A Writer’s Notebook: NaNoWriMo 2011, the recap

So, it’s finished. A final total of 51,557 words, most of them bad, most of them destined for the trash bin. But that’s what NaNoWriMo is all about: pounding out words no matter how bad they are, without attachment to what you write because you’re more likely than not to cut it all anyway.

What’s interesting is that this feels really good — I like having all this revision to do because I like having a text worth working on again!

I’v been here before, of course. My first attempt two years ago produced a strong first draft of a novel that after a lot of revision still retains much of its original shape and is now, in part, out in the world thanks for guest editor Shya Scanlon, publisher Ryan W. Bradley, and Sententia magazine. (Hagridden is a good novel, publishers — go pick up a copy of Sententia‘s issue 3 or contact me for details, if you’re interested.)

My second NaNoWriMo attempt, however, was an utter failure. I am almost certain to throw away basically all of what I wrote, but I don’t actually know that because I haven’t bothered to revisit that mess of text since I set it aside a year ago, and I’m not much interested in returning to it any time soon.

But this year, for all the bad writing I produced and the overall directionlessness (a word?) of this year’s novel, I’m still energized by the idea. In fact, now that I’ve gotten the worst of the writing out of the way, I’m actually more interested in the idea than I was when I started, and I hope to spend part of my winter break going back over the pieces and refining, rewriting, reimagining.

So, not a wasted effort at all!

Another cool thing about this year’s NaNoWriMo is that I got one of my students involved in it. It was exhilarating to watch him overcome his initial trepidation and become utterly absorbed in the process. He tried to convince me to let him count the effort as his in-class writing and give him credit for the novel; while I was tempted, I said no, and he still undertook the challenge! Which was awesome. (He did get a classroom assignment out of it, though — he wrote one of his assigned essays on his NaNoWriMo experience, and I was more than happy to give him credit for that!)

Better still, my student got so into the race to reach 50k that he began taunting me in class when his word count surpassed mine, daring me to catch up to him! And I have to say, this last week was hard work, with Thanksgiving and a huge pile of student essays coinciding with the final push to finish the novel, and I’m not entirely sure I would have made it if this student hadn’t been sitting in the classroom, smirking and saying, “So, Dr. Sam, when are you going to write as many words as I have?” So, seriously, big thanks “Fayt Holland” (his screen name) for goading me across the finish line this year, and congrats to him and all the other NaNoWriMo winners this year!

And now, because I had twenty chapters but only four weeks of Notebook posts, I’m going to offer the last of the excerpts. Next week, it’s back to other sorts of writing exercises.

from “Winter Struggles Even as the Night”

She focused on her breath, slow inhalations and long, thin exhalations, her lips slack but her throat taut from trying to silence herself. No sound. She heard the blood in her ears and worried they might hear it too. She flicked her eyes about in the dark, wondering if there was any light she hadn’t noticed that might catch in her whites and reveal her awake. She prayed the rumors were true, that already their skin had gone pale and slick like mole rats, that they walked about sleeveless or even shirtless, that they smelled so pungently of rotting leaves and burnt hair that if she didn’t see they gray, waxy skin in the broken moonlight outside, she’d be able to smell them when they entered her house.

She was thinking “when.” Not “if.” And she’d stopped breathing altogether.

from “The Marrow Seethes with All We’ve Let Them Take”

We are here, protected by the people. But it has not been easy. When the poor moon first cracked and sent her children for protection to the earth, and the the earth then shook in anger at being so imposed upon, and the sea rose up in rebellion and the fires spewed up in sickness and the storm raged and the clouds covered up all of it in shame and mourning, and the people began to die and wander confused among their friends and descendants, some of them aware of us for the first time, they came here. The living and the dead, crowded at our gates, the living seeking refuge and the dead seeking solace. And we were overwhelmed. They crowded in, the living trampling our roots, breaking our windows, muddying our rice mats and bending our branches. The dead caused unnatural winds because so many had swarmed inside and them would run, startled, every time our well-dippers tapped against rock and bamboo stopper. It was bad enough that our moon lake was gray with ash, our lanterns extinguished in the winds, our flowers shriveling in the dual onslaught of heated air and early winter. But the people were too much. So we had to take control.

from “A Cackling, Drunken Cure”

He came back to their house with the ring in his pocket. It had been easy to find and impossible to find, all the rings scattered among necklaces and collectible coins and shattered glass on the pawn shop floor, all the firearms and electronics looted but the unsurvivable riches left for the junk they’d become, but this ring, the exact one he needed, was just one among that many. He’d been gone for hours and she had gone out herself, probably just to piss in the backyard but he looked for a note anyway. There wasn’t one. It had to be the backyard, then. The door to the cabinet over the microwave, where they used to keep the whiskey, still hung crooked. It would not shut. He wished it was still stocked — he needed a drink. But he was not nervous, because when she said yes, he thought, it would all be fine. Tomorrow, he would repair the door, and secure their fence and till their yard for a small garden and scavenge for paint — paint wasn’t a survival good, was it? — and begin to paint a nursery.

He drank water from a plastic cup and put it back in the sink where he’d found it, and he went into the bedroom to arrange the sheets and fluff the pillows. Tonight, the house would be clean, the ramen would taste rich, the sex would finally happen. He patted his pocket several times while he cleaned.

He knew she’d said before that weddings and families made no sense anymore, but when she saw the house, and she saw the ring, and she saw all the things he was prepared to do, to change for her, she would see what he saw: a future, however dim, themselves the only light in a choked, blackened world.

from “Today, Tomorrow, and the Day After That”

A group of highwaymen saw the boy on the road and tracked him to my house, and they came banging on my door in the middle of the night. I kept all the chains on when I opened up but they shined the lights mounted on their guns into my eyes and backed me from the door enough to force in their pilfered Jaws of Life, so I shouted at them to stop and let me unlatch everything. No sense letting them destroy what’s left of my home. They kept their lights in my face as they interrogated me, asking who the boy was I was harboring. “Harboring? I said. “He’s just some child who got himself lost in the forest. I let him in out of pity. I know times are hard, but there is still pity in the world.” But they didn’t buy it and they help me at gunpoint while they searched his clothes. They took him into another room. It was quiet, no sounds of struggle, but still I shudder to think what might have been going on in there. Anyway, they found the letter, opened it and read it, and while they surely couldn’t have understood its importance, they were smart enough to know it must have been worth something to send out on the road like that. So they took the letter and the boy and they left my house with both.

This is as accurate an account as I can bring myself to write at the moment. Whether or not the boy lived or the letter has reached its destination, I couldn’t say. I can guess with some certainty that the highwaymen won’t continue this chain of written accounts. They have other concerns.

from “With a Doomed, Mortal Joy”

Good morning, listeners! As always, I don’t know if anyone can hear this, but welcome to day 37 of our broadcast. Today’s news, as every day’s news, is brought to you by Oregon Public Broadcasting, the former staff of which was nice enough not to loot their own offices when everyone got out of town.

The traffic is at the same standstill it’s been at for the last six weeks, with all highways impassable and all major bridges out. If you’re out there in a vehicle, stick to the city roads as usual.

The current temperature is 56 here at the studio, and if current patterns hold, the low tonight will probably be in the upper forties. As always, it’s hard to tell if we have rain in our forecast, but ashfall is light so except any showers to be a bit cleaner today.

In our studio today is local poet Harmon Jasper, and he says he’s composed some new Sunray Poems to try and brighten our days, and afterward we’ll hear from Professor Jeanine dePalma with our daily series Education in the Afternoon. But first, some music from our house band Star Resurrection, because, after all, if we didn’t have this stuff, what’s the point of getting out of bed in the morning. For those of you who have beds.

Total word count as of this post: 51,557 words. THE END! (For now.)

For more about my NaNoWriMo project, check out my NaNoWriMo page here or my profile on the NaNoWriMo website.

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Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

8 thoughts on “A Writer’s Notebook: NaNoWriMo 2011, the recap

  1. Congratulations on finishing Nanowrimo. I was a winner this year to and it was a thrill to put down all my thoughts on “paper.” This was my second year participating and I failed last year. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  2. I won this year, too, but it was a terrible story. A good idea, maybe, but not well formulated. I barely squeaked over the finish line with 50,080 words at 11:20 pm the last night! 🙂
    I’ve been reading your blog. I like it lots.
    Come back to Platteville. We miss you here. 🙂

    1. Hurray! Congrats, Steph, and thrilled to hear from you again! I miss you, too. If I ever have an excuse to pass through P’ville, again, I’ll be sure to let you know. And if you ever find yourself up in the Pacific Northwest, drop by and see me! Heck, come to college up here — we have several great creative writing programs. 🙂

    1. Thanks, man! I have to tell you, I am seriously still really damned inspired by this project, so even though I’m chucking a lot of what I wrote this past month, what’s coming in its wake is going to be pretty interesting. Good? We’ll see. But definitely interesting. I’ll keep you posted, since your poetry brought all this about.

  3. It’s almost 6 months since nano already! How did your novel go? I’m still cleaning mine up, hopefully will be a a whole comprehensible novel in structure by next week, perhaps in time to send it out to get the five free copies of it, that would be fun 🙂

    1. Mine is an absolute mess, but the idea still feels right to me. I was actually working on a revision of it just the other day. I still need to finish revising my first NaNoWriMo novel before I get too deep into anything else, though. 🙂

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