It's November and that means it's time for NaNoWriMo!
That's National Novel Writing Month, in case you were wondering. Writers spend the entire month working toward the goal of completing a 50,000 word novel. It's not an easy task. There is no time to think. No time to rewrite. You just write and write and write some more. Editing comes later.
I love it. I love the challenge. I love that there is no time for second-guessing. It's like the free writing exercises we used to do in high school. Stream of consciousness.
Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't.
I have officially "won" NaNoWriMo only once. It was the first time I tried it. I think it was 2011. It was a novel called "Fat Ass" - terrible title, I know.
At the time, I was working on losing weight and training for a marathon. I was dealing with a lot of past issues, mainly to do with eating disorders. I wanted to write about it. Writing is how I deal with most of my problems, though sometimes they come out as something completely different. (I love it when that happens.)
I started a few days late because I didn't know about it until the first week of November. A friend mentioned it, and after a quick Google search, I was in. I worked really hard on it. I wrote until my hands cramped. It was not a good novel, but I finished it.
Then it was time to revise, and I couldn't bring myself to look at it. I had been so obsessed with writing it that I focused on little else for the entire month. I was sick of the story and put it away.
Fast forward about six months (I'm guessing here). I applied for a grant through the Flynn Center for the Arts to create an original musical (or the beginnings of one). I got the grant and was granted use of space at the Flynn to work with actors and musicians to create a script. I gathered some old friends and some soon to be friends, and we started working. SuperGym was born.
It was based on the idea from Fat Ass, but I completely started over and reworked the plot. I changed the characters and the setting. Only a glimmer of that first terrible novel remained. The creation process was one of the best things I have done. We ended up with a mixture of scenes, songs, and videos. It was funny and sarcastic and one of the few pieces of work I have created that I was truly, deeply proud of. We had a work-in-progress showing and Q&A for a small audience, and it was pretty well received. It was the first time my words made an audience laugh, and it was thrilling.
Unfortunately, work on SuperGym got derailed by life. I tried to go back to it a few times, but it never went anywhere. It happens.
I wrote a lot of other stuff. Plays, books, blogs. I improved my writing skills. (Working on this all the time) Still, the SuperGym idea stayed with me. It was always in the back of my mind. Random thoughts would arise, and I would jot them down and promptly lose them. But, it didn't matter. Somewhere in my brain, the pieces were coming together. I started to consider turning it into a novel (again).
I was resistant to the idea at first. The script was huge and had taken a lot of effort. The idea of trying to move the dialogue into a novel format was daunting. I realized that I needed to start over. One day I knew that I had to just start writing (NaNoWriMo style), and I sat down and wrote for six hours.
The plot changed. Some of the characters changed. Some remained but were fleshed out a little more. It became a real story. I was engaged in that world again. I struggled in places, but I just kept writing until I once again knew where the story was going. The day I came up with the ending, I could have jumped for joy. Endings are my biggest struggle, and I tend to leave them - well, until the end. This time I had an idea of where the story was going, and it shaped the novel.
I was pleased when the first draft was finished and dove immediately into revisions. It was daunting. The beginning had to be reworked to fit the ending, and let's face it, revisions are tedious. I got through it and put the manuscript away. I didn't look at it again for quite some time.
I wrote more plays and books and stories and blogs. I felt better about it this time. I was taking a break, not abandoning my baby. I went back to it with fresh eyes and a few new ideas. And, I revised and revised and revised some more.
I recently finished it. Do I feel that it's perfect? No. Not at all. But, nothing ever is. I think it's ready to be shared with others. That's what matters. Not everyone will love it or even like it, but I do. I think there are people out there who will also enjoy it. I'm in the process of creating a book cover and making plans for the launch (tentatively February 2017).
And, it all started with NaNoWriMo.
As I jump back into this frenzied month of writing, I thought it was appropriate to reminisce a little about the last time I completed this challenge. It's taken a long time, but it was worth it. I can't wait to see what this year's NaNoWriMo will bring.
I've had a really nice Mother's Day. I started the day with a long walk and some time with my weights. I had a lovely breakfast delivered to me in bed while I read. I'm reading the Song of Ice and Fire books, and I cannot put them down. I've spent most of the day reading. Normally, an hour of uninterrupted reading time is hard to find. Several hours is almost unheard of. It's been an incredibly relaxing day.
When I haven't had my nose in a book, I have been working on the first draft of a new book. It seems like all of my projects come in waves. I am currently revising SuperGym, developing a first draft of a musical, working on an outline for a new play, and yesterday I started the first draft of a new book. I couldn't ignore it. Even with everything else I am working on, I had to start. When I have an idea that I think is good, I have to write it while I can. Ideas tend to fade over time.
Time management is my biggest obstacle right now. I work. I have a family. I am directing one play and auditioning for the next. Life is crazy busy. But, I still have to find time to write. I've been working on putting it into my daily schedule, and I am doing pretty well with meeting my goals. I only work on one project a day. My writing is better when I am focused on one project. I just need to make sure that they are all progressing. I have set my own deadlines for most of them, and I am working hard to stick to the plan. My new job has made it a little more difficult, but I am determined to stick with it. I'm not giving up on the dream.
Feeling uninspired? We've all been there. Sometimes the creative juices are flowing so freely that there are stacks of notes and several unfinished projects covering your desk. Then it happens. The dreaded writer's block. You stare blankly at the computer screen. Your notebooks are covered in doodles but no words. You feel like you'll never write again. Here are some places to find inspiration when the well runs dry.
1. Read anything you can get your hands on. Books, magazines, internet articles/stories. It helps to read what others are writing. New characters or new information might spark something for you. If nothing else, you'll get to read some great writing.
2. Brainstorm. Sit down and write. Set a timer and write without judgement. You might remember this technique from school. It's a great way to get your thoughts out there. You can always organize them later.
3. Meditate. Sit down and get in touch with your mind. Daily stresses can get in the way of creativity. Let your mind wander freely without distraction and see what comes out.
4. Hop in the shower. There is no better place to think than the shower. This is my personal go-to when I need to work out a plot point, and many of the ideas that sparked a book or a play came up in the shower. Just make sure you write it down immediately after drying off.
5. Hang out with people (especially kids). Different ideas, personalities, and dress will give you lots of new ideas to apply to your characters. Just make sure you don't make it too obvious. Combine bits and pieces from several people to create a new person. I love working with kids because they are uninhibited creativity. They have funny ideas that can give you a new perspective on life.
6. Art/Dance/Theater. When in doubt, immerse yourself in someone else's creative endeavor. The arts have always inspired, and what moves you can easily be worked into your writing.
7. Remember your dreams. Write down the strange snippets and odd emotions of your dreams. They may not make sense in real life, but there might be something in there that can be turned into a great story or character.
8. New experiences. When life gets mundane, try something new. Not only will you benefit from challenging yourself, but you'll have a whole new world of writing inspiration.
9. Go for a walk. Or a run, bike, yoga class, etc. Exercise clears the mind, lowers stress, and can help get the creative juices flowing.
Em is a writer, theatre director, and hiker. She likes mixing horror with magical realism and adding sci-fi twist.