How I wrote the book, by me (because he’s making me do it), part 2

October of 2008 probably seems pretty specific, but thankfully, other people are keeping track of this stuff for me. It was October of 2008 when I heard about National Novel Writing Month for the first time (otherwise known as NANOWRIMO). It’s grown quite a bit since then, but the idea was pretty simple: you sit down during the month of November, and you write fifty thousand words. In theory, that’s a novel. A short one, maybe, but still a novel. It’s a chunk of writing that falls within the accepted word count of a novel, how about that? In any case, I thought this was a perfect idea for me. I’m mildly competitive (shush, you… people…), and even though I’m only really competing against myself, it’s a goal. A tangible goal. A goal with average-words-per-day tracking and fun little graphs. There’s a weird little part of me that just loves seeing myself on a graph.

I cracked my knuckles (not really, I hate that… I cracked metaphorical knuckles), sat down, and got to work. I had an idea for a book. I plotted it out, more or less. I listed a bunch of characters and their descriptions. And then I proceeded to write 52,758 words of utter and complete crap.

It was horrible. Really, seriously horrible. I lost interest in the story before I’d made it through week one, but I made myself keep going. When the month was over, I tossed it. Seriously, I keep everything, and I’m pretty sure that fifty-k-plus is one of the few exceptions. I don’t know where it went, and I never want to see it again. It was bad.

After that, I spent a lot of time marveling at how bad it had been and otherwise trying to forget that it ever happened. It wasn’t a complete waste of time: at least now I knew that I could keep to a schedule, even if I was just producing garbage.

Eventually, November came around on the calendar again. For the entire month of October in 2009, I debated about whether I wanted to try again. I started tentatively plotting out new novels, and trashing outlines like crazy. It all sucked. Even if I did try it again, I was just going to end up with 50k words worth of suck. Why bother?

On November 1, 2009, I stared at a blank page and thought forget it. I had come up with nothing that was even vaguely interesting – not even to myself. There was no point. I’d be better off doing something else. GTA IV had just dropped another DLC. I was getting married in less than two weeks (to be more specific, I was about to accidentally get married on Friday the 13th, which was going to cut nearly a week out of the time that I had available for writing, but that’s another story). Point is, I had stuff to do.

Then, I had an idea. At the time, I thought it was a really dumb idea, but one that might be kind of fun. I decided to sit down and just start writing. No plan. No characters. No idea of what I was doing. I’d just sit down and start typing whatever popped into my head. What the hell, right? Couldn’t be any worse than the crap I’d done the previous year on purpose.

I wrote about two thousand words the first day. The next day, I sat down and made a plan for keeping it up. Rule #1: Each day, I can read back half a page. That’s it – one rule. I could read just half of the last page that I’d written the day before. If that wasn’t enough to jog my brain, then maybe, maybe I could stretch that to a full page. But no more than that. No planning, no anticipating, no second guessing. Nothing but pure, unadulterated spew.

There’s a whole NANOWRIMO category for people like me these days. Those of us who write without outlines are referred to as “pantsers” (which, I have to be honest, I associate with something else entirely). I figured I’d keep it up for a week, maybe two, but I never thought that it would be sustainable. Sooner or later, it would all crumble and fall apart.

Then… it didn’t. The end of November came, and I had 68,825 words. I was almost finished, too. It just needed a little more work, so I spent the next week or so closing it out, and then Joe’s story was done.

I felt pretty good about it. It needed a heck of a lot of editing, and probably some revisions, but what the hell – who cared? It’s not like it was ever going to see the light of day. I’d done it, I’d done it in a way that seemed kind of weird, and yet, it all made sense in the end. Well… more or less.

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