Friday, April 15, 2011
Well, that's done
You find me today on the field of victory, fresh from completing my National Novel Writing Month novel.
NaNoWriMo, as participants call it, issues a challenge each November to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. In 2002, I wrote a science fiction novel titled "Killer Robots Never Work." In 2003, I wrote a novel that borrowed heavily from Greek Mythology called "Escaping Olympus." Then I took a few years off, returning to start a goofball murder mystery based on the Da Vinci Code called "The Fred Code." I made it to 14,000 words before giving up.
Now I have another completed NaNo novel, this one so sappy and shamelessly derivative that I'm too embarrassed to tell you the title. I call it the Stealth Novel. The only person who gets to read it is Benny, who provided many of the plot twists and the bright idea to set the climatic final scene in a swamp. Every few days he asks me to bring it out and read it to him and I oblige, skipping over any scenes I deem too violent, sexy or laced with profanity. (Sometimes I have to skip entire chapters.)
My favorite scene in the novel is when my bad guy spontaneously combusts. Well, it wasn't spontaneous, really — I mean, the Really Bad Gal intended it to happen, but she hoped he'd end up as a charred corpse. Instead, she got carried away and he ended up as a pile of ashes, which really ticked her off.
Anyway, the paragraph above should make it clear why Stealth Novel will never be sent out to publishers. But I consider it a great achievement anyway, I mean, writing 50,000 words is always worth a pat on the back, as long as it isn't the same word repeated 50,000 times.
Now, you more astute readers will be thinking, "Hmmm, write a novel in the month of November, eh? But it's ... April."
Well spotted. Yes it is April, which means it took me five and a half months to write the thing. I was at about 25,000 words when Ron's father passed away, and I did not hesitate to put Stealth Novel on the shelf, with an earnest promise to myself I would finish it later.
But there is no harder goal to achieve than a goal without a deadline, and it was so easy to shove the novel aside whenever I was hungry, tired, stressed or simply anxious to get to the next level of "Metal Gear Solid." (I'm fighting some villain in Prague with a rocket launcher now.)
But as Tolkien once said about another fantasy novel that also has a swamp, "I felt that the story could not be wholly abandoned." Except in my case it wasn't because I was producing a classic loved by millions of readers, but because I had made that promise in November. And I, for one, am sick of breaking writing promises to myself. I've got a file drawer and computer hard drive stuffed with unfinished works: plays, stories, memoirs. I couldn't bear the prospect of having yet another half-finished draft cluttering my mind.
So now that I've finished my Stealth Novel and crossed one more item off my To Do list, I'm turning to my next unfinished project: a memoir about our move to San Francisco in 2007 as the housing crisis and recession hit. And yes, I will finish it. And no, I won't set the ending in a swamp.