The thing I hated most about elementary school, besides softball (I couldn’t hit and I couldn’t catch) was arithmetic drills. Our teacher would hand out a page of 100 sums (addition, subtraction, multiplication or division) and we had to complete them in a given time, such as three to five minutes. She might even have set a timer, a devilish contraption whose relentless tick-tick-tick twisted me like the stem of a watch. The faster I tried to go, the more my brain hardened into a solid block that isolated facts had to worm through like a maze. When the timer dinged!, we swapped papers for grading while our teacher read off the answers. If she was feeling particularly sadistic, she’d have students hold up their hands who’d missed less than ten, less than twenty, less than thirty . . . I would almost always be among the worst scorers, if not the absolute bottom.
So imagine my attempting to write an average of 1666 words a day every day for National Novel Writing Month. At least nobody set a timer. Reports of fellow participants in NaNoWriMo finishing their quota and typing “THE END” before Thanksgiving had something of that ding! of doom about them, though.
I suspect those over-achievers are in the minority and my failure to keep up is not too much of a surprise–or a disappointment. I don’t compose very well at the keyboard and so attempted to write my daily quota in pencil, which can’t be a recommended procedure. I also find it difficult to construct the story outline before the story: my usual modus operandi is to just start writing the story, and see what happens. This always involves a few false starts. NaNoWriMo anticipates that and reassures participants that this first effort will be the roughest of rough drafts. Maintaining tension, developing characters, even making sense–none of that is the point. The point is to stop making excuses, stop putting it off, stop waiting for inspiration to strike, and get words on the page. Lots of words. At the end, what you’ll have is not likely a novel–at best it’s a pile of source material from which a novel may be constructed.
I’ve never worked that way, and won’t make a habit of it. My purpose in joining in was to shake loose some bad habits and make myself produce. Writers often, or usually, write when they don’t feel like it; as I heard someone say years ago, “I don’t like writing but I like having written.” I don’t imagine building contractors like every part of the actual work, but a finished building is a sight to behold. So I feel good about the days I managed to reach my (estimated) quota, and not too bad about the days I didn’t. It was a useful discipline, and I do have something to show for it: about 125 handwritten pages with characters, actions, and lots of words. Maybe something can come of it.
And for next November, I’m already thinking about what I’ll do differently.