Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Day Twenty-four: Heading Into the Homestretch

Today is the first day of the final week of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). We have struggled through figuring out what to write about, coming up with a title, creating an effective "hook" (hopefully) so that readers will want to read our work, constructing a plot, and have been fleshing out the story with interesting descriptions, compelling dialog and action, and multi-dimensional characters. We have watched our protagonists start out with a problem to overcome, or go on a quest or voyage, face a monster (whether literal or figurative), or some other challenge. We have watched as they struggle through these challenges, sometimes failing, sometimes victorious, while experiencing personal growth. We have met their families, their friends, their enemies; we know their strengths and weaknesses, their flaws and foibles. Sometimes, they have taken us in unexpected directions, or stumbled upon an additional problem we hadn't foreseen. Now, we are reaching the climax of the story, and soon our characters will have their happy ending -- or not.

Some openly admit to hating their stories, but keep writing because they just don't want to give up. Some love their stories, and could write (or have written) more than the required 50,000 words. Some intend to never look at their stories again, while others will pursue the dream of getting theirs published, eventually.

As with some of our characters, not all participants will make it to the end. Indeed, some have already fallen by the wayside for various reasons: the intrusion of life's responsibilities--expected or unexpected, sickness--our own or that of a loved one, writer's block, plot knots that refused to be untangled, or computer problems that left us so far behind we felt it impossible to catch up. Some have finished early, having logged their 50,000 words several days or even a week ago, and can now bask in their assured victory. And then there are the rest of us, doggedly racing on, whether trying to catch up or right on target, determined to reach that finish line, to see our word count bars turn green, and receive the "WINNER" designation and all its attendant glory.

Wherever you are in the process, whatever the outcome, I hope you will have learned something along the way that will help you in your future efforts as a writer. Or, you may have discovered that writing is just not your thing, and that's fine, too, as one of my fellow NaNoer's said when I interviewed her. I'd like to share with you a few things that I have learned through the experience this year.

For one thing, I've learned that I need a schedule. NaNoWriMo has given me the structure of having to get a set number of words written each day. I seriously doubt I'll continue to write nearly 1700 words a day after NaNo is over; but I will contract with myself to either write a set number of words or write for a specified period of time on specific days, if not every day.

Another thing I've discovered is that I need a writing buddy and contact with other writers. I already belong to several writing groups online, plan to join a couple of "real time" groups, and have arranged with one of my NaNo buddies to continue our mutual support beyond November. It's important to have some kind of support system in place, at least for me, it is. I need someone to talk to about the struggles and joys of writing, to share ideas with, to discover new techniques, and to help each other grow and learn and develop our craft. I also need the wisdom of experienced writers who have traveled the path before me, who can share their wisdom, set a standard to strive for, and help me avoid some of the pitfalls.

I also realized I need to strive for balance. During NaNoWriMo, writing takes over pretty much everything. But to maintain a healthy mental and physical life, there must be time for other people and other things. I plan to enjoy the holidays with my family, and to have regular get-togethers with my children and their spouses throughout the year. I need to spend time with my husband, and support him in his artistic goals as he supports me in mine. I need to spend time with my animals, giving them the attention they so richly deserve for all the joy and love and humor they bring into my life on a daily basis. I need to keep in touch with friends, both inside and outside of the writing community. I need to properly nourish my physical body as well as my spiritual body, and I need to exercise both so they can be as strong and healthy as possible. And I need to connect with the natural world, the plants and animals that share this planet with me, and to enjoy the beauty of its physical features -- its lakes, rivers, mountains.

In closing, I just want to encourage all those who are still pressing on toward the goal to keep on, don't give up, hang in there. We're in the homestretch, and the finish line isn't far ahead. Let's cross it together.

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