When last we left off I promised some history of my dealings with National Novel Writing Month, and today that is exactly what you are going to get. For those of you who are uninitiated in the ways of NaNoWriMo as it is often called, I just realized that I failed to explain it in my first post. It is a month, November specifically, with a large group of writers band together as a support group in an effort to each write 50,000 words. This roughly works out to 1,600 words a day. It is not something you can do casually and succeed. You have to throw yourself into it with dedication. My first attempt was caused by a drunken lack of sense in regards to what I was getting myself into.
To rewind slightly, the time leading into my first attempt at NaNoWriMo in 2009 was a more difficult time in my life. Without getting into too much personal detail, I had moved back to my mom's, was listless at work, and dealing with depression. The night before I had attended a friend's Halloween party, and didn't get back home until late the next morning. From what I can recall I was still not entirely in the right frame of mind.
It began when I happened to spot a post on the book of faces by a former coworker who I still consider a friend to this day. He was excitedly working on his novel for that year's NaNoWriMo, and I thought to myself, “Hey I can do that.” I made a post talking about how I was going to write and had a few preliminary story ideas. First I needed to shower though, so I asked my friends to pick one of the ideas. When I came back, they had settled on two. This is how I ended up writing a post apocalyptic story about air pirates.
I spent a few minutes jotting down setting ideas. What had the apocalypse been? Why were there airships? Who were the important characters? These were all answered in broad strokes within the span of an hour. With those notes settled on, I next turned to what I referred to as tent pole scenes. These were big events that I wanted to include in the story even if I wasn't sure exactly how they were going to fir into the over all plot. These were things like a dual on the deck of an airship during a thunderstorm and a brawl during a shore leave gone wrong.
The next step was overcoming my apprehension over the big blank page. Looking back it feels like I stared at the blank white screen and blinking cursor of my word processor software for hours (in truth it was an hour at most). I had an opening scene from my list of tent poles, but I couldn't do anything to get it out of my head and onto the screen. Stilted attempts to write would momentarily find their way out only to be obliterated by the delete key and my inner editor. Feeling almost paralyzed I finally broke free by using what I've seen jokingly called the Ernest Hemingway method of writing. Write drunk, edit sober.
Armed with the new tactic and an adult beverage I dove into my first day's writing in ernest. When everything was done for the day I had approximately 3000 words I didn't hate and enough of a story that I didn't feel the need to hammer my kidneys to silence myself as a critic. Every spare moment I had was spent with my fingers on the keyboard. Time working and with my daughter were the only times I let myself stop thinking about the adventures of a crew of a ship on the run.
By the time thanksgiving rolled around I was far enough ahead of my needed word count I was able to take a break without feeling like my word count for the day was something that was going to overwhelm me. This almost proved to be a grave mistake. A brief road trip to reconnect with friends ate away at my lead until I found myself struggling to keep up.
The last week of writing was a blur. The novel, which now had the name “Tale of the East Wind,” had ballooned beyond the scope of what could be told in 50000 words, but I continued to dash toward that word count. When everything was said and done I completed NaNoWriMo with something in the ballpark of 55000 words. The month was done, but the story was not. It ended on a cliffhanger, and I had no clue on when it would pick back up again.
Life prevented me from coming back to the airship and its crew for a long time, but I did find myself thinking about the story more than most other things I had jotted down in the past. Months later I even wrote a prologue chapter that explained partially where the mysterious sword that held the plot together came from. The idea and the world of the East Wind would just not go away.
Looking back the flaws with how I wrote Tales of the East Wind are pretty apparent. I charged forward with nothing but blind determination. It made a confused mess with too many characters that didn't have time to develop properly. Entire side plots were introduced that would have added to the big overarching story if it would have gone beyond what was written. I was trying to cram a G.R.R. Martin size story into the ballpark of a young adult novel.
It wasn't all failures though. I managed to write 55000 words in thirty days. Those who I let read what I had written seemed to enjoy the story, and no I don't mean in a “I am just trying to be supportive of my friend's work,” sort of way. They still prod me every now and then to see when I am going to pick things back up and finish the big story that had only been glimpsed so far. And the truth is I feel the same way.
The world I built in Tales of the East Wind has continued to grow beyond what glimpses I was able to give the readers. It has become this weird science fantasy setting that I could use to tell countless worlds. One day I will finish the story of Jeremiah Corvus and his strange sword, but this NaNoWriMo won't be that day. I suspect, though, that it will at least be a time to return to the larger universe that it spawned.