Normally my protagonists are the ones to embark on a journey, but last month I found myself exploring unfamiliar territory as I endeavored to complete NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo is a mountain that every writer should climb at least once. It tests your inner critic, your work ethic, and your creative energy.
At times, I was forced to leave chapters and plot points unfinished so that I could keep getting that word count up. It hurt, but I did it. After writing my novel all day, I would go to Jersey City Writers prompt nights and realize I had zero creativity left. My first writing exercise would come out like, “Bill went into the store. He bought some pop-tarts and drove home.”
The first week of November, I wrote a lot. I had so many ideas, I was excited and I had a good feeling about where this novel was going. I think I my word count per day was the highest the first week. In the middle, you will notice a plateau in productivity on my graph. I struggled with the direction of the novel, started thinking about it as a whole. I had all these characters and tensions, but now what? This was a crime novel and halfway in, I still didn’t know who my villain was. For about a week in the middle, I hardly wrote anything. There was a distinct period where I was kicked in the face by my old demon… writer’s block. I drew up character charts, I filled in some descriptions, I moved things around. As it got to be November 20th, it hit me that I only had so many days to finish. NaNoWriMo was my antagonist and we needed to reach a resolution. It was time for a showdown.
The JCW marathons really helped. I would spend the whole day writing, get about 3,000 words and then I would feel like sleeping for two days, but I would go to these marathons and crank out another 1,500 words. Just having the energy of the group, the word wars, the encouragement (and of course Dan’s Swiss chocolate) made it all possible. Without these, I don’t know if I would have made it. You’ll notice at the end of my progress graph, I am scurrying to finish. I have JCW to thank for this spike in productivity.
I’ll never forget how I felt when I had 49,900 words. I was writing the last little epilogue to my story where the main character is in an insane asylum and his best friend comes to visit. This was the most crucial part of the story. I had to resolve all the bad blood between these two and leave the reader with the sense that Nathan made the right choice in his ultraviolent finale. I slowed down significantly on these last 100 words and when I hit 50,000, I was still writing. It was a strange moment. I wasn’t ready to let go of it, but I knew that even after I validated my word count, I would still look forward to months of editing.
My novel “Knights of Suburbia” is composed of a prologue, 18 chapters and an epilogue. It follows three adolescents in a suburban community. A marine comes home from Iraq and notices every injustice around him. Powerless to stop specific atrocities in Iraq, he feels obligated to do something about his world here and now. He sacrifices himself trying to protect the last shred of innocence he truly cherishes, his childhood sweetheart Alexandria Brook. Fraternity violence against women, drug addiction and animal abuse take place just beneath the surface of suburban bliss. At first all we see are the pretty houses, the gardens and shopping malls, but the darkest stories ever told originate in these small towns.
Thanks to JCW, caffeine and Pandora’s classical guitar playlist, the story was finished from beginning to middle to end. Now I have so many ideas of how to edit it and I can’t wait to get started. The best thing about NaNoWriMo is having the final product at the end, something to show for all your hard work. And it only took a month!