It was one of my former writing students who managed to shame me into signing up for NaNoWriMo this year.
If you’re not familiar with that acronym, it stands for National Novel Writing Month. The deal is, each participant undertakes to knock off a 50,000-word novel during the month.
No big deal. That’s only 1,667 words a day, and everybody knows writing is easy. All you do is open a vein and let it flow.
Besides, NaNoWriMo runs on the honour system, so a person could write the word “cat” 50,000 times and still be a winner. Not that there are any prizes. Just a sense of accomplishment. Okay, a stroke to the ego.
Hundreds, nay thousands, of would-be Yukon authors have no doubt been spending the last four weeks hunched over their Dells, or antique Remington Portables, chasing the dream of riches even beyond Stephen King’s imagining.
On Day 1, I didn’t quite hit the target, because I was still negotiating with my characters to see whose story should get top billing. Day 2 was also disappointing, but I finally had some sense of the journey ahead.
The fourth day turned a corner for me, when the NanNoWriMo calculator predicted I would finish by November 21. Holy smoke. Time to call an agent.
Then, just to prove Shakespeare’s lessons about hubris and other fascinating character flaws, in the predawn hours of Day 8, the tech world collapsed around my shoulders.
After a sudden computer shutdown, I accidently hit the wrong button in the AutoSave zone and torched almost 6,000 words of infinite grace and beauty.
Naturally, this included a section that had involved a huge amount of research about Irish emigration to Canada in the 1880s. It’s a time I don’t personally remember all that well.
I ranted. I raved. I cursed Bill Gates (as I do almost daily). I probed my computer’s innards for hours, in search of that buried treasure.
If I could not restore that passage, how would I ever reconcile the subplot involving the newly-formed order of Irish nuns, the Sisters of Our Lady of Knock, with the main plot about intrigue and revenge in a small liberal arts college in Eastern Ontario?
The solution was obvious: have a drink and another litre of coffee. Then start again.
Fortunately, my characters and I had formed a pretty tight bond by this time. They talked to me, I talked back. (Note to civilians: writers ALWAYS talk to themselves, even when the project is a mere 600-work magazine piece.)
Around Day 12, for three nights in a row my dreams included new characters clamouring for a piece of the action. Sorry guys, this plot bucket is full. But keep in touch, huh? There’s always next year.
By mid-month, I could barely remember how long it had been since I wore anything other than my bathrobe. I had stopped logging my daily progress, for fear of either over-confidence or crushing despair. But the folks were moving around quite nicely in the world we had created together.
With 10 days left, I was delighted to discover I needed to assemble only 13,000 more words. Time to put my head down, poke another hole in that vein, and just keep going.
Note to my puzzled neighbours in the next apartment: sorry about all the late-night chatter. That’s just me, talking to beleaguered adjunct professor Kevin Donovan, the saintly Mother Mary-Cathleen, twisted Allison Williams, avuncular Desmond Cousins, O.P., and a couple of dozen other new friends.
And please ignore the constantly-ringing phone next week. That will be my agent, calling to discuss the avalanche of offers for film rights.