This year, for the third time, I will be participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, for short-ish). The goal is to write 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November. A typical “finished” manuscript is 75,000 words, although in my favorite genre to both write and read — fantasy — the average length is closer to 100,000.
Still, it’s a tremendous commitment on many levels. First, the time. When I’m in a sweet spot for writing, I can type upwards of 100 words per minute. Let’s say, accounting for pauses and deletes and staring blankly into space, I average 60wpm. My total writing time for 50,000 words would be just shy of 20 hours. That doesn’t seem so bad, but of course getting to and staying in that sweet spot of writing is a rare feat. Doubling that number of hours is, frankly, a safer bet.
So, how do you add in an additional work week’s worth of time to a month already full? With actual (paid) work, with family time, with holidays. Early mornings, late evenings, and weekends become even commodities to exploit.
The first year I did NaNoWriMo, I managed 25,000 words. I was proud of myself. I had an idea for a post-apocalyptic story with no zombies in it, because I was getting pretty sick of reading nothing-but-zombies apocalypse theories. I like zombies as much as the next person, but it’s a tiresome fad and makes it easy for authors to squiggle out of the harder questions of an apocalypse: How do you rebuild? When you’re stuck at the bottom of Maslow’s famous hierarchy, group governance plays a quiet second fiddle to building better zombie traps. Still, after the month’s end, I lost interested in the story I was writing. It was a reaction to an idea, not an idea.
The second year I did NaNoWriMo, I wrote several thousand words but it went nowhere. I was trying to resuscitate the non-zombie book and not fooling anybody.
This year, I am abandoning all semblance of original idea. Thanks to a surprisingly raucous conversation about Moby Dick at a party, and not in the way you might expect (so many literature majors…), it was generally determined by open vote that I should write a version of Moby Dick with an all-lady crew. In space.
Many benefits issue from taking this tack. By patterning my narrator, protagonist, and antagonist(s) on Melville’s, I limit my scope and avoid the kind of suffocating breadth of choice incurred by a purely blank slate. It’s a book I love deeply, and will have tremendous fun mining for inspiration. It’s a simply plotted book with room for rambling diversions (my M.O.). It’s a book built around pretty grand themes, so mimicking it feels more like playing off timeless tropes than it does “copying.” It’s a brilliantly written book, so it will challenge me to push myself. I am not going to be Melville, but I can try not to disgrace his example. It’s a book written in a pastiche of styles, so if I get bored of my major narrative voice, I can mix it up and throw in a poem or a letter or newspaper clipping or a play. It feels like having permission to go hog-wild, which I shouldn’t need, but I’ve always been a rules-follower and I need this sort of invitation to release.
One additional and major benefit has been thinking about and working on core components of the book before the manic month of November. I’m such a seat-of-the-pants writer that this type of preparation — however minimal, however average or taken for granted by many authors — feels like a victory in itself for me. I hope I can learn from this process for later projects.
The biggest challenge I face at the moment is a working title. I welcome comments and suggestions! I do think this project is already a success for having spawned the incomparable hashtag, #spacedick, though admittedly have been too chicken to do a thorough Google search of the term for fear of what it might produce. And, as a final note, searching for “space whale” images results in a surprisingly broad selection of art, very little of which seems directly related to Star Trek IV.