How to America: Tales from the Train: part 2

Well, this year’s NaNoWriMo ended yesterday, and  with it, my hopes and dreams of adding another “win” to my list.

You can check out my stats here:

As you can see, my final word count was 43,355, a whopping 6,645 words short of the finish line.

Despite technically not winning, I’m still glad I went for it this year.  I learned a lot in the process, despite it being my 8th year already, which is really the most important thing, right?  Some thoughts:

  1.  I was extremely passionate about my idea… at the time that I came up with it.  Which was in September, over a month before writing time started.  I figured that the passion and excitement would remain until NaNo time.  Not so.  My story was based on capturing the personalities of various people who I encountered during a trip, and a month later, those vivid memories had already faded enough that I sat there at my keyboard thinking “Why do I care about this person?  Were they even interesting?  They seemed interesting at the time.”  So yeah, it’s just easier to write about stuff when you’re pumped about it.  Hence in the middle of the month I could easily dedicate myself to an impromptu, researched blog post about refugees, but could not force myself to write about several hours of my boyfriend looking out the window at cornfields.
  2. I usually struggle to find consistent writing time, but can generally make up for it by dedicating a couple weekends or evenings to really pushing on juts going on a roll for a full afternoon.  I failed to do that this year.  There were occasional times that I could have worked that in no problem, but my boredom with my own story was overtaken by all the other stuff I would rather be doing with my time, like running, cooking, yard work, reading, etc.  Generally I’ve seen my writing time as my “me time,” to escape into a new exciting world and let off some steam, but with a story that I did not care about, writing became just stress and no fun.
  3. Recognizing these problems about halfway through the month, I decided to switch gears and just take my story off the rails.  NaNoWriMo organizers constantly advocate the idea of just going nuts and taking your story pretty much anywhere just for the sake of moving the plot.  Throw in something crazy and illogical just to jump start your creativity.  So I went for it.  My previously insightful, character-focused, slow-moving tale about Americans and our changes and similarities across geography and demographics went right out the window, and suddenly armed men stormed the train, the passengers detached their train car to escape, and a rag tag bunch is now hiking in the wilderness.  When I left them, they had just discovered that a nuclear holocaust had started, and they were the lone survivors.  This story may have been really inspirational for someone else, but for me, it just made things worse.  When I wrote Holly, The Captain, and Handsome Jack, I told myself that it didn’t matter if the writing was bad and cheesy because it was a romance novel, so who cares?  And with that plan, I could move forward.  But in that case I still liked my own story, and took enjoyment in making the cheesiness ooze from the pages.  In this case, I just hated everything, and I especially resented my new storyline because it trampled all over the original idea, which I had actually quite liked.
  4. Outlining.  I should be outlining, always.  The only novel I’ve completed was Holly, The Captain, and Handsome Jack, and I think the main reason that that one succeeded was because I had outlined (sorta).  I came up with the entire story in my head, then I wrote the plot as bare-bones as possible and printed it out (it took 2 pages).  Then, when it came time to write, instead of going chronologically, I would pick which piece of the story I felt like writing that day.  What was I in the mood for tackling?  Once a piece of plot was complete, I highlighted it on my original outline, and kept going in that way until the entire outline was just a giant yellow block.  This worked great, because I was always excited to move on to something new, without being worried about what comes next.  For this year’s NaNo entry I wrote chronologically, though with some idea of where everything was going, and I just got bored and bogged down and overwhelmed when I realized we were a fifth of the way through and my characters hadn’t even boarded the damn train yet.
  5. As I was writing this crap book, my mind kept wandering to my other unfinished novel, mostly entries from previous years, and how much I would rather be working on those.  So that’s the main gift I’ve received from this year’s challenge:  a newly-rekindled passion to jump back into some of my other projects that bring me joy.  And who knows, maybe some other year I’ll be working on something I don’t like, and I’ll think back to this train story, and I’ll be inspired to jump back in and make it not garbage.

So that’s it.  Year 8 in the books.  Technically not a winner, but hey, who cares, it’s just NaNoWriMo, and I still love this annual tradition of challenging myself.  Until November 2016, when we meet again.

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