NaNoEdMo… I think. Maybe… No, I’m Pretty Sure.

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!

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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28 Responses to NaNoEdMo… I think. Maybe… No, I’m Pretty Sure.

  1. jubilare says:

    You pray. And then you listen. 🙂
    Blessings and guidance to you!


    • It sounds so simple. For this kind of decision, “pray” is a multi-day, through-the-day, internal, echoing, hesitating kind of way of being in the world. I suppose some bow the knees of their hearts or lift their chins to heaven and the Plan is made clear. That’s never been my experience.
      But the responses here make an interesting blog idea: The Prayer Life of the Writer. Anyone?

      Liked by 1 person

      • jubilare says:

        It’s not simple in my experience, either, but I find it works, nonetheless. Not in a shining beacon “do this” kind of way, but in hints and subtle pulls.

        I like the way Nehemiah prays, in the Bible. He prays, then sees what needs doing and does it, and he seems to pray while he’s doing it, too.

        I’m not comfortable pointing you in one way or another because some inspiration like this needs writing when it strikes (and whatever you do, at least take notes!) while sometimes you need to ruminate until it’s ready.
        Only you will be able to tell the difference, and I do believe that prayer can help with that. 🙂


      • jubilare says:

        As for a blog topic, I only realized (I’m slow, sometimes) that prayer applied to my writing-life a couple of years ago, so I’m a newbie to that process. ;P


  2. Carol says:

    Well, first you pray….. and then you…??? I’d say write or edit…whichever time and your mind allows you that day. As long as you are giving time to one or the other it’s all a part of the process. As for me…. I’ll be coming up with ideas for PiBoIdMo and hopefully quite a bit of writing AND editing!! 🙂


  3. Throw down and write, for sure. When the muses speak to you, you don’t ask them to wait!


  4. Don Johnson says:

    There is too much thinking when action is wanted. Throw it down and write in the tradition of Lewis himself and the lamppost.


  5. robstroud says:

    Sounds like a fascinating concept.


  6. monicast says:

    Wow what a turn of events! NaNo season always gives me the urge to write, but this year I am definitely going to be hacking away at my finished novel in order to edit and rewrite it for publication. My goal is to be ready for query by next year before I move and change jobs, and I always tell myself I will definitely finish editing by a certain time, but this time I mean it. I don’t want to start a new project until this one is finished, but if you have an idea in you, shake it loose!


    • Hack away! In my limited and thus far unsuccessful experience of querying, it takes a lot of time and (unless you are snapped up right away) a lot of emotional energy. Good luck, and connect on twitter if you do that sort of thing (@BrentonDana).


  7. Edit. Edit, edit, edit, and send out! If the new idea is any good, it will keep. But in order to make progress, you need to send your stuff out. I’m doing NaNoEdMo, too, more or less. Edit, my friend, EDIT!


  8. egwolfephd says:

    Mae govannen! Just stumbled on your blog (thank you, WordPress) and saw this post, and both story ideas sound fascinating! I’d say at least take notes on the sacrificial soldier now so that the idea doesn’t get away from you, though I don’t know that there’s any reason you can’t work on both the writing project and the editing project–just don’t sign up for NaNo and work at your own pace. Write one day and edit one day, perhaps, or alternate weeks.
    Fair warning, though, in case you’ve never had this experience: when a story idea ambushes me like that, sometimes it’s not only impossible not to write but also impossible to stop writing until it’s done. Happened to me last week, in fact–idea for a completely different genre, style, subject matter, everything from what I normally write, but it wouldn’t leave me alone. In the interest of getting it out of my brain so I could sleep, I sat down to write… and finished the first 16,000-word draft in just over two days, which I’m pretty sure is a personal record. 😛 So don’t be terribly astonished if something like that happens to you with this story, whenever you do get it written!

    In any case, fare you well, wherever you fare, and may your eyrie receive you at your journey’s end!


    • Wow, that’s nearly a novella! In the 3 Day Novel Contest I do 35-45k in 72 hours (about 50 hours of writing), but it takes all year to get to that weekend. 16k in 2 days is a lot.
      The more this rolls around, the more I realize I’d like to fictionalize the actual real people. I’d like to capture real artists and scientists and diplomats in their moment of mortality as a young person, long before success was assured. Some voices I know now, like C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien; others I need to recreate.
      Thanks for the note!


  9. Aonghus Fallon says:

    One possibility is to have your mc living a sort of dual life: he’s a soldier in the trenches but also one of the faerie. Crucially, he’s the only link between the only two worlds, the only member of the faerie council who can tell his comrades what’s wrong. His attempts to do so are undermined by how both aspects of him have only dim memories of the other, giving rise to the question; is the soldier dreaming of being one of the faerie (a sort of counter-narrative to sustain him in the trenches)? Or is it the other way round? Is the faerie lord (or whatever) dreaming of being a soldier in the great war as an attempt to ready himself for the conflict that is to come?

    If you really wanted to gild the lily, you could have the soldier being Tolkien himself and imply it was this particular experience that inspired Tolkien to write ‘The Hobbit’ and LOTR.


    • I hadn’t thought of blending the two stories…. That’s interesting to me. I’m not sure. This character is so well formed in my head, I’m not sure. He could be fey, but I don’t think so. He is certainly mortal. His life-spirit is no good if he doesn’t risk it all.
      Gilding lilies is a good activity, but Tolkien is frightening territory. Besides being sued if I actually used Tolkien as a character, the fan base is just so large and enigmatic. My Tolkien posts have immediately twice the readers as any other topic. Tis a road I’d fear to tread.


  10. Bill says:

    “If these are the leading men of the century who survived, imagine who died.”
    That is such a powerful question.
    Think of the artists and poets that we know were killed. How many others who might otherwise have enriched our culture and world with art, literature, architecture, philosophy, theology, science, etc. were killed? Every death in that war was a tragedy of course but, as your question suggests, some of those lives were stolen not just from their families and friends, but from all of humanity.


    • Yes, that’s the question that haunted me for a week or so. Was it the “Kite-Runner” author who suggested that all sin is theft, and killing is stealing someone from the future, and stealing his children and great-grandchildren? Intriguing idea.


  11. sdorman2014 says:

    engaging premise!

    thinking of corporal Hitler. would there have been the destruction of millions, and a WWII, if that single individual had died in the first war?

    would like to read your “praying writers” post someday.


    • That’s also been kicking around. I have (in my prewriting) this character crossing the line to meet a German, like Wittgenstein. But I’m so tempted to have Hitler. I don’t know. I have to write the baseline stories first. And as it is epistolary and a series of stories about an individual, I still want a plot–it has to go somewhere.
      I’m not sure about the Praying Writers post. It’s simmering, but I’m an awful model of it.


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