I had some difficulty with NaNoWriMo this year.
I came up with a theme, imagined characters, devised a situation and started writing. Seven days later I had just over the 11,670 target words for the seventh day of November, but with the exception of two or three moments the story wasn’t moving me and I was not happy with the quality of the prose. Having completed three NaNoWriMo novels in six previous years I saw no value in repeating the experience of finishing a novel just to say I had done so, especially if I was unhappy with the result.
I decided to experiment.
I decided I would start a new story each day. I kept the NaNo target of 1,667 total words per day, but the word count could come from the new story or from additions to stories from the previous days. I often write to prompts—oneword.com is a favorite source for ideas—so writing new each day was not unusual but most of that exercise writing is in the 100-400 word range, far short of NaNo requirments.
So that’s one thing I’ve had to experience; pushing myself past that single moment, the opening scene, and into a second and a third moment. It’s not easy. First, there is the creative block in generating material connected with the first moment. Then there is the internal editor that worries and rejects ideas for fear of going down a dead end or making a wrong turn that hurts the story worse than just stopping it in its tracks. On top of that are the distractions that come into play the longer you work at something; for a time you can ignore FaceBook, emails, texts, the cat, the dog, hunger, stiff muscles, but the longer you try to write, the louder these distractions cry for attention.
Those are typical NaNoWriMo issues, the same ones that face people working on a single novel, as well as fakers (rebels, they like to call themselves) like me. A couple of ideas lent themselves to larger portraiture; potential longer short stories or possible novels, so it was easier to envision more scenes. Still, it has been interesting trying to push myself past those first moments.
The other interesting experience was that I started stealing single sentences of prose. I have a subscription to The New Yorker so I scrolled back through old issues and pulled up stories, re-reading them slowly, looking for a nice sentence that I could steal, one that will allow me to build my own situation or character around it.
If I ever get to submitting these stories I’ll re-write the stolen sentence, but so far I’ve forced the sentence in exactly as created and it’s interesting what I’ve learned in the process. Looking at these sentences in detail and trying to build another story for them has made me aware how perfect this prose is for the story I’ve stolen it from and how each phrase, each adjective, each description contributes to the clarity of the character or setting or situation; the perfection of which I would not have been aware of had I not tried to force it into a different story.
But it’s hard work; reading the story slowly, finding a sentence, rotating the personality trait or situation or meaning along a different path that still completely tangents the given line. Now, after the end of the month, I stole only eight lines, finished only two as 2,500 and 4,000 word stories. Another four I have an idea the direction I want to go but for whatever reason I’m uncertain how worthwhile the idea is and whether I should bother pursuing it, one more is short but nice but I don’t know where it’s going, and the last has neither good prose or characters or plot; an all out failure.
From regular prompts I have another twelve; one finished short story, one interesting start for a short story, one intriguing character that might expand to a novel, and, I guess, nine other failures to launch. Pretty small sample size, but maybe stealing good lines from good writing generates a higher percentage of useful material?
Ultimately, I failed to meet the word count, ending up somewhere just over 38,000 for the month. But after 23 days I have 20 different writings (not including the original project), with three first draft stories, one interesting start and one potential novel to carry forward.
Toward the end I wore out and wrote very little. My brain began to get thick and muddled and I thought of myself like the old woman who lived in a shoe, with so many children that I could not keep them straight.