National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month: Day 30

Okay. I’m at 49,283 words but my story appears to be at an end.  The duck has been returned to the viceroy-in-disguise. The defenseman whose cancer was diagnosed just as the Larksville Lions clinched a position in the state playoffs died during a critical third-period power play, distracting the Maynard goalie just enough to allow the winning goal to slide in under his pads.

The time-traveling Nazi failed to get John Wilkes Booth to assassinate John Adams; John Lennon distracted him by letting him play with his iPod Tablet and the Timebike skidded right past the targeted dropdate. The Governor of Za, visiting from the parallel dimension where dogs became the dominant species on Earth, buried the Timebike (and Lozzie, the Hyperintelligent Sidecar) in a cave outside of Bellows Falls, Vermont, where the Green Mountain boys will be able to retrieve it in the books’ sequel.

The pirate angle seemes to have been wrapped up; they sank HMS “Destiny” and its cargo of heavy armament before it could reach the Hudson, and the captain has married the Countess in order to keep her inheritance safe from the Baron.

Oh: the forces of Death, Order, Reality, and Faith. As predicted, their casual Tuesday night game of Trilastero was in fact influencing all of the events taking place in the main story; oddly enough, the character of the telegraph operator was in fact one of Order’s minions, sent to observe the proceedings more closely. It is indeed he who made sure that when Dr. Reggie McMorden Larton “Skeets” Meston “Reggie” de Gormendeau visited the 1973 World Series of Poker, he set down his rucksack (and the three pounds of black powder inside it) too close to the popcorn machine, thus destroying his maps to present-day Las Vegas, 1774 Walpole Mass., and the Moon’s Schickard Crater.

Big kissing scene between Lady Marlene and Vera Milde. There had to be a payoff for the business with the Victory Egg. It just seemed like the most natural way.

I mean, a good Author knows when to stop. Put too much in there, and you wreck the fragile, simple beauty of your narrative.

So that’s it. I’m putting the National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month quill back into its rosewood presentation case. I’m heading out for a few beers to celebrate my achievement. Also, I know that I’ll be hearing from publishers pretty much the moment this post hits the Internet. I don’t want to reply to any of their begging emails until midnight at the earliest.

You know? Let ’em sweat a little. Maybe if I wait until 2 AM, they’ll up their offers.

National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month: Day 29

Hmm. I have just one day left in National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month and I’m still 7219 words short of the 50,000-word target.

I’m not terribly concerned. When things are clicking I can write about 10,000 words in a single day; I think my record is something like 14,000. But it’s just so hard to write a National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month novel. Yes, there’s the writing, but blogging about what I’m writing is just as important.

I’m also contributing to six different National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month podcasts; I’m moderating a National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month message board; participating in eleven others (mostly acting as cop, preventing idiots from hijacking threads and turning these wonderful resources into colossal wastes of our time); organizing a weekly National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month regional meetup; designing and uploading new merchandise for my National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month CafePress store; Twittering about my National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month novel; seeking out and responding to other National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month novelists’ National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month-related Tweets — we’re a community; we have to support each other…the workload is endless.

I just don’t want the quality of my National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month novel to suffer, that’s all. Before you can say it: yes, I know that anything less than 50,000 words means that my NaTeUnNoWriMo novel will suck. But it’s not all about output.

As of right now, my National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month novel contains: pirates, robots, timelords, cops, robbers, lumberjacks, greengrocers, lusty chambermaids, lusty bootblacks, lusty pet-store managers, aerialists; dead gods and Supreme Beings; characters from parallel dimensions; forest fires and earthquakes; and lemme check my notes but I’m pretty sure that I managed to bung in a few paragraphs that turn the whole thing into a biting appraisal the caustic racism that undermines our Society.

But there are no bear attacks, no dramatic “final desperate half-court shot right at the final buzzer” sports stories, and there’s this total bastard I used to work with over at the Carpet Depot whom I really need to stick it to in the form of a thinly-veiled character.

It’s true that great Art is never finished, only abandoned. The question is how good I can make the thing before I abandon it. What I’m aiming for is something that has enough charm and structural integrity that homeless people will tear off the plywood covering the basement door and move right in. If it’s like a 1983 Plymouth Gran Fury where someone removes the plates and walks away and then the neighborhood kids set fire to it three days later, then I have to feel as though I’ve somehow failed as a novelist.

National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month: Day 28

The Gift sometimes falters, but suffice to say that today I have four stripper poles here in the office and I’ve got a different muse on each one.

(Oh…and none of them are dudes.)

I truly pity those of you who aren’t participating in NaTeUnNoWiMo. You just can’t understand what The Process is like. Yes, it’s tough to slog through those dry spells, but in the end, my God-given gifts and unshakable discipline will get me through.

My story is set in a French trading colony in Quebec during the time of the Haight Mundation. The French outpost enforces discipline and order on a region in which civilization has won a perilous toehold against lawlessness and the wilderness. General Renaud, the military governor, initially resented spending the tail end of his storied career in this backwater colony but quickly came to appreciate the many benefits of wielding nigh-godlike power of life and death over 1723 men, women and children.

His one mistake was bringing his young daughter, Lilene with him. A bit of a hellion, she arrived in the New World only weeks ahead of a growing scandal she created in her mother country. Lilene quickly began to make friends with the various French, Dutch, and native factions; her father begins to become concerned that his daughter has her ear closer to the ground than he himself has…and when a Spanish prisoner under heavy guard manages to escape, the General begins to wonder if Lilene is an asset to his mission or his biggest liability.

Trappers feud with farmers. Both groups spar with the officers of the holding company that paid to establish the colony in the first place. The natives known to the colonists as “Buearicouts” grow increasingly impatient about treaties signed and quickly broken.

Meanwhile, word continues to filter from the British Colonies of increasing unrest between the American colonists; who among Renaud’s charges are loyal to France, who are secretly pursuing alliances and resources to support the British Crown, and who are secretly Revolutionary spies, intent only on setting one against the other?

And who’s the dashing young rake who stumbles from the West forest early one evening?  His clothes suggest he could be a local, or a recent arrival from Portugal, or from a land unfamiliar; he totes a chest made from a strange material with the properties of both metal and play. He is mocked for walking around with strings dangling from his ears, and with the strings in place he appears to be responding to sounds not of this time and place.

And what if his even stranger companion? Standing close to seven feet tall, dressed entirely in black, wearing a tall cylindrical hat resembling nothing as much as a black chimney…answering to the name “Abraham,” of all things!

The village idiot scares the community with tales of metal birds seen hovering in the sky; and windows through which one can view scenes from thousands of miles away; beverages sipped from metal tubes that provoke sensations of euphoria and empowerment; odd fellows whose sole question upon arrival is the day and the year!

Are these strangers here to aid the colonists…or to hasten their doom? And what of the birthmark recently-discovered on the parson’s left temple, discovered at the same time a brand-new chapter of the New Testament silently appears in everyone’s Bibles, as though this “Book of Dylan” had always been there to begin with?

Oh, what a mysterious and fabulous world I have created; I feel that I am cheating its residents and my future readers with every moment that I am not writing my NaTeUnNoWriMo novel. If only I could rip out that section of my brain that’s already familiar with this world so that I could actually experience this novel the way my readers one day shall.

National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month: Day 27

Once you reach a certain level of luminance as an Author, you start cultivating an appreciation for the fine details of the tools and implements of the the writing process. The average person picks up a ballpoint and the most granular awareness of the tool is that it either has ink in it or it doesn’t.

But a seasoned writer picks up a pen and appraises it with the same careful eye and seasoned touch that a Samurai warrior brings to a set of daish? presented by a master swordmaker.

Indeed. To a writer, the pen is both a tool of healing and a weapon of vengeance. It has heft. It has balance. Ideally, it’s not even a tool at all but a natural extension of the mind and the body; when we write, we interact with the minds of the readers, not with the pen and the paper. The correct tools fade into invisibility.

And so it was with some distress that I learned that Pentel was redesigning the Excalibur line of pens. No flashy “show” pen, this: it is manifestly the implement of a working creative. I throw out the “stock” cartridge that it ships with, and replace it with a Staedtler Mars Professional M120. The cartridge is designed for technical illustration; it lays down a very lively, sinuous line of extremely dense Roadtripper Husky Blue. Somehow, the combination of flare and color works in complete harmony with the word-pictures that I am crafting.

As for the pen itself, it nestles perfectly between the tip of my thumb and the crook of my index finger’s first knuckle. It’s rubberized only at this single contact point. The entire rest of the tool is ridged metal. It’s easy to retrieve from the desk after I’ve spent a few moments lost in thought and the cool metal against the web of skin between my thumb and forefinger presents the occasional flash of additional sensory input that keeps the thoughts churning through my brain in interesting ways.

You are, no doubt, surprised to find that I write with such a so-called “archaic” tool instead of one of the many computers in my office. A computer keyboard is far too stark, far too “digital” a tool to accommodate the universes of fancy and emotion that emerge from the pen like graceful silk from a spider. And the worlds I create are indeed just as fragile as a spiderweb. I cannot entrust them to a vulgar and invisible sequence of ones and zeroes.

It is about the line, the loops, the whorls, dancing across the pages of a series of paper notebooks. Clairefontaine Dural A4’s, ideally. Whenever I’m visiting the UK, I purchase these notebooks in case lots. Each volume holds a chapter of a book quite comfortably. And it’s quite possibly the only notebook designed for creative handwriting.

I have tried others. I have been disappointed in all of them. Moleskines? The Moleskine is to the Clairefontaine as the Monkees are to the Beatles, I assure you; I see a young author carving into the mica-like surface of a Moleskine and my natural compassion compels me to intervene. But my higher functions stay my hand. He cannot be taught. He must come to the Knowledge as I did.

There are papers that fail to provide a stark white playing field across which my little black dot can gambol and romp. Others place the ruling staves too widely or too closely together. Words are like orchids; they need just the right amount of “air” around them to survive and flourish.

Some papers resist the ink like the closed mind of a frustrated book reviewer. Others are absolute damned sluts for the stuff, sucking up as much as it can as fast as I can deliver it, like the indiscriminate reader of Danielle Steel novels. The ink goes where the paper wants it to, not where I direct it. I do not allow my editors to assume such an impertinent attitude regarding my words. I do not understand why I should accord such latitude to my papers.

Like the back of a reliable laborer, the notebook’s spine must be strong but capable of bending freely. For this notebook is the paper skiff that shall take me on endless adventures with my story, and at times this adventure transports me through the real world as well as the world of imagination.

I shame myself by taking such an active interest in the notebook’s covers as well. In the adventure of writing, the appearance of the notebook is of no consequence and as such, emotional attachment is energy wasted. But the romantic in me takes pride in each scuff and crease that the notebook acquires. By the completion of the first draft, the object has acquired endless charm and character and done it the honest way: through time and experience. The irony of that accidental but incorrigible process is too perfect.

I’m probably boring you at this point; I can sense that in my reverie has become self-indulgent. I apologize; to me, these are the familiar touchstones that magnetically attracts the ephemeral zephyr of the creative force and helps me to somehow bind it into permanence. They help me. They Heal me.

I don’t expect you to understand. It simply isn’t your way. Some of us are just living in harmony with the higher planes.

But cool. I’ve just written my mandatory 1200 words for the day, which means I can blow off work and spend the next three hours blasting Nazis straight to ****ing hell on my PSP.

National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month: Day 26

The police wouldn’t let me have my gun back. They were real mean about it, too.

“You’re just the sort of citizen in whose hands a gun becomes a massive threat to Society,” the detective said. And it made me feel pretty tough but then he said “…because someone’s probably going to knock you down, steal your gun, and then commit real crimes with it.”

That just seemed unnecessary.

But hell, I don’t need a gun to become a real, tough-guy gritty American author. I have something much more important. I have something that can never be taken away from me. I have a criminal record.

So I spent most of today getting used to walking without orange plastic sandals on my feet and rehearsing the story I’ll tell when my tough-guy gritty American NaTeUnNoWriMo novel inevitably becomes an Oprah’s Book Club selection.

“Prison changes a man, Oprah,” I’ll say, picking interestingly at a scar on my left arm that I’ll have the makeup guys put there precisely that purpose.

“You were in federal prison for nine years?” she’ll ask, eyes brimming with sympathy and a moisturizer that costs more per individual application than my best suit.

“Nine days. And it was actually the county lockup.”

“So you were in a ramshackle prison under the iron thumb of a tyrannical local sheriff, forced into labor without any of the protections that prisoners get in a properly-supervised facility,” she nods.

“They called my cell ‘the duty room’.”

“Where you were kept in terrifying isolation.”

“Right. They were already at capacity, you see, so after the second day they set up a rollaway bed for me in this big storeroom. They kept all their Christmas decorations and spare coffee filters and stuff in there. But yeah, sometimes the light would hit that big plastic Santa just right and I’d catch the reflection in my iMac’s screen and boy, it’d give me quite a scare.”

“You had a computer in there?”

“It was the county’s. I was rebuilding their entire network.”

“So you they did put you into forced labor. How shameful. Shameful.”

“Mmm.”

“What?”

“Okay. Well, when I tried to check my email on my iPhone, I noticed that they were still using WEP security. And no way was I going to send my passwords out on such a weakly-protected WiFi network. So I said something to the chief while he was in there asking me about what kind of notebook to get his kids. Next thing you know, I’d been awarded a $32,000 no-bid contract to secure their entire infrastructure. But I promised to have it finished by the time I was released, so let me tell you, those seven days were pretty stressful.”

“In your book, you said specifically that your time in prison had changed your whole outlook on life.”

“Driving away in a brand-new BMW M3 will do that.”

“My guest has been Andy Ihnatko. You don’t have to applaud or anything. Back after this.”

“Can I still say hi to my Mom?”

Hmm. Well, this is why we rehearse these things. An Oprah’s Book Club selection can really goose the ol’ Amazon standings. I just have to come across as someone with a nice, zesty experience of courage under soul-testing adversity. Like that chappie in South America.

South Africa.

Nelson…somebody.

Crap. I know it was Nelson and Winnie something. Sondra and Elvin’s twin babies were named after ’em on “The Cosby Show” and I’m given to understand that the guy had lots of other cool things happen to him, too.

Well, I can look it up. National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month isn’t even over yet. I bet I have at least two or three weeks before I have to get all of my Oprah stories straight.

Day 26. Words written: 1117.

National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month, Day 25

The gun arrived a week ago on Saturday. And it really worked exactly as I hoped it would.

No kiddin’. I don’t know why all those losers are messing around with these weekend writers’ workshops and immersive research jaunts to Djakarta to spend a year working as a dance instructor. Michael Moore was full of crap, as usual: just buy a gun and that’ll be the solution to all of your problems.

At least that’s been my experience. Oh, and if you use it just for the writing and don’t do anything recreational or Death Wish-ey with it, it’s every bit as tax-deductible as a toner cartridge for your printer. Your accountant might argue the point but remember: he’s seen all of your receipts so he knows you have a gun. Clearly you have the upper hand in that discussion.

I picked up the gun on Saturday and got cracking with it right away. Did you know that they don’t include ammo in the box? Boy, that got me steamed. I know, I know…I only bought the gun so that I could look like an author who has one of those profound and complex Rubik’s Cube-type souls that women and literary critics spend decades trying to solve. But remember that I write about technology for a living. Do you think Steve Jobs would ship a gun that wasn’t ready-to-go straight out of the box?

I think not. (It would also ship with a sticker over the trigger guard reading “Please don’t shoot people so that you can take their stuff.”)

That’s why Apple created an entire new industry with the iPod and the music player developed by the Browning Arms Company never went anywhere.

Well, it was just a minor annoyance. Like I said, the gun was indeed precisely what I needed to get cracking on my NaTeUnNoWriMo novel. I opened up my MacBook, scrolled down to where I’d left off and then I took the gun out.

I hefted it in my right hand once or twice.

I took a moment to ponder the nature of the God who, in an ironic jest, gave me the power to heal the world through my art, but also gave me ability to see the cancers and infections of Society in such sharp detail that to stand in opposition to the forces of entropy and chaos seems like a futile and furious gesture.

I took a swig of cherry soda and remembered that I’d meant to add “My Blue Heaven” to my Netflix queue and then I put the gun down next to the keyboard and started writing.

I don’t know if it was the gun or the five-day layoff or the soda, but good heavens…the words just rushed out of me. I’d be typing one sentence and already I had the next three in my head; honestly, the only effort involved was in slowing down the creative flow so that my fingers could keep up!

It was truly one of those Writer’s High moments. Time stopped. My entire environment receded around me. There was no sight, no sound, no sensations of any kind except for what I was seeing and hearing in the world that I was creating.

In fact, I had gotten so wrapped up in the creative flow that I didn’t even notice that everyone else in the Starbucks had nervously filed out around me. According to the police report, I didn’t respond to the store manager’s demand for me to leave and ten minutes later, I didn’t respond to the arresting officer’s demand for me to back away from the weapon and lay flat on the floor with my hands behind my head.

I did feel sort of a stinging sensation in my right thigh, but even that was nothing more than a vague annoyance…and amusingly enough, I actually incorporated it into the story. But the application of 50,000 volts across my nervous system was enough of an annoyance that I decided to take a break from the writing and chose to drop to the floor and start convulsing.

I didn’t get a whole hell of a lot of writing done in prison. But — silver lining, folks — my cellmate was hallucinating pretty bad from some sort of street drug called “Jump” or “Jock” and I got a lot of good stuff. The mattress made from three dozen living, snarling Bob Saget heads, for instance, is too good an idea to waste. It’s just going to be a little tricky to work it into a coming-of-age story set in Tudor England. Maybe I’ll make it three dozen living, snarling Bob Saget heads plus one rational and friendly Dick Cavett head, who explains to the young Duke who Bob Saget is and how the mattress wound up on a riding path on a Greenwich estate.

You know, that’s not a half-bad idea. I bet the head could also come up with a couple of funny anecdotes about Groucho.

So: sorry for the lack of updates over the past ten days. The good news is that when I got my MacBook back with my personal effects, I discovered that Word had auto-saved what I wrote at the Starbucks.

Oh, and the other good news is that I can still afford to buy myself a Wii this month! Boy, when the judge sentenced me to “a $500 fine” I was pretty depressed. But then he said “…or a week in the county lockup” and I knew that my plans to spend the winter playing Super Mario Galaxy are still safe.

Anyone know where I can buy a Wii? Because if I spent a week in stir for nothing, that’d suck.

National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month: Day 16

Damn. My new gun can’t arrive soon enough.

“Did I just hear you say ‘Damn! My new gun can’t arrive soon enough!’?”

Oops. I was like 99% sure that I’d only thought that.

“Sorry, officer,” I said, and then I handed over my license and registration as he’d asked.

My apology was quite sincere. Plus, I was wearing those special hypno-contact-lenses I bought offa eBay and I was really, really concentrating on the phrase “Please don’t pull me from my car and tase me to the ground and make fun of my Gavin McLeod air freshener.” So I don’t know what the hell went wrong. Maybe I had the left lens in the right eye and the right one in the left or something.

I’m looking forward to continuing work on my NaTeUnNoWriMo Novel, but without a gun, what can you do?

I guess for the next few days I’ll just kill time by looking at YouTube videos until I find one that I can rip off for a short story. You know…like the writers at The New Yorker do.

National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month: Day 15

I’m still sitting through the 5-day waiting period for my gun. Hey, I just figured out that I’ll be picking it up just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday! Sometimes, things just have a way of working out, don’t they? I can feel the hand of divine Providence on my shoulder.

But I don’t need a gun for today’s update. I have something much, much more valuable: arrogance!  For today marks the halfway point in the National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month journey.

How different the world seemed on October 31! “Write a terrible, unreadable novel in just thirty days? Or at least make a half-assed attempt at it, and make sure everybody bloody well knows about it? Ideally just after they’ve spent the past ten minutes describing all of the TV shows they watched last night, while you were gavotting with the Muses? Me? Surely it’s too monumental a task; surely I’m foolishly flying too close to the Sun…my wings will only melt, and I shall be cast down, down, wheeling down, towards a messy and spectacular end.”

That was me on Halloween. The neighborhood kids were real good sports about it, too. But what could they do? They could see that I had a bowl full of full-size Baby Ruths. I could have read them the first three chapters of Ray Bradbury’s “Zen In The Art Of Writing” and they still would have stuck around for the big payoff.

Wait…isn’t it “Zen And The Art Of Writing”? Hang on, let me get my copy…

Nope. “In.” Well, you know, he’s Ray Bradbury. He can do that sort of thing.

Anyway. I would never have guessed that 15 days later, I’d be standing triumphantly on the halfway mark. Most participants barely make it a third of the way to the halfway point. A quarter don’t even make it halfway as far as that.

Yes, this is why we Authors get into the writing game. We chip away at the bedrock of our very souls and catch so few of those granite flakes onto the printed page, but it’s worth it. It’s worth it, the price is worth it tenfold, just for the quiet satisfaction of leaning back at moments like this and thinking “I am so much better than so very many people!

And oh, man…a week from today I won’t just be 75% finished. I’ll also be a 75%-er with a gun! Yes, the future’s so bright I gotta wear shades. But not the kind that Harlan Ellison wears in his 60’s author photos. He’d probably find a reason to sue.

I should also take a moment to thank you miserable bastards who probably don’t have a Terrible Unfinished Novel in you, who have to content yourselves with these vicarious glimmers pleasure in the form of my daily progress reports. I salute you with one hand as I pity you with the other.

A quote from the back of the Bradbury book seems exceptionally relevant:

Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces rogether. Now it’s your turn. Jump!”

Ladies and gentlemen, I promise you all: until the end of National Terrible Unfinished Novel Writing Month, I will be your landmine.

National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month: Day 14

Still working the “Acting like an Author is probably more important than actually writing” angle.

Did such a poor job of assembling an Author-ey wardrobe that I decided to start small and focus on dramatic accessories. Admit it: you can’t get any smaller or more dramatic than a handgun, can you?

And the gun can help your writing in so many different ways! You heft it in your hand and immediately you’re filled with the drunken and misplaced sense of confidence and the illusion of power that’s so important when writing a novel. It also seems like it’d be a terrific prop to have next to the keyboard if I’m having friends over and someone’s date happens to be a contributing columnist to Vanity Fair or something.

See, you can’t come out and say “My burden as an Artist is that I’m the lone pair of eyes that can see the horror of daily existence for what it is; I desire nothing more than to turn away, but it’s my duty to share this clarity with the unknowing populace. Write, write, write I must, though each page peels another layer of bark from my very soul.” They’d see right through that.

Instead, you have to finesse your way into a four-page career-making profile.

“Say, Andy…I (emm) couldn’t help but notice the gun there on the desk.”

“Damn. I try to make sure I hide it away when I’m done working for the day. I’m a little embarrassed that you saw it; it’s kind of part of my Process.”

“It helps ‘trigger’ some ideas? Ha, ha.”

“No. Every morning I get out the gun and put it next to the keyboard. I look at them both really hard for ten or twenty minutes. Because I know: it’s one or the other. I can either write, or I can finally end it all. Honest to God, when I go to bed every night, I don’t know which one it’s going to be.”

There are plenty of fly-by-night agencies that tell you that the best way to build word-of-mouth about your upcoming projects is to put it all in the hands of a top-flight PR firms. Rubbish. You just have to understand that magazine writers are pretty lazy by nature and if you write the first page of the profile for them, they’ll come back a day later with a tape recorder and possibly Annie Liebowitz.

Oh, also, I saw a show on the Food Network where the host used the butt of a Browning to crush up some garlic. So it’s not as though I’d be one of those weenies who’s afraid to use the thing.

The best bit of all is that there’s like a five-day waiting period…so I get to take the whole rest of the week off from writing.

Or should I say “writing”? Man, this NaTeUnNoWriMo thing is a piece of freakin’ cake. I don’t know why so many novelists make such a big deal about it. I guess you either have a gift or you don’t.

National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month – Day 13

This new “Don’t be a NaTeUnNoWriMo Writer…be an author. No, an Author” attitude is paying off in spades. I’ve been buoyed by another piece of phoney-baloney advice that I once came across: “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

So if I want this NaTeUnNoWriMo novel to be everything it can be (unreadable and incomplete), I need to start dressing like an Author.

I had my mission for the day. Naturally, I went for authors that had made lots and lots of money:

Tom Clancy. A good first choice. I had the sunglasses and the flappy nylon windbreaker. I still needed a “scrambled eggs” command cap from a nuclear tactical cruiser-class hovership that the US Air Force has not yet publicly acknowledged exists.

I tried making do by taking an old navy-blue cap I owned, tearing off the Pokemon logo, and painting in some gold oak clusters and insigniae with that that kind of fabric paint you can buy at the craft store. Didn’t work out too well. My hand wasn’t very steady, you could still see the outline that the Squirtle embroidery had left behind, and I suppose if I had looked carefully before buying the paint I would have noticed that it was the rainbow glitter kind.

Stephen King. Which would seem to be a snap: jeans and a tee shirt. Man alive…do I own plenty of those. But no matter which permutation or combination I put together, I didn’t get that necessary sort of “I made sure to buy a house with an extra-large crawlspace under the porch, so that the bodies could stack easily” vibe when I looked at myself in the mirror.

J.K. Rowling. I did have a bunch of women’s suits in my closet but I’d bought all of them at a discount clothing store that caters to a certain clientele. Not a Chanel or a Dior in the whole rack.

Hunter S. Thompson. Windbreaker from the Tom Clancy attempt. Aviator glasses. Chinos and a golf shirt. I just needed a bucket hat and a pair of deck shoes, and those were pretty cheap.

But I didn’t want to suffer the same failure I experienced with the Stephen King outfit. It’s the little unseen details that really create the correct impression.

I think it actually worked a little bit too well. I soaked the hat in nail polish remover so that there’s be an imperceptible haze of chemicals around me at all times. Which was definitely the right idea, but it probably would have worked better in August, when the weather’s warm and I usually have the windows open. As it is, I slumped over at my desk within ten minutes and when I woke up, I discovered that I’d lost about thirteen hours. As well as all of the printing on the left side of my keyboard.

I didn’t manage to get a good Fantastically Successful Author outfit together today. But I managed to avoid writing anything, and that’s really all that counts.

Day 13. Words written: 0.

National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month: Day 12

I had a fairly productive day today. Not in terms of wordcount but of fundamental attitude. Up until now, I’ve been focused on steady output of readable, engaging fiction. What a rube!

I now realize that doing actual work runs counter to the spirit of NaTeUnNoWriMo. The point isn’t to produce a novel that will bring joy to others, after all. The whole point is spend a whole month feeling real good about yourself and thinking of yourself as a writer.

No, scratch that: an author.

Better: an Author.

So really, a successful NaTeUnNoWriMo means spending as much time as possible doing the sort of things you imagine that Authors do. I suppose Authors write the occasional something as well, but really, when you screen the movie “Amadeus” and compare the number of scenes in which Mozart is actually writing his operas and the times when he’s drinking, showing off, gettin’ it on with a happenin’ Austrian frauline…it quickly becomes apparent that I’ve been going at it all wrong.

I got off to a great start by spending a long weekend getting bombed out of my mind. Today, I spent four or five hours lying on my sofa and not writing. Just, you know, trying to get inside the heads of my characters. What would they be thinking after a long nap? Are they in the mood for another soda? Hey, it’s nearly 4 PM…would they like to watch “Arthur” on PBS?

Just to prove that I’m totally committed to NaTeUnNoWriMo, at 9 PM when I wondered “Would any of my characters be good at Guitar Hero III?” I didn’t screw around. I jumped in the car, got to a Best Buy about twenty minutes before it closed, and bought an XBox 360, a GH3 controller, and a big-ass plasma for research purposes.

Looks like a long night of character development ahead. Isn’t it wonderful when the work is going so well that it doesn’t even seem like work any more?

National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month: Day 10

I had Richard Dawkins over at the house today…he needed to use my office photocopier to copy some tax papers. He got to witness my Process firsthand over the course of a whole hour, as I labored on my NaTeUnNoWiMo novel.

I wasn’t having a very good day. There I was, staring at the screen, typing and then deleting paragraph after paragraph. It was 200 words forward, 200 words back, over and over and over again.

“Writer’s block, eh?” Richard noted, not without sympathy.

I didn’t even take my eyes off of the screen. “Writer’s block is a delusion,” I replied. “People believe it exists only because they want it to exist. It relieves them of the responsibility of dealing with their problems head-on, in a rational and self-determining fashion.”

At this point I shook my head and silently tapped Command-A and Command-X for the nth time that morning.

“…Which is really just cheating yourself out of a wonderful experience,” I continued. “It’s so much more satisfying to be able to say ‘I was confronted by a complex, baffling, and real problem…and although at times it sure seemed as though finding a solution was way beyond my limited powers, I ultimately dug deep, broke the problem down, and triumphed’.”

Dawkins froze and blinked once or twice.

“That’s good stuff,” he finally said. “Can I use it?”

I shrugged and nodded.

Then it occurred to me that he was taking an awful long time just to copy a bunch of forms. I walked over to the other side of the office and discovered that he was photocopying the entire galley edition of my new iPhone book.

Cripes…it’s bad enough that he’s not buying his own copy. He also has to use my toner and my paper? I guess life is pretty damned sweet after you’ve declared that “Thou Shalt Not Steal” doesn’t apply to you.

He’s a nice guy and everything. Just don’t loan him your spare iPod charger, that’s all I’m saying.

Day 10. Words written: 0.

National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month: Day 9

Annnnnnnd today I wrote a chapter in which the waitress discovers the barista’s LiveJournal blog. She, um, posts a reply in which she rebuts her account of their date.

Yeah, I know.

I have just gone and updated the Wikipedia entry for “rut.” It now says “See Andy Ihnatko’s National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month novel.” If by the time you click that link someone has changed it back, then it’ll prove once and for all that Wikipedia is completely full of crap.

Day 9. Words written: 984.

National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month: Day 8

Status Report:

Boy, I was all revved up this morning. I was right in the middle of cutting up a slice of leftover pizza into appropriately-sized chunks for an omelette filling, when inspiration struck me: I think I have half a Slim Jim left, back in the car. I should put that in the omelette as well.

And I don’t know whether it was the carbs or the protein or the salt or the preservatives or just the simple careless disregard for future consequences that caused things to start the gears turning, but by the time I finished my breakfast, I had my whole National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month Novel clearly fixed in my mind.

No kidding. I’d just been sort of making it all up as I go. But I suddenly had the entire arc of the story, beat for beat, from beginning to end. I’d figured out all of the plot’s intricate feints. I knew the purposes of all of the characters that I’d already written, and I learned the identities of all of the characters who had been standing just offstage the whole time, awaiting their cues. I even had two or three major turning points all laid out, practically line for line.

And it was all pure Tabasco. I couldn’t wait to get to my keyboard and write it all down.

I opened the Word document and as usual, I sort of reflexively glanced at that little tile at the bottom of the editing window. I noticed that my word count stood at 14,169, as of last night.

As you know, the goal of NaTeUnNoWiMo (like the goal of NaNoWiMo) is to write at least 50,000 words in thirty days. So I did a little math to see where I stood.

14.169/50,000 = about 28% completion.

Awesome; I was just 7 days into NaTeUnNoWiMo (23% of my allotted writing time) and wordwise, I was already 5% ahead of schedule. This 5% represented 2500 words, or more than a full “bonus” day.

Specifically, I need to hit 1667 words per day to hit the goal. So being 2500 words ahead translated to a projected novel completion time of just 28.5 days.

I kind of wanted to be a nice, round 28 days ahead by the end of the workday. That would mean doing a full days’ work plus another half-day’s worth, or (once again) 2500 words. If I reached that goal, I’d be at 16669 words by the end of the day. I’d be almost exactly 1/3 finished with my NaTeUnNoWiMo project. It comes out to 33.33338%, so I’d actually be a little bit ahead. If I wanted to hit it the 1/3 mark exactly, the target would be 16,667 words total, or 2498 words for the day.

Which naturally would have impacted the “get a full two workdays ahead of schedule” target. The two-word shortfall represents .08% of a workday; that represents .0192 hours, or 1.152 seconds (based on a 24 hour workday). Realistically, if I planned on a full 8-hour day, that actually meant I’d have to knock off work .384 seconds early to be exactly a third of the way through my NaTeUnNoWiMo novel precisely by the time I closed up shop.

Unfortunately, by the time I finished doing all that math, I’d completely forgotten how the whole rest of the novel was supposed to go. Damn, damn, damn.

It wasn’t a total loss. I was completely stuck for ideas, so I had the barista character describe her date with the waitress in her MySpace blog. So that’s another couple of pages down.

I haven’t done the math on where that puts me on the schedule, but I’m guessing it’ll be pretty ugly.

Day 8. Words written: 712.

National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month: Day 7

Am officially over my writer’s block. “Forget structure,” I commanded myself, remembering a tip from the National Novel-Writing Month‘s official site. “Just clear your mind and write whatever you see.”

So I breathed in, I slowly exhaled, and then I wrote a whole chapter in which the waitress from the independent coffeehouse makes out with the cute barista from Starbucks, dressed as Power Girl and Wonder Woman, respectively and temporarily.

I don’t know how this will work into the novel’s story but I don’t really care. Reading this latest bit back, I’m not worried that any of this book’s lesbian or hetero male readers will care, either.

Day 7. Words written: 12,284.