Thursday, November 5, 2009
I'm shepherding a group of NaNo newbies this year, first timers making their trek through November. This is my third go-round, which I suppose makes me the grizzled old veteran around these parts. One of the newbies (a co-worker) just stopped me in the break room and said "you know, I was working on my story last night, and it's been hard work, and then all of a sudden it just took on its own life."
I know the feeling well. I like that we have this month-long excuse to be silly and self-indulgent and take a tilt at the "novelist" windmill. I joked on the NaNo forums that I'm addicted to the word count rush -- my competitive nature again, surely -- and that I'm just chugging along with the story because in my head, it's already done. I'm just filling in the gaps.
Let me try an extended analogy here. Around springtime, I'm standing on the plains, just kind of looking around the mental landscape for interesting features. I've recovered from the previous November, and I'm starting to think about that next great story journey. Out on the horizon, I can see something -- hills, maybe, or trees, or rocks. It's hard to tell from here, but they look interesting, and I make a note about them on an index card and start walking in their general direction.
It's a long walk: months long, in fact, and all too often I need to take my eyes away to attend to something or other in my waking life -- work, kids, pets, whatever. But those features are still there, out on the horizon. I can make out shapes if I look long enough. I can start seeing the high points, and I can see the gaps in-between. It looks like mountains. I'm still walking, making notes, and details are starting to appear. A tree line, or the way a cloud breaks over a peak. I start thinking about the path I'll be taking, the way over and around and through those mountains, when I finally reach them.
By the time I get to their feet, it's October. Now I'm so close, I can only see the surface. The peaks are clear, but the valleys are hidden, and the path is mysterious. I know the big landmarks -- I spotted those weeks ago -- but I'm still not sure of the path through. I set up camp by the mountain, the start of the range. I'm eager to start, eager to set out and explore.
November comes, and I can finally start climbing! The low, round foothills are the easiest, and I meander my way up, up, up. The peaks are coming into view, as are the paths that lead to them. I'm still heading for my landmarks: I know that they'll see me through if I just stop to orient myself now and then. I'll get to the other side in the end, exhausted and weary surely, surprised and amused maybe. The way was twisted and turned, the path was tangled at times or unclear. It lead me down into hidden vales, and up along steep climbs, and sometimes an exhilarating headlong rush downhill, my feet barely able to keep up. But I have been climbing before; I know what to expect, and I know what I can do. I am not the most graceful, the most skilled wayfinder in the mountains, but I am getting better with each climb.