Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Story of Nanowrimo

I wrote this as an autobiographical essay in English class. It was the first paper I had to write for the class, and it's about the first year I did Nanowrimo. Sorry it's so long. : )

I woke up that day depressed, my defeat already haunting me. All November I had been participating in National Novel Writing Month, challenging myself to complete the first draft of a 50,000 word novel within the confines of one short month. Three weeks into the challenge I had gotten stuck. In my head I called it writer’s block so that it would sound professional, but I knew I was just bored of my story. I didn’t have the guts to finish it, knowing it was not very well written or well thought out. I had given up.

Today was the last day of the month. I had promised myself that I could do this, and now that I had as good as failed, I felt guilty for breaking that promise. I now had a decision to make; I could give up, and decide I wasn’t cut out to be a writer, or I could write furiously all day, be a writer and actually finish what I had started. Thinking back to other times I had promised myself I could win, I realized I never had kept that promise. I was a quitter. Volleyball, basketball, ballet, martial arts; every time it had gotten hard, I had dropped out. Writing was something I wanted to do, so I knew what decision I had to make.

Nine o’clock am, November 30, I sat down in my maroon, beat up office chair and opened up the computer file. I hadn’t looked at it in a few days, and so I skimmed over the pages, remembering what had happened so far. When I got to the last page where the plot had slowly fizzled out and then stopped altogether, my fingers found their familiar positions on the keyboard and I stared at the blank screen. Being away from the story for a few days had given me a little space from it. Thinking of other things had helped me to stop obsessing about the story, and now that I was back, an idea came to me about where the story could go after this. I settled in my chair and took a deep breath.

Plunging into the plot headfirst, my fingers flew across the keyboard, writing fast. If I didn’t slow down to think, I wouldn’t have time to overanalyze what I was writing. I wrote as fast as I possibly could, just going with the next logical action and trying to feel like I was there.

Every hour or so I paused to make sure I was writing fast enough. At the beginning of the day I had about 34,000 words, which meant that if I wanted to win, I had to write 16,000 words in this one day. Like Cinderella’s pumpkin coach, I only had until midnight, but it was a Saturday and I didn’t have anywhere else to go. If I could write a little over a thousand words per hour, I knew I should be able to make it.

The morning passed quickly. I took a few breaks, ate lunch, considered giving up a few times but always decided to keep going. By mid afternoon my neck was stiff, my eyes were aching and my fingers were starting to go numb. It had been five hours and I was starting to wonder if I was being too stubborn about this challenge. Was finishing really worth this?

As I wondered what kind of fool I was, the sounds of bustle and laughter drifted in from the kitchen. I wearily stood up from my place at the computer and drifted in there like a ghost to see what was going on. It was the whole family, happy and excited, getting ready to make paper Mache Christmas tree ornaments. They had little blown up water balloons to put the paper over, and big bowls of watery glue to dip the newspaper in. Mom was tearing the newspaper into little strips and Dad was stringing up a long piece of kite string across the room from corner to corner to hang the ornaments on while they worked. The two younger kids were dipping their hands into the glue mixture, seemingly determined to get as messy as possible before the process even started. It looked like fun.

Mom saw me hovering jealously in the doorway and invited me to join them. I wanted to, but there was so much more to write. I had gotten a little ahead of my prescribed hourly word count, but I had been planning on staying a little ahead just in case, so I could maybe finish a little earlier. “Oh… no thanks…” I muttered regretfully. Mom urged me to help them for just a little while, I needed a break anyway, she said, and they all really wanted me to be there. Now my little brother and sister began to beg me to stay, too. Internal conflict: I want to join them, external conflict: my family wants me to join them, I thought to myself. How could I write this scene into my novel? And then I knew I needed a break.

I made one paper Mache ornament, but while I was physically there having a good time, my thoughts were on a country highway in Illinois with my main character. As soon as I was done I dashed back into the office and shut the door behind me, filled with new ideas about the ending. I had gotten a little behind on the word count, so I typed furiously, inventing scenes and some great internal dialogue for my main character, faster than ever. I knew that the words I was writing were not that great, would never be published or win any awards, but it didn’t matter anymore. I was no longer doing this to have something worth publication; I was doing it for myself, so that I could reach this goal. It was the most amazing feeling when my thoughts finally clicked into place and the words flowed from my fingertips, seemingly out of nowhere. The last few thousand words were like magic.

If I could win this challenge, it would be the first time I had set myself a goal and completed it without relying on help from someone else. I wanted that so badly that I kept typing with cramped fingers and a headache behind my eyes. I knew that if I gave up now after getting so close, I would regret it for the rest of my life.

At about eleven thirty that night, I typed the two words I had been waiting to type, “The End,” and joyfully and with weary fingers submitted my document to the word count verifying feature on the National Novel Writing Month website. Unfortunately it came up with a slightly different word count than my document had, and I was left about five hundred words short of my goal. I had about thirty minutes, my story was over and I didn’t really want to add a prologue. Then I had an idea. I scrolled back through the pages to find the perfect place to add in a scene. I found it, tweaked the scenes around it to allow me to add this in and began typing the final words of my book. My main character had been staying with her aunt, who was an artist and a crafter, and in the scene I added, she had a craft to do with the children. They tied a kite string across the kitchen, from corner to corner, and made paper Mache Christmas tree ornaments. Just as I hadn’t been able to keep my mind off my writing while being with my family, I guess I couldn’t keep my mind off my family while writing. I finished the scene, checked my word count, added a few words here and there and resubmitted it on the website.

I held my breath as the counter worked. My brother and Mom had come into the room and they held their breaths too. Then up on the screen popped a message in big colorful letters, sending butterflies to my stomach and a smile to my face. It said, “You Won!”


Faith said...

Jane, you are awesome! I think I've heard most of that story before, but never like that!

-Bess- said...

Your ad is finally up on my blog (hope you like it)! Yahoo! Sorry it took so long! Now, I've got to find some time to read your story (looking forward to it)!
Christian Love From Your Sis,

-Bess- said...

P.S.: Your blog header makes a pretty cute blog button! =)