On Stupid Decisions

Now I’ve done it.

I’ve consciously decided to do something really, really stupid.

I graduated With Distinction with an MBA in Project Management this past June and, instead of getting a job managing projects, I have decided to write.

Specifically my first novel.

For NaNoWriMo.

My first NaNoWriMo.

This absolutely bleeds stupidity.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and is held every November 1–30 for the past 16 years (this year will be number 17). The goal is to write a complete first draft of a manuscript, in 30 days, containing 50,000 words of raw story.

I’ve already done the math. It’s 1,666 words a day. For reference: one APA, double-spaced, 12-point, Times New Roman typed page contains roughly 250 words.

Six and a half pages a day.

Did I mention I’ve never written anything longer than a research paper for school? I think my longest was 50 pages (only including papers I wrote on my own), and now I have one month to write 200 pages that I can’t research and word-salad my way out of like I’ve done countless times before.

Stupid.

I am applying all of the wonderful lessons I have learned from Alastair Stephens and Lani Diane Rich over at the StoryWonk “Journeyman Writer” podcast; which I have binge-listened to over the past two or three weeks. I have been “diving into discovery” as Lani would call it, plotting my anchor scenes so as to build an “unsinkable story structure” as Alistair describes it; and yet, and yet I’m not at all sure I can do this.

Before college, I was what is known in the writing world as a “pantser” — I wrote by the seat of my pants. The vaguest inspiring idea would send me to the page and I would write without knowing where I was going at all. I was pretty good at the nitty-gritty stuff. I could put words on a page and they flowed well and meant something, but I never finished anything. I would get voraciously into writing a story, but would lose energy or interest and it would be gone. I didn’t know where I was going, so as a result, I simply stopped and forgot about it.

In college, there were a few classes which required me to produce outlines for my papers in advance. I hated them at first. I mean loathed. I would stomp around and yell and complain about having to do something so stupid, so useless! Then I realized that they were actually really helpful, facilitated my understanding of where I really needed to go in the paper, cut down on my redundancy from forgetting whether I had mentioned something or not, and enabled me to structure my arguments for maximum impact.

I’ve never had to write an outline for anything other than academia, though. I had never even considered outlining a story I was writing in advance. Writing is supposed to be fun! It’s supposed to be a way to express oneself creatively with words on the page! There’s no place for structure in art!

But I’ve never finished my art. Not one thing. Not one story.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

After listening to Alistair’s advice on structuring stories ahead of time (he’s a dedicated “plotter”), I thought I would give it a try, but it’s gotten me frustrated. I don’t know what my protagonist wants, I don’t know how to weave sub-plots in neatly so that they enhance the story, not confuse it, I have no idea how I’m going to end this stupid thing, and I’m not even entirely sure what the hell the conflict is in the first place (mostly because I don’t know what my protagonist wants).

I feel like it’s right there, under the surface, an obvious, cohesive, simple base on which this story will rest, but it’s elusive, hiding. I don’t know what it’s waiting for, but it’s the last day of October, and I’m stuck.

Oh, I’m going to write it anyway. I just have to pray that I don’t write myself into a corner. It’s going to be a learning experience, it’s going to be hard, but I’ve committed to doing this. I need to do this. I have to prove to myself that I can finish what I start. That I’m worthy of calling myself a writer.

All the best lessons in life come from stupid decisions, and I’m ready for my next lesson.

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