My Writing Journey (So Far): What NaNoWriMo Taught Me

mad-writer

If my writing excursion was a journey for adventure and I had to tell you where I was at this moment, I would say that I just passed the City Limit sign. The comfort of home is still close behind and I could easily say, screw this, and turn around. But, being the fool that I am, and one that likes to explore the dark unknown, I don’t think I will. So, I’m tightening my shoelaces, hefting my computer up my back, and setting my toes for the horizon and the dark high peak that sits there, so distant.

This journey started in September of 2011 when my old dear friend and writer, Dennis McDonald, told me of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and threw down the gauntlet. We were to compete, not against each other but together, to create a 50K novel in thirty-one days. Before this, I was in limbo; my first wife of 25 years had died ten years before, had retired from a 24 year stint in the fire department,  and I had failed, miserably, in a second marriage. I had no direction, little to do of interest, and just generally felt a bit lost. But I had always been a creative type. I’m a musician (had a great little rock band for a summer), produced near a hundred television shows on a Cable Access station (producing , co-writing, and playing a TV horror host, and even wrote, produced, and directed a horror film there) and at the time I had no creative outlet. So I told my friend, “You’re on.” I had an idea that I had rolling in my head for some time and this seemed like a good reason to pull it out. In the 31 days, I sweated and toiled and bled every day to crap this idea onto the page, and on the last day of the competition I had 50,500 words down. Ten days later I completed the manuscript at 65K. And damn, that felt good. I had just written my first novel.

I spent the next few months cleaning it up, letting a couple of friends read it, and proudly I sent my baby, entitled Hellbug, off to a professional editor.  And that’s when reality slapped me upside the head. Hellbug, I discovered from this honest and forthright editor, was a schizophrenic mess of changing points of view, wandering plot, with too many characters, creating a defused read. I was an “amateur”, with my book needing a complete rewrite. Though the critique hit me hard in the negative aspects, I was told I had a strong writing ability and lots of promise, which was kind of like getting a dollop of whip cream and a cherry on top of my pile of shit. Gee thanks, I thought at the time.

But he was right, and I had to face that. I was an amateur, a baby learning to walk. Sure, I could go a few steps, but I was wobbly, unable to get from Point A to Point B without falling on my face or my ass. I had to strengthen my legs, and learn to walk flat land and then some hills before I ever could face the mountain of a novel. I was going to take this as a big lesson, lick my wounds, heal the bruises, and dust off my ass to try again, but this time, with open eyes. I had to hone the craft of writing, so I decided to work small, taking the suggestions of the editor, and write short stories and work to get published. And it worked. After six months of rejections, I had a short story accepted and published in Fading Light: An Anthology of the Monstrous  alongside some very prominent horror and fantasy writers. Then another published (Fifty Shades of Decay), and now a third recently accepted. I could do this.

My point is this: NaNoWriMo taught me a lot. It set my mind free. I had attempted writing fiction before, but it was difficult to get fifty words down in a day. I would obsess over every word and line, wanting to get them perfect the first time. And I would give up. This writing thing was just too damn hard! How did anyone get anything done?!  My imagination felt jailed, yearning for escape, blocked by invisible prison guards. My dreams in sleep had always fascinated me (I’m the only person I know that enjoys their nightmares, sitting above them as the terror unfolds, thinking, “This is so cool, let’s see where this goes). Not just the content, but how my mind could just make such stuff up and spit it at me with such ease.  I wanted to learn to do that while awake, but had no idea how. NaNoWriMo, under its heady demand, opened that floodgate. I wrote without editing what I just wrote, let the story take hold, and let my dream-mind do the work. Instead of being obsessive about the words, I became a conduit for the story, letting my fingers take care of the words. I realized, once one knows how to write a decent sentence, you stop worrying about it, and really start creating. Granted, what I did create was a mess. What I took from that was I needed to plan, to be able to see the big picture, to create a focus beforehand with walls to keep me from wandering, and then I could set my imagination to run free within those boundaries. Doing so, I was in no way compromising myself, but learning the craft, so whatever art that is there, can blossom.  I can now write 1000K in a couple of hours. The work of writing is still hard as hell, but has become much easier.

And yes, I started another novel, pausing only to write the last two accepted short stories. I had to jump back on that big horse again and attempt to teach it who’s the boss. But this time, with more focus, sharpened writing, and a sense of purpose. The first draft of Hungry Ghosts, a zombie apocalypse novel set in Tibet, is now in the hands of trusted beta readers, secluded from my eyes for the next four weeks, and is going to go through the furnace and hammering of a samurai sword. And yes, oh editor, (if you’re reading this, you know who you are) you’re going to see me again.

Hellbug is now in a drawer, and sometimes I hear its clawing and buzzing. Yes, yes, my little friend. Be patient. I will bring you out to play again. You’re just too cool of an idea to keep hidden away in the dark. But not now. Stay in your cocoon a little longer. Grow some proper wings, and I will teach you to fly. Freedom will come. But not now, my little evil buddy, not now.

Hellbug mock cover

My imagined cover for Hellbug

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