By Alegra Clarke
November has come and gone and left me with some valuable lessons. The first lesson is that a heavily pregnant woman (that would be me) should never brag to her husband about how she “feels pretty confident that I will be able to write the first half of the novel this month, maybe even get close to the end.”
That is right, I strutted in front of November 1st rolling my neck, cracking my knuckles, daring NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) to lift its gun in the air and begin the race. I was feeling in fine form. I planned not only to match last year’s stride towards the finish line but maybe cross it before the race was over, circle back to the beginning and start again. And then the gun went off. The earth trembled with the stampeding of thousands of fingers hitting keyboards all over the planet. I felt the adrenaline surge. I took my first stride forward and then…I fell on my face.
I would like to blame the whole ‘big and pregnant’ thing for the way I faltered but let’s face it, writing is a race of the mind, and the only thing that my mind was encumbered by was expectation. I was ripe with it. After months of research, mulling over plot, making attempts at the first several chapters and taking workshops, I had conceived this idea that 50,000 words were just waiting to emerge cleanly out of my mind. I was dreaming of a fully formed baby. In fact, I think I expected the novel to come out walking, talking and toilet-trained without a whole lot of sweat and effort on my part. Of course, I was wrong.
Last year’s NaNoWriMo left me with a manuscript of harvestable material and the lesson that I am someone who needs to do some advance plotting before I begin writing. This year NaNoWriMo taught me that the first stages of labor are necessarily messy. Rough drafts do not always emerge from euphoric inspiration. In fact, mine required a lot of hard pushing and lots of swearing. I also learned that the best way to stall out is to have grand expectations.
I had about eight chapters outlined and I believed they would come tumbling out onto the page in technicolor, the characters fully realized, the prose singing. They didn’t. I panicked at the first sign that things were not going to go as painlessly as planned. I began pacing and searching for things to eat. I watched back to back episodes of “The Office.” I started to come up with elaborate rationalizations about how it was physically impossible to get the words out. I was stuck and an intervention was necessary. So, I took myself to the ER of writers: Dr. Wicked
Dr.Wicked is labor induction for words that need to get out. You choose the length of time you want to write and how fast and furious you want the pace to be set. I chose both ‘evil’ and ‘kamikaze’ modes—the meanest of the mean that Dr.Wicked has to offer. If the ‘electric shock’ mode was actually functional, I would have been setting myself up to be jolted.
I was ready to get the chapters out of my head. ‘Evil mode’ meant that I was given maybe 3 seconds to pause during writing before ‘kamikaze mode’ kicked in and started erasing everything I had previously written. It forced me to get past my expectations and start writing. One 48 minute with Dr.Wicked gave me about 1300 words. After about 5 sessions, I began to feel something like affection towards those screaming, messy rough drafts. I realized that they were a necessary stage, the beginning of my chapters cleaning up and coming to life as the cooing, rosy-cheeked sweethearts I had been daydreaming about.
Check out Alegra’s pre-NaNoWrimo post: Writing with the Bulls.