As some may have noticed, this November, I slowed writing on here down to almost nil. That’s because I was embroiled with the contest brought up above (note: not an actual contest, there are no prizes or winners).
Yes, I took part in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo: an event where many people around the world all come together with a common goal: write a novel of at least 50,000 words. It’s quite a feat, but somehow, as my banner shows, I completed the challenge. I have a 50,000 word novel on my computer with a youtube playlist for the songs I named my chapter titles after. I also have a site in desperate need of new material, an anime season to catch up on (I’m working on that), two series in need of my write up (well, one. I think I’m actually gonna put a pin in my Re:Zero write-ups), and some energy in need of release.
This is going to be a bit of a recap on my month spent buckled down in the writing hell that NaNoWriMo turned my November into.
So, I decided to participate this year because of a few reasons. First, I got inspiration for a story from when I had to clean stuff from my room and ran into a fantasy story I pitched at a free writing workshop I attended back in high school. The pitch was incomplete and not fleshed out, but I decided to use it as the basis for a story. I’d normally place an image of the initial pitch, but I really am not proud of that pitch. Honestly, I’m not proud of many things I did in high school, but more on that later.
Secondly, The idea of writing a novel was something that has been running around in my head for a while. I first heard about NaNoWriMo back in my freshman year of college (Jesus Christ, that’s over four years ago) and thought it sounded interesting. Of course, I couldn’t really commit then, not with school consuming much of my life and time.
The third reason is because I have too much time on my hands. As of this writing, I’m unemployed and have been in search of things to fill up my time as I wait to hear back from the many different job offers I answered (and found, and that one scam offer that I was finally able to get to stop contacting me). I figured that writing a novel would give a good break from that soul-crushing enterprise and maybe even give me something I can use to make money down the road (not sure if that’s feasible now, but still, it’s a possibility). So, with all of these factors, I sat down to write my novel.
My novel is about a man named James Apollo who discovers that he can control reality (except not really). The novel is meant as urban fantasy (fantasy in a contemporary, usually city, setting), but it incorporates elements of meta fiction in its creation, since the concept of the author is an actual force in the novel. I wanted to try and take my ideas and make them understandable, but stuff ended up happening.
How I Lost Control Of My Novel
One of the easiest traps that NaNoWriMo allows it’s participants to fall into is the trap of writing without a plan. Many people do this for fun, after all. And writing without a plan is just fun in general. Just letting your characters grow and change naturally with no clear end in sight except a target word count.
In case my writing on this site didn’t tip you off, I rarely, if ever, actually outline or plan anything I do. I’m proud of my college thesis, but it’s also one of the only pieces of writing that I actually managed to plan out beforehand and it’s about something I was extremely passionate about, so I was glad to push myself beyond the point of exhaustion to write it.
While that’s also true, in part, for this novel, the path to doing this ended up taking up more work than that thesis, despite being done in a fraction (I’d assume at least a fifth) of the time. You see, unlike my thesis, I wasn’t doing research for this. I had to create everything myself, which, while less time-consuming, is more creatively intensive. Even with a setting that was more or less similar to our world, meaning I wouldn’t have to create as much, I still need to completely develop my characters (more on them later), try to establish the dynamic between my leads, the dynamics between my leads and the world, the new settings in my story, and establishing the rules for the supernatural powers at play (yes, manipulating reality needs rules to avoid becoming too unwieldy). So I needed to create and keep track of a few variables.
While I had a rough idea of the story I wanted to tell, though, I never outlined or planned this out beyond a few ideas (premise, author in the story, climax would be a confrontation between author and lead in a bar, chapter titles named after songs). Everything else (supporting cast, settings, backstories, actual layout of plot) was created on the fly with no prior planning. This is not necessarily a bad way to write, especially as a way to come up with ideas to form a story around. It actually allows the story to become more focused on the characters and for them to find their ground as the types of characters that people will remember for years to come.
My problem is that I introduced a concept that took the story and tended to constantly derail the characters, which also had the side effect of turning the novel into a rambling, incoherent mess.
Metafiction: When The Writer Gets Involved
So, as I mentioned, I used a literary device I like too much called metafiction. If you’re too lazy to either read the Wikipedia article I linked to or to look up a more credible description of the concept, it’s when the fictional nature of a work is called attention to, possibly by either being part of a different narrative or by having the force that created the story comment on the story in question. It’s part of the toolset for postmodern writing, as it is a direct way to bring attention to the artificiality of the story and directly engage with the reader.
Initially, my plan was for me to be a character as the author being called in to criticize the concept of pure escapist fantasy. This is partially because of my tendency to criticize things and my reaction to these types of narratives in an anime in particular (Sword Art Online, if you’re interested). My intention was for James to abuse the power to create his own secret fantasy world that he can have adventures in away from society. I’d come in, bored, and try to destroy the world because those types of stories are boring to me (not always, but usually).
Unfortunately, my use of metafiction became much different and much more insular.
The Author As A Tragic Villain
Yeah, I’m kind of the villain of my own story (to everyone reading this who personally knows me, I’m aware that I tend to do that when I put myself in my work, but I swear I wasn’t trying to do that when I started this).
Allow me to explain this one. My main character, rather early on, does what is, with no qualifiers, a reprehensible act (for all of those who saw Jessica Jones, he’s David Tennant’s character in that. Yeah.). I, as the third person narrator, begin commenting on how awful that is. And then, I start doing small things to make my presence known (shattering a glass in a character’s hand, making a Limp Bizkit fan try to stick up my lead). And then I actually voice my intent to destroy the story’s world, killing them all.
Roughly halfway through the story, however, I, as an actual character, enter the story and the tone changes, as the other characters try to pick me apart before the confrontation, while the chapters following me tend to be me going on about how angry and upset I am. It all culminates into a chapter fittingly named after The Trial by Pink Floyd, where they begin to try and break me down due to my abuse of the story and my own need to deal with the demons I’m writing about.
I mentioned that I’m currently unemployed and that unfortunately became more instrumental in my story than I ever imagined. For those concerned, yes, I may be in a very deep funk right now due to many job, school, and general life things piling up. And, as a writer (my high school music is testament to this), I tend to be a very insular and personal writer. So, no, I’m not surprised that some of that crept into my story.
What’s upsetting is that I wrote this:
Malcolm walked up and took out his phone. Apparently, his phone had some of my music I recorded in high school in it. He turns his phone to full volume and blasts my song Loss. Instantly, the memories of my crafting that song in my bedroom flooded back to me.
Malcolm walked closer to me. “You know, I never was able to make out most of the lyrics. The vocals were too distorted to really be understood, but I did recognize that this song was by a whiny teenager who felt that he had deep feelings about misery, but in reality, was just complaining about nothing to music that he could not properly convey, carry, or even play. I need to know, since we are all together here now. What are the lyrics to this song about?”
I gave yet another defiant look. “Why the fuck should I tell you?”
As I said that, the song reached the sorry excuse of a guitar solo that exists in it. For those of you who never heard this song (which I hope is everyone), in my senior year of high school, I bought an electric guitar for music recording. I did not know how to play the guitar, but that did not stop me from playing guitar on that track. And, in a song that clocks in at almost seven minutes, it features a glorious guitar solo a little past four minutes in. And by glorious, I of course mean awful. Solos by people who don’t know how to play the instrument tends to sound awful and this one is an abysmal excuse of a solo that lacks cohesion, tone, melody, or tolerability that lasts for almost a full minute.
Malcolm got closer, as if he could intimidate me into answering him. He couldn’t. However, James began shooting daggers into me with his eyes. Metaphorically, of course. I sigh and finally decide to relent and say what the song is about. “The song is me basically re-telling the plot to an episode of South Park, but playing it completely seriously instead of as a joke.”
Everyone burst out laughing. They couldn’t believe it. How could anyone write a song like that? You’d have to be the most self-absorbed, pretentious jackass to think that’s a good idea!
That is a sample of that penultimate chapter I mentioned, in which my characters listen to a song I wrote and recorded in high school, I end up criticizing it, and then I reveal how I should not have been allowed to write in high school.
On Facebook, I called my days writing this chapter my extended self-flaeggelation. There is no other words for it: an extended sequence for me to list basically everything I hate about myself (and yes, hating things about myself is listed in there). Clearly, I shouldn’t have wrote this when I keep referring to myself as a jobless loser.
But, anyway, yes, I’m the villain of my story and a pathetic one at that. And the extent of me establishing this turned my novel into a structural nightmare (I am sorry for the friends I’ll annoy to proofread this draft). I mean, it’s not the end of the world. Structure can easily be broken (and dropped into acid, and set on fire) like I did. But the level of personal demons I kept pouring into this kind of piled up and, well………….
No, I Will Never Allow My Family To Ever Read This
Yeah, when I say I put personal demons in this, I meant it. And no, it’s not just the kind like drinking or self-loathing. It goes to other places that I’d rather they not read. Though, not my friends (again, I look forward to you all thinking I’m insane after I pester you to proofread this).
But, yeah. This ended up becoming a big product of my mindset post-college. And that’s awful.
The Process Of Writing At Home
Since I was writing at my home in an undisclosed NYC location, I ended up having to deal with the issues of my family while writing my Ulysses (not really Ulysses, but I feel like I can exaggerate here).
First, grandmother was down in Florida until, after delays, around Christmas. My uncle had health issues, in addition to being the primary source of transportation for me and my brother. My brother was stage managing a show on City Island and also began one in Yonkers. My mom came up for Thanksgiving after my grandmother cancelled coming up for it.
All of these forces ended up making the atmosphere to write very bad, since I was basically called on to do odd jobs, mediate, and do stuff like take an Uber with my brother to City Island. It was not a good place to focus on writing.
But it’s a phenomenal place to fall behind in it, because I did.
This is the chart from the NaNoWriMo site that tracked my progress. That straight line, for the record, is the par for each day. 18 days in the month were spent behind on writing, either because of Thanksgiving, family stuff, or stuff like this.
Yeah, that actually happened. And it put me back a whole day, since I couldn’t write anything that day. Of course, it was far from the only issue to deal with in writing my novel.
Writer’s Block: Ahhhhhhhh!!!!
Yeah, I didn’t always have clear ideas for each day (and no, it wasn’t just because I didn’t plan this out beforehand). Some days, I didn’t have any ideas. And besides, I’m in an anime season with villainous Jesus, gay figure skaters, and butt slamming. Why would I want to miss any of that?
Well, by the end of the month, I had to get that under control. By the last week of the month, in order to finish on time, I had to average roughly 2500 words a day (which is a lot, so don’t say that doesn’t sound so bad). And me being a notorious procrastinator (the other reason the site isn’t consistently updated), especially with personal projects (hell, more so with those, since there usually isn’t consequences for not completing it quickly).
In short, this was hard.
The Reward: Satisfaction
My reward for mentally killing myself and emotionally torturing myself (that last one by choice, admittedly) is the form above and the banner I opened this piece up with. There’s no cash prize, no judges, no possible publishing deal, nothing. It’s nothing but a challenge I didn’t need to take.
But, man, I’m kind of pumped. The emotional bloodletting has given me song ideas. I have more ideas for stuff for this site (like this article). I’m listening to Weezer while writing this (that’s not relevant, but if you haven’t heard, these past three years have had them finally return to being good, so check out their last two albums). I have a screenplay idea that I want to make. I finally have a drive to make the stuff I’ve been stalling on since August, at least.
I’m still jobless and that sucks and I don’t want to deal with job-hunting or anything related, but that would never be fixed with this. But I now have an interest in pursuing my creative interests again. And I haven’t felt this creatively invigorated since high school (though, at least I know not to do that again).
I may still hate my current life situation, but at least I can now say I look forward to my next creative project. And I look forward to the reactions of my friends I manage to trick into proofreading this novel (schadenfreude). I’m glad to have done this project. I recommend this and, who knows, maybe I’ll do this again next year.