This is not the first time I’ve attempted National Novel Writing Month. I made a vague attempt while still in high school, which probably peetered out after about a week, week and a half tops. Then there was the rest of high school, and college, and seeking gainful employment. I could never imagine finding the time. But this year it boiled down to the decision that I would make the time, and spending the two weeks leading up to Halloween world building and outlining.
I’m just barely making my word count for most days but it’s going pretty well so far and I feel confident… to a certain point. The outline I have only goes as far as about six chapters because I don’t know what happens in the middle of the book. Past that I’ll be relying on random word prompts from NaNoWriMo sprints on Twitter. I’m making peace with this by remembering something I was told in a Mindfulness and Meditation class about building a meditation practice: it’s hard, and if you fall short of what you set out to do it’s completely counter productive to beat yourself up about it.
As an anxious person in general, it worries me when I don’t have things planned out. And that’s not just for this 50,000 words in 30 days challenge — it’s at the root of why I’ve written little besides fanfiction since college. Even that’s dropped off lately but for a long time fanfic was my safety zone. You know where you stand within fandoms. With your canon materials and a known audience within the community, there’s only so much guesswork needed to be able to strike the right note.
The best compliment I ever received as a fanfic writer was being told that I had the Douglas Adams voice down perfectly. In a creative writing class designed to help writers find and develop their own voice, I drove my professor nuts by mentioning that comment. That, she said, was mimicry. Okay. Fair enough. Consider it as a writing exercise: fanfiction is recreating the ways different characters speak and act into circumstances of your own manufacture, just for the sake of exploring what will happen, and matching the cadence and style of the narration at the same time.
As paradoxical as it sounds, fanfiction helped me hold on to my identity as a writer. It was like treading water when the only other option was to drown; I needed that safety zone amidst a sea of constant anxiety (which I am now getting help with). But it was my safety zone, and now I’m in a place where I’m ready to take more risks.
The point of taking on the NaNoWriMo challenge, for me, is that I’ve had these original characters slowly taking shape the back of my head and in the metaphorical margins of my online journals for years now. Until now they’ve been literarily homeless but the right thought struck me at the right time in October and ballooned into a basic sketch of their world with the start of a conflict. And let’s be clear fifty thousand words in 30 days isn’t going to produce the next best selling novel. It’s just going to motivate me to start and finish a complete first draft. That’s it. But that’s everything: a complete draft with a beginning, a middle, and an end in which the only narrative voice I have to focus on identifying and strengthening is my own.
So I’m doing this, and at some point I’m going to have to start riding the wave of sheer “just get 1,667 words on the page for today, just do it.” It makes me a little nervous but not to the point of being overwhelming — and that’s the reason to do it.