I won’t be participating in this year’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)–at least not in the usual sense. I know my writing habits. To do 1667 words each day–or 2000 words a day to account for pattern-breaking days–I need 2 or 2.5 hours each day. I can do some writing and editing in the in-between times, but I will still need two solid writing hours each day. I work Mon-Fri, 6am-5pm, so that won’t be happening.
But I do like the motivational structure of NaNoWriMo. I like taking structured time and setting it aside with a challenge. I also like the software that NaNoWriMo provides, though I could do that with Excel I’m sure.
So, instead of writing a novel in 30 days, I am going to edit one. I am setting November as National Novel Editing Month, NaNoEdMo. I thought I invented this idea, but apparently some people did it last year, setting aside 50 hours for editing. I have no doubt I will do 50 hours of editing as I edit every day at work. So I will set the modest goal of editing a chapter or a short story each day through November.
Part of this challenge is to give energy to my dark fantasy, The Curse of Téarian. This was my NaNoWriMo project in 2012, and one that is worth working on, I think. I have completed two full drafts, so I only need one more solid rewrite before I move on to the pitch stage.
I excel in the prewriting stage of creating fiction. I love making character lists, drawing maps, writing out plotlines or outlines, and fighting through the logical problems of development. I love the rush of writing. Part of the reason I like the 3 Day Novel Contest (3DNC) is that it really is a rush of excitement. When I set aside the time, I am good at getting the story out into a decent first draft. But there it sits, all my inspiration and a few hundred pages. For some reason I resist editing. I’m hoping that November will give me that boost to finish what is the hardest stage of writing for me.
So I will spend November editing. I have 5 or 6 short stories to edit and 27 chapters of Téarian. It will be a full month, I’m sure.
What about you? Are you in for NaNoWriMo? Or are you twisting it to your own nefarious ends, as I am? I’d love to hear what you are up to, and will be tweeting my experience @BrentonDana.
I wrote the above yesterday, certain that November for me would be dedicated only to editing. Part of editing is rewriting, so I knew there would be some new work–updated chapters, rewritten scenes, changed endings and beginnings. Aside from a few blogs and an academic paper due, however, I was not intending on producing any new fiction.
A late night of mind wandering has challenged that. These ideas often come to me when I’m ready to move across the threshold of consciousness to the mysterious world beyond.
I have had WWI on my mind. It is 100 years since the Great War broke out in Europe and spread itself think across our globe. I thought the battlefields in France would make a good setting for a story. I am always struck by C.S. Lewis‘ description of the war, brief as it is:
I think it was that day I noticed how a greater terror overcomes a less: a mouse that I met (and a poor shivering mouse it was, as I was a poor shivering man) made no attempt to run from me. Through the winter, weariness and water were our chief enemies. I have gone to sleep marching and woken again and found myself marching still. One walked in the trenches in thigh gum boots with water above the knee; one remembers the icy stream welling up inside the boot when you punctured it on concealed barbed wire…. [As] for the rest, the war—the frights, the cold, the smell of H.E., the horribly smashed men still moving like half-crushed beetles, the sitting or standing corpses, the landscape of sheer earth without a blade of grass, the boots worn day and night till they seemed to grow to your feet… (Surprised by Joy, ch. XII).
The image of the mouse nestling up against the soldier strikes me. The images of mud and blood fill in the colourless, soundless video recordings of the trenches I have in my mind. At the end of this passage in Surprised by Joy, Lewis remembers being struck by the fact that this war, this was what Homer wrote about. For me, I say, this is what Tolkien wrote about.
As I thought more and more of the mud and blood, the mice and men, a story idea began to fill my imagination. I thought of the grassless fields of poisoned mud and spilt blood, and I wondered what those living in the invisible world were experiencing. Not all worlds are in the same dimension, and I wondered what the faërie people that shares the physical location of the French frontline were experiencing.
What I imagined was a kingdom of fey completely unaware of our human world. They live in the grass and trees upon the rolling hills of what we call France, but what they call Lörendahl. A faërie council is drawn up to investigate why their fields are slowly dying and why the wells are slowly being poisoned. The story would have one person or a group of people from fairyland finding their way into the human dimension. There they will discover that the violence is so great that death has crossed the threshold into all other worlds. It is a fantasy version of Robert Burns’ world of mice and men.
I think it is a striking image for a story. For weeks I have been trying to squeeze it into a plot and nothing is happening. Perhaps a short story will do.
But last night another line from Lewis’ war experience kept me from sleep:
“Every few days one seemed to meet a scholar, an original, a poet, a cheery buffoon, a raconteur, or at the least a man of good will” (Surprised by Joy, ch. XII).
Intriguingly, Lewis talks of WWI in mostly positive language. The descriptive violence above is really a throwaway in that chapter of his autobiography. This image of the different stories in WWI struck me last night, particularly since I had spent the weekend thinking about this question: Who died in WWI that would have cured cancer? or written the genre-defining new novel? or created a new school of art or architecture? or designed a carbon-neutral fuel? or shared stories of life to someone who would go on to change the world for the worse? It is a terrifying question. Lewis and Tolkien both survived WWI, as did Winnie the Pooh creators Milne & Shepherd, Ernest Hemingway & F. Scott Fitzgerald, Humphrey Bogart and Winston Churchill and Edwin Hubble and Sir Alexander Fleming and Pope John XXIII…. If these are the leading men of the century who survived, imagine who died.
Out of this mental game has emerged a new story idea, an unusual soldier–a combination of Doestoevsky’s idiot, Jean Auel’s Ayla, and Pressfield’s Bagger Vance–that links the war letters of great characters who live through the war and change the world. He takes their deaths, so to speak, wandering though the war taking their wounds so they can live to share their gifts with the world.
So now I’m stuck. The image won’t go away. All day as I have been working, the character is digging into my imagination. I can see him now, sharing a cigarette on the roof of a train car with a young, frightened poet. It is dark, and the only sounds are the dishwashers in the mess and the slow, steady thud of bombs on the line. Every now and then the Eastern horizon lights up yellow, deepens to orange, and then fades again to black…. I know the character, and I know him well. He has emerged fully formed in my imagination.
What do I do? Do I throw down and write? Oh well. I have a couple of days to think about it!