Category Archives: National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month

National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month: Day 6

I was too intimidated to return to Starbucks. I didn’t want to risk being shown up by the lady from yesterday.

Instead, I went to an independent coffeehouse. I was hoping that a nice cup of tea would set the scene nicely, but I got so distracted and frustrated trying to figure out how to work the complicated little teapot/press/juicer/whatever-it-is they gave me that I never got around to pretending to write. I didn’t pretend to write a single damned word.

Am now officially suffering from writer’s block. But is it preventing me from actually writing my National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month novel, or is it only preventing me from pretending to write my National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month novel in coffeeshops?

My head really hurts.

Day 6. Words written: 0.

National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month: Day 5

Writing is a solitary, lonely business and it’s vitally important to go out and be seen writing your novel, just so that as many people as possible realize how solitary and lonely the whole process is.

I took my MacBook to Starbucks to make a good show of writing my novel. Alas, I found that all of the tables and comfortable seats were already occupied by other poseur novel-writers. So I bought a big cookie and a bottle of weird soda to go.

And happily, the trip wasn’t an entire waste. First off, I was able to get my entire daily intake of saturated fats out of the way with a single $8 Butter Snickers Bar Fudge Cracked-Grain Cookie. What a time-saver!

But the truly Big Win of my visit to Starbucks came when I looked around the store while waiting in line. I picked up tons of great tips on how to appear to be struggling with a novel.

I focused on this one lady in particular, who was sitting next to a display of thermal mugs right in the middle of a high-traffic area. What a pro! I got the impression that this wasn’t the first novel that she was writing purely for show.

She moved her lips while making talky gestures with alternate hands, as though she was sounding out a dialogue scene between two characters.

She would close the lid to her laptop slowly and methodically, and then furiously start scribbling handwritten notes on every available scrap of paper; ie, the next scene had such a lyric and organic quality that writing it on a computer seemed vulgar.

Oh, but the true, killer move: she would scrunch up her face from time to time and then do a weird Wikipedia search.

I wouldn’t even have known what she was up to, except every now and then she would turn her screen around so that everyone could see that she was boning up on Welsh folklore, Egyptian embalming oils, the bus schedules of Sacramento, California in the Mid-Seventies…it was quite a run. And she performed that screen-twist in such a natural and casual fashion that I totally believed that she was just moving her laptop aside so that she could make room on her little table for whatever she’d just pulled out of her purse.

She even added frosting to the cupcake by “catching” me glancing at her screen! She shot me this look that said “How dare you observe my Process! I know that I tend to zone out when my Muse overtakes me and I’m immersed in The Gift, but still…you non-novel-writing chaps shouldn’t take advantage! This is my soul you’re peeking at!”

I mean, that was polished, man. She must have workshopped it at Dunkin’ Donuts or something before showcasing it on the big stage.

I suddenly felt so inadequate. Even my usual go-to Starbucks move (the classic “raising a beverage to my lips and then slowly returning it to the table unsipped as I distractedly ‘make another edit’ with my free hand”) seemed cheap and vaudevillian move by comparison.

Maybe I’m just not ready to pretend to write a novel in Starbucks.

Day 5. Words written: 0.

National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month: Day 4

New light bulb is working great. Read another three chapters of the Houdini biography. I was surprised to learn that the part of the act where he’d invite people from the audience to examine him for hidden keys and lockpicks had nothing to do with the escape trick. He just enjoyed it when strangers touched him with hundreds of people watching.

I got cracking on the novel’s first sentence. Words seemed to simply flow from my fingers. Before I knew it, I had an exciting opening scene featuring a foppish viscount, highly-placed in the court of King George III. He is speaking with an ancient game warden, who spouts a disconnected babble of insane non-sequiturs; clearly the last random sparks thrown off from a brain that’s only hours from death.

More than 1800 words of pure dialogue! I had no idea where it all came from. It’s a gift.

Then I looked up and realized that the TV was on CNN. I’d just spent the previous twenty minutes transcribing a Larry King interview with Orlando Bloom.

Still, I typed a lot. That counts for something.

Day 4, words written: 1879.

National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month: Day 3

Purchased bulb. Wasn’t happy with it. Took it back to Home Depot. Was forced to accept store credit so I bought a packet of aluminum washers with the $1.23. Then I used the washers to jam up the Pepsi machine outside the employee breakroom. Revenge is sweet.

Created a new Word file for my NaTeUnNoWiMo project. Got hung up on the filename. There was an infomercial on for some sort of exercise ball and after spending a not-unreasonable twenty minutes watching shiny, sculpted women wriggle and twist over the thing, the announcer said a word that seemed okay.

“Intensity,” I typed into the “Save” dialog.

Good stuff. It’ll look fab on the cover, particularly if it’s a paperback with foil embossing and they decide to really exploit my fame as a technology columnist.

(Gold foil, small lettering:) Andy Ihnatko’s

(Red metallic foil, huge lettering:) INTENSITY

(Gold foil, smaller lettering than author name) by Andy Ihnatko

Spent rest of afternoon musing on whether that should be “A New Novel By Andy Ihnatko.” Ultimately rejected this idea; it would all have to fit on one line, and the four extra words would force them to make the second “Andy Ihnatko” a lot smaller.

Great day’s work. I felt like I really hit a groove.

Day Three. Total words written: 6. Double-digits tomorrow, for sure.

National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month: Day 2

Status Report:

Off to a fantastic start. Greatness cannot be rushed. Even incompetence benefits from spending an entire day thinking about what sort of light bulb I should buy for the reading lamp near the sofa.

Prosecuted this plan well. Decided to actually lie on the sofa to give this process extra verisimilitude. Read the first couple of chapters of the new Houdini biography I bought on Tuesday so that I would fully comprehend the need for proper illumination.

I had to turn on the main overhead light in order to read, but it threw so much glare into my peripheral vision that I had to go get my Colorado Buffaloes baseball cap and lower the bill over my eyes. Then I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until after the hardware store closed. But I collected some good data and I think I’m going to go with a 10-watt compact fluorescent.

If I include a scene in my NaTeUnNoWiMo novel in which someone naps on a sofa or mentions details about young Houdini’s tour stop in Lima, Ohio, I am going to be so totally ready.

Day 2. Total words written: 0.

National Terrible Unfinished Novel-Writing Month: Day 1

As you can tell from the decorations in all the stores, November is National Novel-Writing Month. Or “NaNoWiMo,” as it’s known. Yes, it sounds like the name of an expensive and trendy section of Manhattan that was used for the disposal of circus and zoo carcasses as recently as last August, but whatever.

The purpose of this event is to inspire people to write an entire 50,000-word novel from start to finish in 30 days.

Every year I consider joining in. I’ve done this sort of thing before and it’s actually kind of a blast. For 24-Hour Comics Day, I attempted to write and record a 24-Hour audiobook. I failed, but chiefly because I got too into what I was writing. Ultimately, I wrote a 14,000-word short story that took way too long to write and record. It wound up being a 36-hour audiobook, if I recall correctly.

But it was a fine exercise. The point of NaNoWiMo and its ilk is to just put your head down and plow through, not caring if the end-result is publishable or not. That’s actually the key to writing. A work of fiction won’t be good enough to show anybody until its third or fourth draft, minimum. So sweating the details of your first run at it isn’t as important as simply getting from start to finish.

I’m not going to do a 30-day novel. I’ve concluded that I really ought to be finishing the book that I’ve already sold to my publisher. The Leopard book. You know, the one that originally was supposed to be 100% finished back in January.

It’s a shaky excuse, I know, but I’m going with that.

It’s probably for the best. I’m not really sure that a 30-day novel is actually an attainable goal. “If only there was a ‘National Terrible Unfinished Novel Writing Month’,” I thought. “I could do that standing on my head.”

Thank God for the Internet. The only difference between a terrible idea that you should really just keep to yourself and a beloved annual tradition is typing up a few paragraphs and then clicking a button marked “Publish.”

Push the button, Frank…