National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts in just nine days, and I’ve signed on again. This will be my sixth year in a row to join thousands of other people in the crazy rush of writing 50,000 words in 30 days.
Usually, November catches me by surprise, and I only have a few days to cook up an idea. This year, I started thinking about my NaNoWriMo novel early in October. Since I enjoy NaNoWriMo so much, I thought I’d treat myself to a little anticipation. On October 3rd, I started making a list of story ideas from scraps and notes and fragments I have lying around in notebooks and stuffed in my filing cabinet. My list is currently 21 items long, with everything from ideas that are a single phrase to stories I’ve already spent months working on.
Even though the list was rich (to me, anyway), it wasn’t until last week that I finally got excited about using one of the ideas for this November. My sister reminded me of Action Man and Dialogue Dog, superheroes who help struggling writers. We came up with them together, back in 1997, when I was frustrated with an assignment I had been given in my creative writing class: Write a scene with two characters that uses action and dialogue. I tend to be rebellious when it comes to writing exercises anyway, but the pointlessness of this one was so great that I wanted to scream. Cleo helped me to laugh about it and we wound up creating these two superheroes who live in a alley next to a library and help people to write. As a story idea, it seemed like a natural choice for NaNoWriMo — completely silly and guaranteed fun.
As we talked about it, I came up with some additional characters like Critic and Critique, a married couple who pick at each other when they don’t have someone creative to abuse. I thought about bad writing advice, and the myriad of books on how to write. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a character who is a personification of Strunk & White’s famous style book? A story that combines the playful banter of superheroes with bitching about all the writing “rules”, that has guys in tights show up when a writer is struggling with writer’s block or trying to find the right word? Hilarious, amusing, and entertaining. A perfect choice for NaNoWriMo.
Within 24 hours, I was frozen. Paralyzed. Terrified of the very idea that had seemed so juicy and exciting the day before. I had realized there wasn’t any plot there, and that I wouldn’t be able to sustain 50,000 words of nonsense without having something Happen. I had a single scene, and maybe a couple of funny lines. And that was all.
So I am now filled with Doubt. I know I run into doubt with my projects all the time. In fact, last year’s NaNoWriMo blogging (starting here) was full of posts about how I was lost and then found my way and then got lost again. Over and over and over. It’s part of the process. But I’ve never been scared of NaNoWriMo before. I’ve always felt that I could do it, even when I didn’t know for sure what was coming next.
Was it a mistake for me to start so far in advance?, my Inner Procrastinator wonders. Heck, I have nine whole days until November. What I am I doing playing with an idea five days before I normally do? By starting early, I’ve opened the door to Doubt and have lost trust in my ability to come up with ideas under the gun, even though I’ve done it during the last five Novembers. The people who like to plan and outline before they write say it is key to having a good story when you are done. I’ve never actually managed to plan ahead before.
So maybe this is my year to do something different with my writing for NaNoWriMo.
Or maybe I’ll prep my superhero story and on October 31st have a crazy new idea that I write about instead.
But, despite my Doubt and Fear (and let’s not even mention The Critic, who isn’t just a character for the book and thinks this whole thing will be a huge waste of time), I have a tiny bit of hope. Whenever I talk about them, I get excited about Action Man, Dialogue Dog, and the others. So maybe I can write 50,000 words about them if I just spend enough time daydreaming. I’ve got nine more days to find out.