Sunday, August 14, 2005

Writing as an aerobic sport?

I got myself talked into signing up for the National Novel Writer's Month contest.

50,000 words, in 30 days, in November. Works out to like 1,600 words a day.

At the end of the contest what you win is that, for better or worse, you have written a novel.

dun dun DAHHHHHH!

That's it, just the accomplishment. Then you can photocopy it on to Tyvek©, have it made into a suit and wear it around as a conversation starter. (As in, "What the hell are you wearing?")

Now, I've been writing off and on all my life. I've written hundreds of news stories, been published coast to coast a couple of times. I've written a few fiction stories, some really bad poetry, and a dozen or so outlines and ideas for "The Great American Novel".

It is that last part that is just one of the scary things about this contest. A dozen or so outlines, not a damn one to even the stage of complete draft.

Some of the ideas are really good ones. I'm not the only one who's said so. (Ok, so I'm the only one who understands what the cat says. But hey, you know how hard it is to please a cat, so it must be good stuff, right?) Unfortunately, work, laundry or mowing the yard seems to keep getting in the way.

The story ideas have come from a variety of sources, drunken summits with friends, doodling while not working at my desk... but most have come from dreams. I wake up in the pre-dawn hours and try to scribble down the remnants of the dream I was just so vividly living through. Later that morning I try to turn the scribbling into a fuller recollection of the story. Or, I look at the scribbling and vow to lay off late night visits to the fridge for leftover burritos.

None of those story ideas will be showing up in the month of November, however. One of the pieces of advice that the guy that started the contest, Chris Baty, gives you is not to bring a story that is too close to your heart into the process. It seems that Speed is the idea. Clarity is for the re-write.

It doesn't have to be entirely from scratch. The organizers, and other past participants have a variety of ways to get yourself prepared for the journey. I figure I'm going to need a basic storyline, a storyboard of sorts to describe the arc that "our hero" will take, a good conflict for he or she to come up against, and a massive amount of chocolate to get me through to the end of the month. Now, doesn't that sound easy? Not so much, no.

You see, another thing that slows me down is that I'm not so sure I have 50,000 words worth of anything to say about ANY thing. If past experience is any indication, I can say pretty much whatever I've come up with in about 1,000 - 2,500 words max. I usually get to the middle of page three and find myself staring at the end of the story. "Let's see.... Yup, said what I wanted to say, got it out of my system, wonder if the game is on yet?" So, I'm a little concerned that I'll run out of things to say, or just get bored with myself and go look for something else to do.

To that end....

Another thing Baty suggests is getting your whole family to buy into the idea of you writing a novel.. Get them to help out while you ignore the daily junk like household chores, PTA meetings, bathing.....

Of course, after your family and friends have bought into the idea of supporting your quest, it makes it that much harder to quit unfinished.

"What happened to the book you were writing?"

"Oh, I got bored with it and decided to watch Nick at Nite for the rest of the month."

"Oh yeah, well you just drag your butt over to my house and wash dishes for a week ya welcher! You told me I was gonna be in it. I want to see my name in print, ya bum!"

"Hey, I made sure you were in the part I got done. I killed you off on page seven."


Actually, Baty has a really good book out on the experience, No Plot, No Problem.

The deadline may be the key thing. Writing under a deadline used to be the only way I could get it done. That was when I discovered that writing is aerobic. Alternating your gaze between the clock and a blank page can really get your pulse rate; Then you begin to hyperventilate.

Another scary thing is that I've been out of the writer's game for a long time. 1,600 words is a lot, just physically speaking. When you haven't written more than a couple of lines of e-mail at any one sitting in a long time, 1,600 words is guaranteed to make your fingers cramp, and your wrists hurt. Heck, it's probably inviting carpal tunnel syndrome just to think about it.

(Ah HA! Now we know who is really behind this thing...... damn doctors!!)

So, the goal is to write 1,000 - 1,500 words every day for a few weeks, then work my way up to 2,000 before November arrives.

Want to join me? There are a whole lot of us signed up for this mutual masochism party. According to the website more than 42,000 people signed up last year. Of course, it also says that only 6,000 finished. Hmm. That means that one in seven made it to the finish line. That's a batting average that wouldn't get you invited back to spring training....

On the other hand, 1,600 words seems a small price to pay to ignore lawn mowing, laundry, dishes, vacuuming, .....

Not only that , but this line puts me over 1,000 words today.

I wonder if the game is on yet?