenge on November 1 and finished on November 30 with 51,965 word written. What transpired over the course of a month was truly a life-changing experience.
I just completed my ninth day of this project and have written more than 18,000 words. While this seems to be an exercise in quantity over quality, I still see more details of my story emerge every day. I feel confident that when I’m done I will have “something.” Will it be a novel? At this point I don’t know. It depends on how much is left after I clear all the crap out. But my “something” will be a story that would never have been written without the NaNoWriMo challenge. In paragraphs of random thoughts, I jump back and forth, addressing the bullet points of the loose outline I made before I started. I don’t have an order – just a lot of free writing, mostly about the characters. I delve into details that appear important now, but ultimately may not be necessary. I am reminded of that old cliché that if you throw enough spaghetti against the wall, something will stick.
I have reached beyond the mid-way point of this challenge. Two weeks down – 26,888 words. Yet I am still just writing the back story and developing the characters. It is fascinating to see how much I can write about minute details that will probably be edited out. This process helps me understand my characters, giving them a life I never thought possible when I wrote my short stories. When writing short, there is much that is a “given,” assumed though small details. Since there are so few of them, words are chosen very carefully and the reader must understand what is conveyed in short spaces. But novel writing is different. So much more information can be included. Maybe too much: you have to hone it down and edit the hell out of it. But that’s what makes the art of writing so compelling. In this liberating act of creation, the author has so much freedom to tell her story.
I have an idea where this is all heading but am still not sure which path to take. I am still developing the plot and take joy in observing roads taken or not. I can change my mind or the minds of my characters to see the path they will discover and if they can figure out what they are looking for. Like life, part of the journey is to discover your path. There is no right or wrong way to go, just different routes. But at least as writers, we can control how the story will end.
32,210 words. It amazes me that I produced that many words during the past 18 days and haven’t gotten to the real meat of my tale. Through the course of the day, I could continue my writing, but that’s not the plan. Instead, I need to think about what I want to say so that when I begin my day again at 5AM, I can write enough to reach my daily goal, often finishing only a single conversation between my characters.
My story talks to me now. The more I write, the more I see where it’s going. We are friends traveling together and I often speak to it out loud. It’s finally beginning to hear me, giving me as much life as I am giving it.
I did it! 51,965 words in thirty days. It’s a great feeling, but also frightening, since now the real work begins. I need to start to make sense from the babble. It amazes me that, as I finished my last day of the challenge, I found the ending that had eluded me until now. I had struggled with how it would all wind up, then it pretty much wrote itself through a conversation between two characters. Of course, there’s a twist at the end, since that is how I usually end everything I write, but the main thing is that it is an ending – for better or worse.
I have my words. Now the real work begins.
Heidi Sussman is a freelance photographer and illustrator. She creates photo-based mixed media pieces, combining various traditional and digital art media including wax to create photo encaustics. Her art work (some of which is featured here) is included in public and private collections in the United States and Canada and her images have appeared in various publications. A member of The Writers Circle for the past four years, she writes short stories including very short fiction, and is currently working on a novel.