Hello, dreamers! Though October just got here, in the writing world November is just around the corner, which of course means the return of NaNoWriMo. This will be my second year of participation, and I intend to employ a very different tactic this time around.
After much thought, I’ve decided that this year’s NaNoWriMo novel will be Breaker. Originally conceived of as a young adult science fiction novel, Breaker follows a young man, Cade, growing up in Baraboo, Wisconsin. After leaping from a bridge in a vain attempt to save his friend from suicide, Cade discovers that the laws that govern reality, like those of his country, can be broken.
Spared from drowning, Cade slowly awakens to the seemingly limitless possibilities presented by his discovery. At first, his experiments are carefully controlled, but as he expands his mind, he begins to realize that he can do anything. That is, until he runs afoul of the authorities…
As it turns out, the laws of reality, like those of government, are enforced. Soon, Cade finds himself being watched, pursued by the sinister Mr. Gale and his shadowy minions, the Black Hats.
There’s a lot to be done, to be sure, but I chose this story for a reason. Last year, as my more dedicated readers will remember, I spent November working on Pathfinder, my intended next novel and a beloved pet project for many years. Unfortunately, I made little progress, and most of what I wrote last November for NaNoWriMo has since been either heavily edited or omitted entirely. Thus, over time I came to view last year’s NaNoWriMo as a failure. It was frustrating: this is supposed to be a deeply rewarding experience, and yet I came away with little more than I had to begin with, most of it little more than forced jibberish.
It forced me to do more than a little soul-searching, and of course any amount of novel-writing introspection, for me, naturally leads back to Wide Horizon. Writing Wide Horizon was a deeply rewarding experience for me. It was difficult, yes, but also engaging, fun, and emotionally charged. My feelings upon completing the first draft are still difficult to express in words (somewhat ironically). Looking back, though, I found another important distinction: writing Wide Horizon wasn’t something I forced myself to do. It was something that happened. It happened every day, it was effortless. It was something that was second nature to me, as much a necessary part of my day as showering or having breakfast.
So, what was so different? What was it about Wide Horizon that made writing it seem more like habit than work? Well, the more I thought about it, I began to realize that the thought was actually the problem…
Pathfinder is an idea that is near and dear to me. It is, essentially, my honest vision of the future, of how humanity will develop, grow, and spread across the cosmos. I want to do it justice, I need to get it right. So I’ve compiled pages upon pages of detailed notes. I’ve done research. I’ve devised. I’ve extrapolated. I’ve run equations. I’ve carefully documented and described virtually everything. In doing all of this, I’ve given myself the necessary ammunition to turn this concept into an accurate, engaging, richly detailed and thoroughly believable depiction of the future. But I’ve also made writing the story work.
Putting together a chapter of Pathfinder is labor-intensive. It’s grueling. It’s exhausting. For every minute I spend writing, I’ll spend up to thirty minutes pouring over my notes, double-checking continuity, staring at reference images, reading articles in scientific journals. In the end, grunting out only a thousand words leaves me feeling spent, creatively drained.
And that is why writing Wide Horizon was so effortless. That was why I chose to write it in the first place: yes, the idea jumped out at me, but it did so partially because I was tired. I wanted something that wasn’t necessarily easy, but rather something that required a completely different approach. And in the end, surprisingly, I found I both wrote well and enjoyed writing when I did so without a clear, detailed plan. I had a general direction, as though I carried a compass, but every time I sat down to write I found myself taking a different path to get to where I was going. Sometimes only slightly different, sometimes widely divergent. More often than not I found myself surprised by the direction things were taking.
That’s what I need. If I’m going to spend a month trying to knock out a novel, or as much of it as possible, I need an idea I can run with. I need to be able to toss the notes aside, to make things up as I go along. I need freedom. And that, I hope, is what Breaker will offer me.
Sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m still new at this whole writing thing. I’m still growing, still honing my skill. You have to walk before you can run. So this year, I’m going to try walking. We’ll see how it goes.