Well, I’ve managed to write more than 15,000 words in the past week, which, I have to say, I am frankly amazed at. Especially considering my work schedule.
This week (as every week this fall), I have taught five courses on three campuses and spent more than eight hours just commuting to my various jobs. When I’m not on the road or in the classroom, I have been grading the essays of 95 students. There were nights I got no more than three or four hours of sleep. It’s been a long, hard week.
But I’ve discovered a trick that is making this year’s NaNoWriMo possible. My new phone, a Galaxy Note 2, has an excellent notepad app and fairly decent voice recognition software, which means that I can dictate text into my phone and the phone transcribes it for me. A couple of years ago, I tried a similar trick with a digital voice recorder for NaNoWriMo. But transcribing all that text by hand never really saved me much time. Now that the phone transcribes the text for me, I find I have been able to narrate whole chapters of this new book while driving to one of my jobs or while straightening up in the house. In fact, I am dictating this post while cleaning my kitchen.
The app isn’t perfect — punctuation is mostly hopeless, and there are plenty of words it doesn’t recognize (whenever I say “NaNoWriMo,” the phone gives me “man or I know”) — so I still have to do a lot of cleanup when I send the text to my computer and import it to Scrivener (where I am writing my new novel). I suppose that such cleanup is in some way antithetical to the spirit off NaNoWriMo, since I’m technically correcting text rather than simply plowing through however sloppy the writing might be.
But I let myself get away with it because, A, if I don’t correct some of the things the phone tries to give me as I import it, I risk losing any sense of what I was trying to write; and B, even taking the time to make corrections is faster than trying to transcribe from audio, and more time-saving then carving out extra hours in my day to do the writing from scratch. Most days on my commute to or from my farthest job, I have managed to “write” as many as 2,000 words. That has made up for how limited my writing time has been, and so I have managed to keep at or just ahead of the pace needed to finish NaNoWriMo on time.
I have to admit that the writing that comes from such dictation is sometimes weirdly stilted or over-written, and it is sometimes hard to keep track of plot or characters. And don’t get me started on the difficulties of dialogue. Still, as when I dictated into a voice recorder a few years ago, this kind of writing, where I speak the text aloud, lets me experiment with a freer flow of ideas, and I sometimes wind up heading in surprising and interesting directions with the story.
So, so far I’ve been happy with the results. Or happy as one can be with any writing during NaNoWriMo. And to tell the truth, this story, if not the quality of the prose, feels as exciting and as strong a foundation for good revision as my first NaNoWriMo, which gave me my novel Hagridden, the book that resulted in my Oregon Literary Fellowship and which is currently under consideration on the market. So I’m looking forward to seeing where this book goes.
And now, as is my tradition, here are some excerpts:
There comes a time in every long ride where you’ve wore out your horse and you have to dismount. I don’t know whether it was the war that wore out me or me that wore out the war, but either way, in March of ’62 I unsaddled and moved along. I couldn’t imagine my regiment would miss me and mostly I was right.
Being gone from the war didn’t mean it was over, though. Fact of it was, the war seemed the War Eternal, a spiritual fight destined to carry on til Judgment Day, if ever we could be judged. And this is how I came to fall in with Sergeant Tom Cleaver.
Sergeant Tom looked from my boots to my hair then turned on his stool to face me, one elbow on the bar. He picked up one of the pistol rounds and rolled it between his thumb and his forefinger, then he brought it to his lips as though to kiss it. He ran the tip of the bullet over his lower lip as he stared at me.
“You ever play Shoot the Bullet?”
“I ain’t looking for any trouble, mister. I was just passing an invitation. ”
“It might could be an invitation to trouble. ”
We watched each other. I was wearing my sidearm out of habit, but I didn’t like advertising it and I kept it tucked in my waist beneath my coat. Not an easy thing to reach in a draw, and I wasn’t sure of Sergeant Tom’s skill. The pistol I could see was broken open and empty on the bar, but I’d no notion of what other weapons he might carry. I put my right hand on my hip, trying to look casual as I did it. My coat hitched up over my hip, my fingers just six inches from the butt of my pistol. But I could tell just from looking at him that it was six inches too far, and he knew exactly what purpose my hand held.
“Won’t do to reach for it,” he said. “If that was the invitation, it wasn’t yours, it was that one’s. ” He tilted his head in the direction of Robert Bob, who sat with both feet on the floor watching us from across the room, his own pistol drawn and resting on the table before him. “Besides,” Sergeant Tom continued, “I don’t usually shoot the messenger. ”
“You just shoot the bullet. ”
He laughed and slapped the bar. A few of the bullets toppled, and he took one of them and handed it to me so we each held a round.
“Indeed I do. Now, here’s the deal. Hamilton, you bastard, bring us two!”
The barkeep was ahead of him and already had a bottle on the bar. He set two small glasses beside it and unstoppered the neck and poured out two full measures. Sergeant Tom dropped his bullet into the whiskey so the smokey liquor spilled over the rim to the wood. Then he gestured for me to do the same. I looked at his sidewise, said “It’s a bit young in the day for me,” but I dropped in the bullet just the same.
He took his glass and I took mine, and then he winked at me same as he had the first night I saw him, and he said, “Swallow hard. ” Then he downed the drink, bullet and all, and grit his teeth. I could see the lump in his windpipe as the chunk of metal went down his gullet.
I looked at my glass and back at the man, and when I did I saw his grin begin to soften, the set of his jaw turn stoney. He took up his pistol and began loading the remaining rounds into the cylinder. And he said it again.
“Swallow hard. Swallow fast. ”
He slapped the cylinder home and set the pistol on the counter, the muzzle my direction and his thumb on the hammer. I raised my glass and tossed back the bullet, the metallic tang of it sharp in the sweet of the whiskey. It took a writhing of my tongue to get the angle right but I’d be damned is I choked to death on a dare, and I got the bullet aimed point-first down my throat and it kept on, hard against my Adam’s apple so I like to gagged, but then it was past and falling fast to land hard and cold in my gut. I coughed in quick bursts, turning my head so the spittle landed across the bar and not Sergeant Tom’s face, but he was laughing and slapping the counter, spittle and all.
“There you have it,” he said. “Now anyone takes to hassling you, you just tell them this here story and turn your backside to him. Tell him, ‘You keep after me, I’ll fart at you and shoot your pecker off!’”
And before I could register the sentence, Hamilton the barkeep and Robert Bob at his table both were belly-laughing at the joke.