National (I don’t have time for) Novel Writing Month

2013-Participant-Vertical-BannerI can’t believe I’m about to do this, but here it is: I’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo again this year.

My trepidation is not for lack of interest — I love NaNoWriMo. My first outing resulted in the first draft of my novel Hagridden, which in turn led to my Oregon Literary Fellowship and a research trip to Louisiana. My third attempt has turned into a handful of pretty damn fine stories in a strong story cycle, which I worked on again this summer while on a writing retreat. And last year’s effort gave me the beginnings of several really interesting short pieces I ought to be working on now.

Except I haven’t had the time for writing I’d like to have had. I’m teaching five classes on three different campuses; on one of those campuses, I serve as faculty advisor for a film club. I edit two different lit magazines, and this past month I served as fiction judge for a university creative writing competition. I have a chapbook coming out in a few weeks, and I’ve been prepping for a reading to coincide with its release.

And on and on.

So why am I giving up what little free time I have left to pound at the keyboard in a furious attempt to knock out 50,000 words in 30 — though, given my schedule, FAR fewer than 30 — days?

Well, aside from the fact that I should be doing this anyway (I’m a writer, damn it! Writers write!), I also have a story to tell. A couple of months ago, my mother-in-law, who is a librarian and also works for her local genealogical society, came across a book about a psychopath cowboy waging a one-man rebellion in northeast Texas just after the Civil War. Thinking about my own Civil War novel set down in Louisiana, she thought I might be interested in this true story about a crazed gunslinger in Texas, and she sent me the book.

The story is about Cullen M. Baker, and while his life has been accounted for — and fictionalized — many times before, including the Louis L’Amourย novel The First Fast Draw, the book my mother-in-law sent me is more of a cursory overview of Baker’s life. It’s a tight little account of the weirdest (and probably embellished) episodes in the life of a man some consider the first outlaw gunslinger of the Wild West, a legendary figure who served as a real-life model for other famous figures like Billy the Kid and Jesse James. And it is the nature of this telling of Baker’s story — brief, episodic, unconfirmed — that got my brain turning. I realized how many details I wanted to change, what information I would have added to the story, which characters I was most interested in. And the more I read, the more I began to see someone completely different from Cullen Baker, a set of characters and a connected narrative that might be based on stories about the man but which has taken on a life of its own.

I began to see my next novel.

And there’s no better excuse to start that draft than this coming month.

I don’t know if I’ll actually have the time to “win” NaNoWriMo this year (I fell short last year), but the story’s in my head now, the characters developing before I’ve even put words on paper, so I figure as long as I’m writing something, I might as well write this, and I might as well write it now.

So pull on your boots, clean your sidearm, and saddle your horse, gang. We’ve got a story to tell!

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.

21 thoughts on “National (I don’t have time for) Novel Writing Month

  1. I’ve got to say, I admire your go-get–em-ism. You do us writers, who write, proud.
    I’ve done NaNoWriMo since way back in 2001 – when I first called it Na-No-Wree-Mo, not Wry-Mo. and would plan my vacation weeks during November.
    In 2004 (love), and 2009 (sorrow) I didn’t write (wreet?) at all.
    So Kudos for sticking to things. Here’s a suggestion if you’re the type who eats lunch on a regular schedule. Use the hour or 45 minutes daily to get at least 800 words down there. Bring fixings for a shake with you to where you work. Drink lunch and keep your fingers on those keys. I’ll be available for Word Wars. Just give a shout.
    Wordspeed, my friend – wordspeed.

      1. Hi Samuel. No to both, sorry – I’m cheering you now, I can’t guarantee that I’ll be there to cheer then. If I see posts of yours of course I will.

        As for entering – just too busy, concerts, performances, some novels I’m polishing up… (I understand the challenge is to start and finish the novel in the same month, but I can’t work like that, I can lay down a plot in a week but not to a schedule.) But, give it your very best go!

      2. I hear you! I’m too busy, too, and I resist schedules like a kid resists Brussels Spouts. This is the only month I dare work this way, and I’m not really expecting to finish. But hey, what the hell. Sometimes I like a good frenzy.

        Thanks again for the support! I’ll probably post infrequent updates on the work during November, so please do stop in once in a while, if only to make sure I’m still alive and relatively sane. ๐Ÿ™‚

      3. I’m rooting for your sanity! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Maybe I should, after all. Maybe that’s what I need after these months of the world seeming to think I’ve died…

  2. I’ll cheer from the sidelines, Sam, as long as you don’t let your craftsmanship slip in your haste to finish. I would rather you applied the brakes, said “To hell with NaNo!” and wrote a good novel.

    I’m writing quite a lot lately. Having been stuck for quite a while on a novel idea that I really want to work (I’ll tell you about it some time) I am currently rattling away with my teen-vampire novella, at almost NaNo speed. It’s wall-to-wall trash, though! ๐Ÿ˜€

    1. That’s the whole fun — and import — of NaNoWriMo: to tell the inner editor to go to hell, stick your head out the car window, and feel the wind in your face as you FLY through the words! It’s the thing I love best about NaNoWriMo. I take too damn long writing things anyway; I need this time to push me to my limits. I can always make it great later (which is what I did with Hagridden!). ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. @ Samuel – now that you put it that way, I’m beginning to feel in the mood for such a challenge. It may turn out to be trash too, of course. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. I know! I’ve had Dad on the brain as I think about this project. There’s going to be a kind of a love story in the plot, too, so I’m hoping there’s something for everyone, but the gunslinger history is sure going to be fun to write. ๐Ÿ™‚

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: