Reflections on NaNoWriMo 2013

I can summarize my history with NaNoWriMo pretty easily: heaven and hell. Bliss and agony. I love it, but it’s not easy. Of course, if the purpose of writing a 50,000-word story in a month was intended as time spent doing something easy then I would estimate that the wonderful institution of NaNoWriMo has...well, failed spectacularly. It is intended to be fun, though, and as it turns out you can have fun doing something that’s also impossibly, harrowingly, maddeningly difficult. This year marks the third (non-consecutive) year I've taken on the challenge, and I was able to finish (fanfare!) with a little bit of time leftover. What’s interesting to me is that this year, though it was still exhausting, I didn't grow quite as unsure of myself. Which is to say, when my inner critic busted loose with choruses of appeals like, “What are you doing?! You’re not really a fiction writer! You’ll fail at this, no question!” I was much better at simply carrying on than I have been in the past. What this tells me is that this story isn't done with me yet. And I’m really quite happy about that.

I typically share my thoughts on reading books here, not writing them. But hopefully my indulgence in taking this little side-trip isn't totally unwelcome. I’m basically just taking this opportunity to document some of my inspirations and share a bit of the fun – although I’m keeping the story to myself for now (maybe someday it'll be out there as a bona fide Book).

1. Anna Gawlak   2. Sienna Miller in The Edge of Love   3. Kevin Russ 4. Ian McKellen (via)   5. Kevin Russ   6. El Largarto Esta Llorando

This year was pretty uncharacteristic of me: I started writing on about the 4th of the month, contrary to setting off literally at the stroke of midnight on November 1st like I did in years one and two. I had thought about taking part, thought about it and eventually just procrastinated long enough that I finally gave myself the excuse, “Too late, November’s already started”. Then a funny thing happened: I went onto my Novel Inspiration board on Pinterest (it’s one of those super-secret private boards) where I occasionally bookmark photos that resonate with any number of the zillion or so storylines I haven’t yet pursued. And I saw two photos right next to each other – which I do believe I’d pinned in reference to two completely different stories – and as soon as I saw them I connected them to an entirely new idea. It clicked so tremendously and I was so enthusiastic about it that I knew I had to make it my NaNoWriMo project for 2013. You really never know when inspiration will strike.

1. The Album Leaf (Website/Spotify)   2. Nils Frahm (Website/Spotify)   3. Ólafur Arnalds (Website/Spotify) 4. Goldmund (Website/Spotify)   Peter Broderick (Website/Spotify)   Philip Glass (Website/Spotify)

I mapped out my chapters just a bit, but overall I didn't worry too much about the ins and outs of the story. My focus was more on getting to know the environment of it, and understanding the characters. Whenever I felt myself feeling a bit lost I’d try to refocus by switching up my music, which I always find helps me better visualize the world of a story. I wanted some very quiet music - either instrumental or with soft vocals that wouldn't invade my narrative - and these albums really helped me get excited about the story’s atmosphere. Check them all out on Spotify – they’re just beautiful.

There’s a lot of work still to be done. I can think of one plot point I want to take out entirely, one I want to tweak pretty graciously, and at least three more that I want to explore or add in. And then there’s the process of getting my inner-skeptic to finally chill out by doing lots of research (because sometimes answering her with “creative liberty” or “artistic license” just doesn't cut it). That’s not to mention quelling the inner-editor, etc. This experience definitely gave me a lot of insight into ignoring the myriad voices that doggy-pile on a writer’s process. So many times I felt myself worrying over different things – that little girl’s too young to be so wise, nobody’ll believe it; the heroine’s way too sensitive and emotional, people will hate her – but maybe it’s that I’m passionate enough about the story not to care. I just kept going. And I know that even if “people” will hate it, for every writer there’s a reader out there who will just get it. To some extent that’s what makes me excited to pursue this story – because it’s very deeply personal (certain elements are autobiographically drawn, in a sense) and hopefully it will be useful and moving in someone else’s life.