For a long time, I’ve had a story in my head. Maybe you have too. I don’t know the story in your head, but the story in mine is about a kid named Eliot who’s obsessed with science. He’s got a startling grasp on the big picture, but he’s a little out of touch when it comes to homo sapiens, especially those his own age. Also, he’s got some massive, dark secret lurking at home.
If you’ve got a story in your head, chances are, you’ve given some thought as to how you might conceivably get it into other peoples’ heads–i.e., on paper, and/or in an e-book. You may even have some acquaintance with this process. For me, so far (with other novel projects), it has involved feeling my way slowly but surely through the material, editing, revising, and literally “re-visioning” the work as I go.
The first draft, for me, is about as exciting as a root canal. Let’s qualify that: a root canal from the elderly dentist in my hometown, with shaking hands, who keeps up a running monologue on the long-term effects of gingivitis. With Muzak–a Kenny G. Christmas, maybe–tinkling in the background. I wondered, is there a quicker, less painful way to accomplish this thing?
The folks over at National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) each year challenge the good people of the world with a book languishing inside to write that opus–come hell or high water–over the course of a single month. Many writers I know and admire have done it (though I will admit that most of those are not people who otherwise write a whole lot). Many writers I know and admire (who do engage with this craft on a daily basis) have expressed revulsion at it (see Tayari Jones’ “NaNo Hell No?”) citing the need for time and craftsmanship.The point, they argue, is not just to get 50,000 words down, but 50,000 words someone would want to read.
For my part, I’ve always been intrigued. Sure, NaNoWriMo is great for those to whom setting words to screen really is the point. But could that kind of speed work for those of us who slave away daily at this mysterious business? Maybe even kick a few pylons loose?
I wondered, what would happen if I stuffed my head full of research for a year, then wrote Eliot’s story in one mad dash? What if I invested a year in the planning, envisioning, obsessing, and pre-writing, then just forced myself to accept whatever came through in writing a complete draft over the course of a single month?
Could writing this novel in just thirty days get it out of my head and into the heads of other people? Or would it simply yield an unmanageable pile of crap?
Honestly, I have no idea. But I do have a working hypothesis:
Writing a novel in a month will indeed yield a pile of crap–but if I plan carefully before embarking on the journey, stew the project in research, and then work with an editor to revise the draft after the fact, it will not prove unmanageable.
If I keep what actually happens in the story (i.e., the plot) pretty simple, there will be room to accommodate improvisation without taking the story off down some overgrown two-track, never to be heard from again.
I could very well be wrong on either count. But, in a way, that’s what’s exciting about it.
I’m interested in creativity as a process, and it’s my hope that over the next year–through the research, conversation, scheming and dreaming on Eliot’s story that will appear on my blog, and the live-blogging madness that will ensue over the course of NaNoWriMo 2012 (during which I will produce something between a steaming pile of crap and a grand work of art, before your very eyes)–we can all learn something about the process of getting the stories in our heads out into the world where they can live and breathe.