It occurred to me, since I mentioned it a couple times before, that people might actually want an update into my progress on the science fiction novel I started writing for National Novel Writing Month this year. I’ll provide a complete, but hopefully brief, overview:
I came up with the initial concept for this story about fifteen years (plus) ago, and I called it Messiah. At the time, it was conceived of as a comic book or graphic novel. It didn’t actually go anywhere at the time — all that got made was a nifty character design picture for one of my main characters, Faith, drawn by a friend, a weapon design drawn by me, and some ideas floating around in my head. Since then, the idea has percolated and matured inside my skull over the course of years.
My very first NaNoWriMo, in 2003, saw me take a whack at writing this as a novel with no real preparation at all. I got through something like 12K words, then got derailed by events in my life that distracted me for five days (someone visited me from out of town). Once I had time for NaNoWriMo again, I just couldn’t get back in the right headspace to do any writing, so I only managed about another 3K that month. I’m guessing on the numbers — I don’t really recall too clearly what progress I made. The good news, however, is that it helped me work out some more details about what was going to happen in the story.
I promised myself I would eventually start over from scratch and write the entire story, but decided that I’d plan ahead before tackling it again. I want to do it right, you see. Intervening years saw me writing a whole bunch of other stuff instead of this tale, because I never got around to planning for it. during that time, I also conceived of another story that involves a revolution on the surface of Mars, shortly after it is first colonized.
Earlier this year, in discussion with a friend, I came up with some more ideas for the Mars story, one of which was to make it the prequel for Messiah. Despite there being some absurd period of time between the two (no fewer than fifty years, possibly more than 150 years), one of the main characters in the Mars story is also one of the main characters in Messiah, in fact. The events I have in mind for the Mars story, now, also serve as background for the events in Messiah, and all of these connections were things that occurred to me in large part because of those discussions with a friend.
About a week and a half before the end of October, that friend started telling me that what I should write for NaNoWriMo this year was Messiah. He was quite insistent about it, and told me that the reason I should write it — despite my protestations that I didn’t have time to properly plan for it — is that he wanted to read it. Persistence won out, and I finally caved to the pressure. In retrospect, now, I’m glad I did, even though I’m still going to have to go back and do some serious outlining and rewrite the thing again.
Over the course of this month, I’ve written a lot of stuff that is going to have to be either rewritten or just basically thrown out. Every single scene I’ve written, though, contains something that will make it into the final form of the story or inspires something that will end up in the final form of the story. Once again, however, I’ve realized that I need to properly plan ahead, with a detailed outline, and tackle this project “from scratch”. All the work I’ve done so far on it is, in effect, idea development — not actual prose for a first draft, even though it looks suspiciously like prose for a first draft. It could be prose for a first draft, but I need to get the story right, and not just long.
I knew I would be leaving town for a week plus at the end of the month before National Novel Writing Month began this year. I did some quick arithmetic and determined that about 2,381 words per day would put me over 50K by the time I leave town (tomorrow morning), so I rounded up to 2,500 and decided that would be my personal daily goal since I don’t know how much writing I’ll be able to get done next week, if any. Despite a couple periods of a few days of basically no writing, thanks to both two and a half days spent in a yurt (with electricity but no Internet) in the middle of the woods and my determination to make up for days that I spent not writing when I got back to writing, I managed to hit my 50K mark before leaving town. In fact, I hit that mark one week ago, last Friday night. Since then, I have only written about 10K more words, but I’m still working on the story, and I figure I’m likely to write another 5K tonight if I can make it to a write-in this evening.
Despite my realization that the whole novel needs to be started over again, I want to continue to increase my word count. I have a couple reasons for that. One is that every bit I write this month helps me flesh out ideas that will be developed in the next attempt at writing this novel (which, by the way, looks like it’s going to be long). The other is that I’m part of an inter-city “war of the words”.
The “war of the words” thing is an annually pursued rivalry between the town where I live, Fort Collins, and a neighboring town, Greeley. Each year, people from both towns sorta “talk smack” at each other on the NaNoWriMo online forum, and brag about how much better the writers in their own town are better than those in the other. This ends up being a great motivator for people to get more writing done on both sides of the divide, of course, and in general we’re all very good-natured about it. It’s all in good fun, in other words.
In the first week or so of the month of November, people who want to participate in the contest declare themselves part of it, so that each town gets a “team” built up. The word counts of the people in each team are counted toward the comparison at the end of the month that determines which town’s team won. This year, we actually kinda have two contests in parallel. In one, the winning town is the one whose team has the highest average word count. In the other, the winning town is the one whose team has the highest percentage of participants who passed 50K this year.
Fort Collins has one writer at nearly 160K already (in fact, he appears to have finished the first draft of his novel at his current word count, so he probably isn’t going up any further). Greeley’s top performer is just past 100K. Fort Collins is, I think, notably ahead on both percentage who are above 50K and average word count, though a lot of people tend to make dramatic improvements in their word counts in the last few days of the month in a sprint for the 50K “finish line”, so that could easily change. If I had to make a prediction, though, I’d say that Fort Collins will win this year, unless a bunch of prolific Greeley team members have just decided they will intentionally avoid updating their word counts on the site until the last couple days as some kind of strategy to keep Fort Collins people from feeling they need to write more to keep up, or something like that. I really don’t think that’s happening, though, in part because it would really be against the spirit of the whole thing to try to win by tricking the opponent into doing badly.
These wars of words have been going on for a few years now. In fact, I think the first one was 2005, my first year participating in NaNoWriMo in the Fort Collins group, though I don’t think I can claim any credit for the beginning of the tradition. Despite the competitive atmosphere, there hasn’t been any meanness to the rivalry that I’ve seen, which is great — and probably mostly due to the great examples set by the MLs (the people who manage the regional NaNoWriMo business, “Municipal Liaisons”). Fort Collins’ ML in 2005, Robin, really set things on the right foot in that regard, and our current MLs (we have two now) since Robin moved out of town have done an admirable job of keeping things amicable. Similarly, the current ML for Greeley (Skye) has done a great job of keeping things friendly, setting a good example, and she’s such an energetic, enthusiastic, and friendly type that it’d be difficult for anyone to develop a spiteful and mean spirited rivalry toward her and the region she represents anyway.
. . . and that’s pretty much what’s going on in National Novel Writing Month for me this year.