Here we are, December 2nd. National Novel Writing Month ended two days ago.
I have participated in this for several years now. I’ve won (i.e. hit 50K words) three times now. Let me just say the learning curve is steep. My first year, I won, and I have never, ever looked back at that story. It was awful, self indulgent, and often times read like a list of stage directions – “Person 1 goes to the sink, while person 2 crosses to the left of her.” (My background is in theatre, I think in stage directions sometimes.) Then came a string of years where the story didn’t quite have enough gas to get to 50K, one of those being the Changing Leaves novella that I am now posting here.
Last year was the first year I got a story that spanned the full 50K, and was interesting. While I got the plot all in line, it was a pretty two dimensional story, and my characters were flat. I’ve spent the last few months on revising it. It has been a huge job, and I’m still going. It’s not even to a point where I want someone to read it yet.
In the last year I have taken a writing class, submitted a short story to several magazines (all of which declined it), and spent a sizable chunk of my very slim sliver of free time learning what I can about writing. I have struggled to get to write every day, often having weeks upon weeks where I didn’t even glance at my laptop, much less get into writing.
But, I have kept coming back.
Now, this year. Here on the far side of November I have 54,080 words of a novel. A novel that likely has another 25,000-30,000 words left before the story is finished. A story that, while it needs work, is (hopefully) leaps and bounds ahead of last year’s already. I’m still writing, and I’m still enjoying the story. That alone makes it hugely different.
Someone asked me what I got out of doing NaNoWriMo – did I get a prize? What was winning? The first year I won, I was proud of myself, but it was in a “Yay!!! Now what?” kind of way. The second time I won, it was just a huge relief to get done. I put that manuscript away for a couple of months afterward. This year, I’m ready to keep going. I have more story there, and I have some ideas how to fix up last year’s. I have a couple of short stories wiggling around in my head, and quite a few more posts in Changing Leaves to share.
If I’m being realistic, there is a strong likelihood that, at the age of 41, nothing I am writing will ever see the inside of a bookstore. Unless I’m carrying it in my bag while I’m shopping. At times, that makes it feel like the most ridiculous thing I could possibly be spending my time on. Other times, it feels like it would save me a lot of energy to just give up now, after all, who is ever going to care about something I made up? Maybe if I had started in my 20s….maybe.
But you know what? I like writing. I like creating worlds and stories and people with big things to do. I like figuring it out, letting the characters talk to me and each other, painting pictures with words. Maybe all that happens is my kids see me writing, and decide to do some of their own. Maybe all that happens is there are a couple boxes worth of interesting things to sort through when I’m gone. Maybe it will all get lost and no one will ever see it. I don’t honestly know.
What I am learning is that just writing the stories is what’s important. Making the story that I can’t wait to find out the end to is the prize at the end of the month of writing. The story matters. Even if it is only to me.