Time flies when you're writing thousands of words every day. It's all because of National Novel Writing Month, a masochistic writing commitment which I've attempted and failed to complete twice before. But this year, I told myself, would be different. This year I would be joining several wonderful friends in the NaNoWriMo attempt, and would benefit from their encouragement and solidarity. Also, I would be publicly stating my intent to do NaNoWriMo as part of my work for The Postmasters Podcast, and our audience would hold me accountable. On top of all this, my writing life is better prepared now for such a mission. In years past, I'd tried NaNoWriMo while working on my master's thesis or trying to jumpstart other new projects simultaneously. Huge mistake. This year I've got my head on straight, my priorities aligned, and time in the day to write write write write write. And then write some more. It would be different this time.
I was right. Since November 1, I've averaged almost 2,500 words a day . That's nearly 1,000 words more than the required daily average for a successful NaNoWriMo (1,667). It's working. I haven't missed a day. My novel is developing. Shooting up into the air like some kind of jungle plant, thriving under the pressure and the heat and all that unselfconscious first-drafting.
I wake in the morning, shuffle into the office, close the door, sit in the chair and turn on my computer. Scrivener (the software I'm using the first time this year) is already open to my project . There's a fresh text document ready for me (titled the night before with the day's date and a few key words to remind myself where my characters are and where they need to go next). I begin. Tap-tap-tap-clatter-clatter-backspace-backspace-backspace-tap-clatter-tap. New leaves and branches and blooms on the jungle plant, out of my control, from someplace sincere within my writerly heart. When I write, my personality splinters, and I hear the voices of writers from Hemingway to Kingsolver to O'Brien hollering at me, whispering to me. Do it like this. Not like that. Go further. Write faster!
Forty-six thousand words so far. And a lot of it is terrible!
For instance, I've wasted time on sentences like this:
Closer they came, but slowly, and Dottie found herself staring at them, trying to guess what was passing between them. The mood was tense.
That's a whole lot of ugly, bad grammar in one place. And boring to boot!
I've also been typing so fast, I've managed to garble perfectly good sentences with duplicate words, like so:
Triage. The moment when when mere moments made a difference, and if you wasted them with the wrong boy you might lose the right one.
Don't worry. I've tried to keep the word count padding to a minimum, though, I have allowed the crutch of cliché to creep in when I need to keep up my momentum:
Her mind was running wild and she knew she couldn't afford that now.
If I weren't obliterating the minimum each day, I'd be unable to afford such lame sentences, too. But it's all okay, because occasionally I've managed truth and beauty and, hopefully, some of the gravity I pray will be integral to this story.
Planes she couldn't see droned above her in the night sky, shadowy as fish in a river, but she caught herself looking up anyway as the buzzing drew closer, so close she wondered if she could reach up and feel her fingers pass hotly over the slick belly of an enemy aircraft.
I have faith the gravity will be present if I'm honest and follow my instincts and try very hard not to try very hard.
In my better moments, I've met characters I didn't know existed, and they now feel like the roots which hold the whole story upright. I've also let myself chase tangents and dwell on the philosophies behind the actions of war. These pieces will probably need to be chopped away eventually, but this is a first draft, so exposition can remain until I reach the end of it.
The end of it. I am so curious to see what that will look like. I will reach the NaNoWriMo 50,000-word goal on Thursday before we hop on a boat to Copenhagen. In regards to NaNoWriMo 2013, I will be done. I will have won.
But thinking about that, I'm out of breath. And heartsick. It's a false summit, and that disheartens me. Yesterday, a partially remembered poem kept snagging itself in my mind.
...and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep...
Couldn't for the life of me or anyone else remember where those lines came from, only that they repeated thusly and were important. Thank god for Google.
In his poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening , Robert Frost illuminates the scene of a man pausing his one-horse sleigh beside a patch of darkened forest. He watches "the woods fill up with snow" and meditates on the silence of it. His impatient horse shakes his harness so that the bells ring out between the trees, and the man says, in the last stanza:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep.
My subconscious, the same one I haven't allowed any say over the creation of this first draft, has, apparently, been watching all along. And she couldn't remain silent any longer because she was afraid I might slow down. It is highly likely that this novel will require a first draft around 150,000 words long, in which case, I'm barely a third of the way done. NaNoWriMo 2013 was a jump-start, and that's all. And so, I've got to move along, sleighbells ringing, and find my way to the end of the story, because that's the real promise I've made... to the women who do battle between the pages, as well as to myself.
And I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.
And miles to go before I sleep.