October 17, 2012

Why I'm voting absentee, and busting elitist prejudice

(Playing along for the first time ever with Road Trip Wednesday at YA Highway)

I voted absentee four years ago because I expected to be traveling for work. This year, it's a different reason:

NaNoWriMo!
(cue gasp)

What, you are screaming to yourself right now, is a talented and experienced author like Peter doing slumming around with the amateur word-count hacks in NaNoland?

My friends, drop your academic literary elitist prejudice for a moment and join me on a journey. It's a journey of a young man who strayed from his passion, who followed the siren songs of family, prosperity, and homeownership. It's a story of despair and triumph. But most of all, it's my story.

Turn the Wayback Machine to 1987. Picture a college apartment with an Apple ][+ in the corner surrounded by spent packets of Top Ramen and empty Coke cans. Next to the 21-pin dot matrix printer sits the first 80 or so pages, on continuous-feed computer paper, of a 20-year-old young man's first novel manuscript. On top of that sits the young man's first rejection note, a form rejection from the fiction editor at Redbook magazine with "good work, please send more in the future" scribbled in black pen.

Set the dial two years ahead. The young man is flush from his first publication success, a dual contest win for short fiction and poetry in his Engineering school's annual literary publication. His mother, visiting for graduation, makes him pose with the check he won.

The young man graduated and took his engineering degree to Seattle for his first job. His sweetheart still had one year of college, so he spent his evenings at his electric typewriter, alone in a dim economy apartment kitchen, working on short stories and a new novel. (That first one he unceremoniously stowed away in a box somewhere.)

A year later, that new manuscript was left off after chapter four, and that sweetheart had become his wife. He moved back to Berkeley for a different job, a better job, with high hopes for his career. At 26 he and his bride bought a home. His career managing a technical publications department at a software company was exciting and dynamic. And he hadn't written any fiction in months.

Five years later, the demands of two children and a larger home and a bigger job kept him far from the joy of writing. He was important now, an up-and-comer, a father, a husband, a homeowner. What little extra time he had, he spent keeping children safe as a school crossing guard.

When he turned 35, he knew he had strayed from his dream. He had no regrets, but he wasn't sure how to get back on that path that he had loved so much. He dabbled with poetry again, bought a blank journal and filled it with a lame-ass story he would never show to anyone today in a million years. He started another novel, got to chapter three, and decided it was crap and not worth finishing.

By now, you've figured out that I, I was that young man. A sad story. The story of millions of people; the story of a single soul. It could have ended there.

But a magical thing happened. November came. November 2004, specifically.

I discovered a thing called National Novel Writing Month. A few thousand people were involved. I could do that, I thought. And I did. It was hard. I started with only a vague idea of character and setting, and the plot unfolded as I wrote. By December I had 50,000 words. By February I had a completed manuscript at 69,000 words. I had done it. It wasn't great, but it wasn't awful.

Most of all, I knew I could do it again. Better.

And I did. The next three years I completed novels in November, each one progressively more accomplished, more polished, more complete than the ones before. I learned to avoid plot holes, to study and refine character motivation, to wipe out -ly words. Like Batman, I had my daytime persona--husband, father, laborer, homeowner--but my secret identity as a writer began taking over my psyche bit by bit.

All told, I completed four NaNoWriMo manuscripts. I haven't published any of those, but I did go on to publish my fifth novel, Semper, which was not a NaNo book. Today, I'm on the verge of publishing its sequel.

Might that have happened without the magic of NaNo? There's no way to know for sure.

But this year I'll be jumping back into that frenzied rush of adrenaline and caffeine to start a new project. Because I've been to the mountaintop, I know what it takes to succeed. And I'll be prepared. Oh, I'll be prepared. Words will tumble out like Halloween candy from a bowl with a note on it saying "please take only one," and analogies will thicken the prose in the way that peanut butter sticks to the roof of a dog's mouth. And cliches will wallow like pigs and soar like eagles while metaphors mix like dead horses being beaten. And in the end, when all is said and done, when all is done and said... things will have been written.

This didn't have to be my story. It could be the story of any number of people. Six, for example. Or ninety-one. That doesn't really matter. What matters is that NaNoWriMo picked me up, dusted me off, and told me, "You can do this, mister. Never forget who you are and where you came from. Now get up, get back on that horse, and write."

And that's what I intend to do. Just as soon as I finish this game of Words With Friends and respond to this guy's political rant on Facebook.


6 comments:

fairyhedgehog said...

Yay! You're coming back to the dark side! We have cookies! (And kittens, and chocolate. And lots of coffee, I've been told, although I prefer tea myself.)

Did I say yay already? Yay!

Peter Dudley said...

Can hardly wait. Haven't spent enough time plotting yet. Have to finish revisions to Forsada (the sequel to Semper) this week so I can spend next week prepping for NaNo!

Wait. Where are the cookies?

Christy Luis said...

Excellent encouragement. Glad you shared! It seems like that's what NaNo is all about.

Peter Dudley said...

Thanks, Christy!

Naja Tau said...

LOL! I see you all the time on Nathan Bransford's blog, so I decided to stop by. I enjoyed reading your mini-biography. :)

-Naja

Peter Dudley said...

Thanks, Naja. I can't follow all the comments on Nathan's blog all the time, but your name is definitely familiar. Are you doing NaNo?