Sunday, December 11, 2016

Wordtopia is Just One Way to Start

By Kasie Whitener

Jodie was right. NaNoWriMo is a crazy gluttony of wordtopia. Volunteers commit to producing 50,000 words in the month of November for what could be the first draft of a novel.

I’ve done it three times and have a lifetime achievement statistic of 155,363 words to show for it. This year’s entry, Interstate Butterflies, is a commercial fiction attempt: Maisy Diller returns to her hometown to escape her crumbling music career and wait out the cancer that’s killing her uncle.

What I love about NaNoWriMo is the purity of creation. There’s no room for revising in the word frenzy. I’m not someone who has ever written without stopping to correct spelling and grammar. I tend to edit-while-writing. No time for that in NaNo! Word count is all that matters. There’s no time for poring over the right word or the right construction of a sentence.

Just go! Blaze on! Word count is what matters.

There’s no chance to wonder if a scene has done what it needs to do, whether a character’s motivations have changed, or even what that character wants to accomplish in each scene. Just write! The rest will get worked out during revision.

I’ve always “pantsed” NaNoWriMo. It means writing-from-the-seat-of-your-pants. I just let the characters talk and meander through the story. I’ve basically taken the stream-of-consciousness approach for five first-person narrators, one of whom was a vampire.

But this year I “planned” which entails outlining the entire novel and waking up every morning with a “fill in the blank” approach to achieving my word count. Planning worked. By mid-month I had 25,000 words and I was on my way to winning NaNoWriMo.

Except I didn’t know anything about Maisy. Her voice sounded like an answering machine recording. I couldn’t figure out what the main conflict was. Which character was the antagonist?

Then I had surgery and went down for four days without a finger on the keyboard. In my anesthesia-induced fog, I asked the big questions:

What does Maisy want?
What happens if she doesn’t get it?
Who stands in her way?
What is she willing to do to achieve her goal?
What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen to her?

And then she started talking. She said, “Listen, Kasie, this story is about my inability to see myself as anyone except the person the men in my life say I am. I want to be me in all my messy glory. Not Will’s best friend. Not Maddox’s talented niece. Not the band’s lead singer or Tyler’s ex-girlfriend. Not my father’s lost cause.”

Then, in a fit of 18,000 words, I crushed the last three days of NaNoWriMo and “finished” the novel. Except it’s not anywhere near done. It’s just 50,060 words of discovery. A lump of clay ready to be shaped into a compelling novel through revision. But it’s a start and that’s the whole point of NaNo: to start.

Now the real work begins.

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