Na-No-What-Now?

As far back as I can remember, I have loved stories–hearing them, reading them, and telling them. I was the nerdy kid who took his 8th grade homework assignments (write 10 sentences using your new weekly vocabulary words) and turned them into a serial adventure about American and Soviet spies locked in covert battle.

I wrote short stories all throughout high school. When I went to college, I changed my major from Journalism to English, because I loved fiction and wanted to write books. During college and into my early 2o’s, I wrote more short stories and the first part of at least 2 novels. But something happened. I stopped believing it was worth the effort. I liked the idea of “being a writer” more than the actual work of writing.

Over the last 10 years, I stopped writing fiction regularly. I’d blog and write poetry, but I felt like the idea of being a novelist was a “childish thing” I needed to put away. Sure, I would still bring it up from time to time, as I’d run into story ideas that intrigued me, but I told myself that I couldn’t really pursue something like that. I had to grow up and move on.

Then something strange and wonderful happened: I got married to a woman who not only loves and cares for me, but who believes in me. I married a woman who doesn’t think that being a writer is a crazy, childish dream. Over the last year-plus, every time the critic in my head has said “Why bother?”, hers has been the voice in my ears saying, “Why not?”

So, after some deliberation and encouragement, I decided I’m going to take on a new challenge. This year, I’m going to take part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), starting on November 1st. It’s a worldwide challenge to write a 50,000-word book in 30 days. It’s an incredibly intimidating task, but I need to take on this challenge. And I’m telling you fine folks, because I need to go “on the record” so I don’t back out.

So, starting this Saturday at midnight, the NaNo clock will begin counting down, and I will have 30 days to write like I’ve never written before.

(By the way, what this means for the 4thDaveBlog is that, for the month of November, I’ll be posting some lighter content. From time to time, I’ll update you on the writing process. And if any of you would like to submit a guest-post, I’m definitely open to that. Hit me up at the4thdave at gmail dot com.)

The question you may be asking at this point is, “What in the world are you going to write about?”

In the last few months, I’ve started kicking around a new story–a mystery/thriller about a man with a dark past who is trying to figure out how to live as a “new creation” in a violent world. It’s a story about faith and doubt, and about holding onto black-and-white moral values in a grey-scale city. And it’s a story about defending those who can’t defend themselves against the wolves who seek to devour them.

The working title of the novel is “Good Shepherd.”

As you can tell, I’m pretty excited about it. I’m pretty nervous too, but I’m hoping the excitement wins out. The most important thing is that I’m ready to challenge myself in a new way, and do something I’ve always wanted to do but have been too afraid to try.

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What about you? Can you think of a time when you’ve really challenged yourself to try something new or scary? Or, do you have some specific words of wisdom for me as I begin this event? Please share below!

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3 thoughts on “Na-No-What-Now?

  1. Correction: Or, do you have some specific words of wisdom for me as I begin this event, Jaimie? I know you meant to say that.

    So, did this two years, as you might recall. If you were a regular writer, I would tell you not to bother, or to set the word count lower and concentrate on making your words not only plentiful but good. I might still give you that advice if I didn’t know you were highly motivated by the herd mentality. Or to make you not sound like an animal, you get a tacit high? You enjoy group motivation? That, whatever it’s called, is so strong with this thing. So, stick to the word count, is my advice. The word count is more important than the word quality, for you, at this stage. You just need to feel what it is to run and not worry if your form is perfect, which it won’t be. It’s going to be bad. Don’t look down.

    … unless you’re one of those perfect first drafters in which case we’re going to have to not be friends anymore.

    The last time I did this was 2013 and I looked longingly at future years which would have more of a weekend to finish on. You have that. Already a great start.

    Get on that website and look at the forums sometimes. Read the emails! Read the writer pep talks; those are great; and look at archives from past years, find authors you like, and read theirs. (Lev Grossman did one during my year, which was awesome.) More importantly, go to meetups. There are tons around Houston. Go to 1 a week, at least. I’m serious; it makes it fun. If I were in Houston right now, I’d probably go to a meetup or two, just for the hell of it. They had a big thing at the House of Pies both times I did it, and that was rewarding. You’re going to be having specific, unanticipated issues and several people there will be having them too, and will have done this before, and they’ll help you out.

    One of the things that helped me was breaking it into chunks. I could write 500 words at lunch. I’d write 1100-1200 when I got home. I tried not to get too far behind, because writing more than 1600-1700 words in a day sucks. But, if you find yourself slipping behind, don’t give up. Write 1000 words a day (this is so easy, seriously; it’s less than an hour) and catch up on the weekend.

    Ignore the bastards who finish in the first week. They’re cheating. We hate them. Seriously, why are they even doing this?

    This is more your call, but I would say ignore the terrible advice someone is going to mention, more than a few someone’s probably, about how to jump-kick your writing. They’ll say, “Have someone walk into the room with a gun.” And that’s fine, but I was like, I’m writing an actual story here.

    If you feel it starting to go south, slow down. Your brain is going to feel fried toward the end, but it’ll be worth it to take a 30 minute walk and think about what needs to happen next, or what needs to happen 50 pages later even, and just skip to that point. You’ll figure out the gap later.

    I’m in China for the month, but feel free to email me if you get stuck.

    Oh, and you have 3 days to jot down an outline? I’d recommend that…

    • Haha. Yes, you’re right, the “comma, Jaimie” was silent but implied.

      SO awesome. Thank you, Jaimie. This is helpful. And yes, I have a rough outline of the beats. Some of my transitions need work, but I feel like the story has a direction. It’s genre-fiction so it’s going to be trope/cliche-heavy in the first draft. I’m hoping to refine heavily in the editing phase.

      I will own that “group motivation” is helpful for me. Though you’re the only person I know who is a “Writer” and really owns that label. So it’s not like I have a writing community around me, really.

      I don’t know. Maybe it’s the feeling that I’ve put this off too long, and if I’m going to jump into this world, it’s really now or never. There’s an urgency to that. It’s forcing me to lace up my sneakers and get my flabby backside out the door, so to speak. NaNo is my “getting off the couch” 10K, writing-wise.

      Oh trust me, I know my first draft is going to be awful. But at the same time, I am looking forward to it just because I’ve never *finished* a project this long. That will be my first real writing accomplishment. I have a few different stories I want to tell with this main character, so I’m excited to get the first book DONE, and then keep going.

      Re: daily word-count goals. One of the reasons I decided to try out Novlr is the online access of the platform. So pretty much every lunch break next month will be cranking out words.

      Have fun in China! Super cool.

      • Group motivation is helpful for me, too. I think some of my later experiences with NaNo were speaking through there, but that’s neither here nor there. Overall, NaNo has been awesome for me, and I know it’ll be awesome for you too!

        (Seriously the worst I can say of NaNo amounts to essentially “I wasted a month!” Boo-hoo. I “wasted” years writing things. And the first year I did it, it saved me TONS of time. I figured stuff out real fast, by just sprinting through.)

        Excited for you. The good thing about tropes, they’re easy to subvert in second drafts.

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