Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Day 26: Reaching the Summit

November has only days to live and NaNoWriMo is winding down for another year. We're at day 26 and if all goes well, I will finish tonight, the earliest that I've ever finished a NaNo. At least I think so. I don't have that great a story but there are bits and pieces in the debris that I can see have potential in something else. In writing, nothing is wasted. You learn from the junk and you gloat over the gems.

This year's WriMo group has been a lively one and that's made it a lot more interesting. I'm feeling a bit down knowing that in just days it will all be over and everyone will go back to their daily lives. Part of you is always relieved when NaNo ends but there is this other part that hates to see it stop, to lose your writing buddies for another year, to not feel the exhilaration of trying to meet that daily goal, the excitement of write-ins, and just talking over your story. Even if you win NaNo, you lose something.

We do NaNo for all kinds of reason. You always hope to end up with a great story. Most are probably not so great. The more serious among us will wrestle with that story like Jacob with the Angel of the Lord and they'll throw out more than their hip to accomplish it. For me it has always been a personal challenge.

When I did my first NaNo in 2006 it was all about seeing if I could write 50,000 words of a story. I probably had several times that in boxes of handwritten and typed stories. I really had no idea exactly how many words that was. It's a lot of words. I made it to just over 30K that first year. I was disappointed but when I finished, I knew that the next year, I was going to try again. I won that time. From that point on, every year, I've set myself the goal of writing 50,000 words, with mixed results.

For me, the exhilaration of hitting the flow and the words pouring from your brain through your fingertips and onto the computer screen is about the greatest high you can get. Of course, there are days when you would kill for the next flow fix, when the words are dragged from you like a 19th century dentist pulling bad teeth. It's hard and it hurts. You don't stop, though. You keep going because, after you've done this a few times, you know that the next fix is just a matter of the right word, the right phrase, the right sentence.

There are unexpected side effects to participating in NaNo. You meet some really nice people from all over the world, online and in person. Many writers are pure introverts. We don't mix well with people. In fact, if asked, we'd rather not. I've noticed that once you get them out of the shadows, NaNo has a way of socializing introverts. They become much more talkative and excited about things, if by things you mean stories. They almost become extroverts. Almost.

I think the most radical side effect is what you learn about yourself and your writing. I've become less of an introvert. I'm a lot more confident in my ability as a writer. NaNo has honed my skills to a finer edge and so I write better. No, I'm not published. That has never been a goal for me, a dream maybe, not a real goal.

More than once I've been asked, "Why do NaNoWriMo?" Why do people climb Mt. Everest? I'll let George Mallory tell you.

“People ask me, 'What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?' and my answer must at once be, 'It is of no use.' There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behaviour of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron... If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.” 

― George Mallory, Climbing Everest: The Complete Writings of George Mallory

I guess you could say that NaNoWriMo is my Mt. Everest.

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