…lunch at a Turkish restaurant.
The biggest difficulty I encountered while participating in this year’s NaNoWriMo challenge was the simple fact that I didn’t bring my A-game. I got out of the gate fast and strong, and I made half the challenge in fifteen days in anticipation of my anniversary trip with my wife. When I got back four days later, I had the motivation of a plastic dummy and I had a hell of a time putting myself back in the appropriate frame of mind. I squeaked out a few pages, kept pushing to meet my word count, but ultimately I found I wasn’t sitting down consistently to write… I was spending too much time fucking off (more on this in a moment). Problem number two, was that I didn’t adjust my writing style for NaNoWriMo. I’m not the most sophisticated writer in the world, okay… I use a few nickel words here and there, but a good percentage of my descriptions read like reportage (“just the facts,” which, oddly enough, seems to work okay) and my meter is staccato in the extreme; i.e., I use a lot of short sentences (think Hemingwegian, rather than Faulknerian).
In order to be successful at the NaNoWriMo challenge you have to remove all the chaff, cut away all the fat, trim away all the excess, and just write the bones — it has to be a mess with an eye toward “salvageability.” I didn’t do this, and I paid for it later in the challenge. The worst part about it was that I was aware that I was doing it, but some of that had to do with a big change I made in the narrative presentation of this novel which is the second installment in an Urban Fantasy series; the first installment being the novel Hell-Kind, to which I have previously referred in this blog. Allow me to ‘splain: Hell-Kind, which I finished back in August, comes out to about 330 pages worth of 1st person point of view (a convention of Urban Fantasy); The Everlasting Darkness, which was my 2012 NaNoWriMo project, is not written in 1st person and that was a decision I made while I was still working on Hell-Kind. The Everlasting Darkness has two point of view characters, but the narrative is delivered in 3rd person limited. Anyway, the other characters — who didn’t get anywhere near as much to say as the main character in the first book — had a lot to say in the second. My characters got really chatty, and I couldn’t shut them up; which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not something you want to wrestle with while you’re trying to charge through 50,000 words in 30 days. I’ll admit, right here and right now, it got a little frustrating because I kept having to rein myself in.
The third problem, which I’m a bit embarrassed to write about but feel it needs to be said, was that I allowed myself to get demoralized when I noticed that none of my friends supported my fundraiser. I didn’t have huge expectations, but I figured at least a handful of the folks I consider closest would’ve given up a couple of bucks just to demonstrate a little solidarity — that didn’t happen, and it sucked… not an excuse to stop writing, but I have to say I got a little bummed out. At any rate I pulled myself back together, decided I just have the misfortune of knowing a bunch of stingy fuckers (heh!), and got on with getting on.
Perhaps the single, biggest tactical error I made during NaNoWriMo was carving out the time to watch Patrick Rothfuss’ StoryBoard episode four. It’s not Rothfuss’ fault, but after watching that episode and the video I posted not so long ago (I believe I mentioned watching StoryBoard in a recent posting) I had a nostalgic fervor that resulted in me hunting down first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rule books… perhaps “obsession” might be a better way to characterize it.
I can’t recall exactly when it was that I first played Dungeons & Dragons… it might have been the summer between my 5th and 6th grade year. I spent the night at the house of a friend and his much older brother, home for the summer from college (my friend was a late-in-life baby for his parents), decided to hone his Dungeon Master chops by taking his little brother and his little brother’s impressionable friend though a simple dungeon. Back then, the Dungeons & Dragons rule book was a red, soft cover with holes punched in it for a three ring binder… like this:
All three of us shared one set of dice, and my very first character was a magic-user… I can’t recall the name… my friend played a cleric, I think. Together we entered a dungeon devised by his older brother, we opened the first door, encounter! We rolled initiative, I cast my magic missile, my buddy hit a goblin with his mace, and then we ran like hell all the way back to the village. It was awesome, and I was hooked. We played all night. By the end of the summer, our guys were 3rd level, and we wanted to continue the adventure… we had cleared out the first two floors of the home made dungeon, but his brother was leaving and he was taking the books with him.
During the first month back at school, I found and bought a copy of the Dungeons & Dragons rule book, found out it only took characters up to 3rd level, and had to raise money to buy the second book (the blue one pictured above which takes characters from 4th through 14th level). We played one on one like this for just a brief time, and then my friend lost interest and I was stuck with books and dice and no one to play with. I eventually got another friend interested and then we went berserk. To complicate matters, I had my eye on this every time I went to the bookstore:
Dungeons & Dragons was like a gateway drug, and it led to the playing of Star Frontiers, Gamma World, Battle Tech, Star Trek the role-playing game, Marvel Superheroes, and more… much more.
What does any of this have to do with NaNoWriMo and writing a novel. Well: it intersects with my participation in the NaNoWriMo challenge because I haven’t played Dungeons & Dragons in 13 years and taking the time out to listen to Patrick Rothfuss, Peter V. Brett, Naomi Novik, Myke Cole, and Saladin Ahmed talk about how Dungeons & Dragons honed their storytelling abilities and equipped them with the tools they use as novelists to this very day made me realize that I was doing the same thing they were. My writing and my reading are partly an homage to my years spent playing role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. It will likely make no sense to you if you never played Dungeons & Dragons, or if you played for a little while and decided it was not for you… or if you believed the bad press the game got back in the day and chose to stay as far the hell away from it as possible. For me it was an obsession, and a critical part of my childhood and later development. So much so that I acquired the 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons core rule books (on the extreme cheap, by the way) over the span of a week.
As you can probably tell, being that the topic hijacked this posting, my NaNoWriMo work suffered a similar trip to the back-burner. So it was in mad panic that over this last week I got my shit together, pulled my head out of my ass (temporarily, I assure you), and put the old shoulder to the wheel. At the end of this challenge I wrote the way I should have written over the course of the entire month — with abandon, just the bones, and with an eye toward “salvageability.” I bashed out the last 3000 words last night, and pushed the counter over by 500 words just for good measure. If I had freed myself up like that from the get-go, I would have finished the novel in fifteen days and probably could have started a second one. For a while there I wasn’t entirely certain I had it in me to finish this year, but then I called myself on my own bullshit. I made a deal with myself; I said, “Self, you fucking procrastinator, we are going to finish this novel or I am going to make absolute certain that I publicly shame us for not having the stones to cross the finish line.” I promised myself that, in the event of my giving up on the challenge, I would spare no expense to custom design a t-shirt that read: “NaNoWriMo 2012 Epic Failure, Mock me with Abandon” on the front, and “Losers like this deserve all the shame they can get” on the back for me to wear everyday until November 2013 when I might be able to redeem myself. It was the old, stockades in the public square approach, and it worked.
There was absolutely no reason for me not to finish; sure, life got in the way… but then life gets in the way constantly — that’s life. In the end I had to beat myself at my own bullshit; I had to call myself on my own laziness, and I had to man up to the challenge I signed up for. I’ll do NaNoWriMo again in 2013, I’ll finish again, I’ll win again, I’ll even solicit sponsorship again only this time I won’t hold my breath.
Now I’m going to go read… no noveling in December… the draft of The Everlasting Darkness needs a fleet of boatloads of editing and revision, and I need to add the meat back in now that the bones are laid… but that can wait until January. My StoryBoard write up before the new episode the week after next, well… I’ll just allow what I wrote above to stand; it really was an episode for former D&D gamers, and my advice out of that is: if you’ve never played a role-playing game, give it a whirl… you might be surprised by what a dynamic storytelling tool it is.