Don’t Talk to Me, I’m Sprinting.

(Annoyingly smooth mockumentary voice-over) “Let us now turn our attention to the strange creature known as the Writer.”

Notice how my mockumentary guy doesn’t use the usual adjectives like ‘elusive’ or ‘wary’ or ‘in any way difficult to catch flat-footed.’  We Writers are sedentary creatures, easily lured closer with promises of chocolate, coffee, or reasonably priced double-sided printing.

“The Writer does not travel in packs, but instead, will congregate with others of its species in out of the way locations.  Look for him at your local coffee-shop with free Wi-Fi, crouched over his laptop, ear buds firmly implanted, swilling extra-tall caffeinated drinks.  An air of desperation hangs about him; his eyes peer myopically at his screen, where his latest manuscript has been minimized to his tray so that he can do the important work of harvesting imaginary crops or feeding his baby dragons.”

We’re an easily distractible bunch, aren’t we?  Whether it’s a plot bunny munching radiation-laced carrots or just a cool shiny thing, we’ll turn our heads and let our imaginations be our own worst enemies.  Discipline, how we covet and yet run frantically away from thee.

 “What have we here?  It looks like a rare grouping of bloodshot eyed Writers huddled around a lone surge protector, teeth gritted, and eyes firmly fixed to their work!  Fingers are flying over the keyboards!  Heads are down, words, sentences even chapters coming to life on their screens.  We’re witnessing something quite special here, ladies and gentlemen!  Get your cameras ready!”

Twice a year, I challenge myself.  Twice a year, I set a goal and join other writers and would-be writers in a phenomenon that keeps me focused and energized, inspired and disciplined.  I up my word count and get some of those fantastical, warped and twisted images and ideas out of my head and down on paper.

It’s called National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo to the few, the happy few, the band of brain-dead.  Because, after a month dedicated to writing, writing, writing and NO EDITING, brain-dead is exactly what I am.  Every November, writers are challenged to write 50,000 words in 30 days.  Fifty thousand.  It is a fantastic device to find out if those ideas churning in your tummy could actually become books.  During the month of July, they pull out a smaller, gentler version called Camp NaNoWriMo.  Today is the next to the last day of the month.  And I’m … BEHIND!

Check it out:

This non-profit group provides writers with inspiration, challenges, and wonderful resources for plotting, writing, and publishing.  Not to mention cool t-shirts and coffee mugs and wrist bands that double as jump drives. 

“Let’s see if we can get the attention of one of this group and ask some questions.  Excuse me.  Excuse me –   Oh, dear.  Now they’re drawing closer together, hunched further down in their seats.  There appears to be a kitchen timer in the center of the table and I believe one of them is attempting to communicate!  Wait – is that – why, I think he’s growling at me!”

One of the NaNo concepts that I’ve found most helpful is the notion of ‘Sprinting.’  It’s pretty much exactly what’s on the label.  One of NaNo’s volunteer Twitterers announces a Sprint of any duration from 10 minutes to 45 minutes.  Each Sprinter gets ready – takes care of business, gets a beverage, opens her document – and then, BOOM!  It’s time to write.

WRITE.  One word and then another and another.  No editing, no backspacing, no re-writing allowed.  Don’t worry about spelling or creating character names.  Use place-savers like: [MALECHARACTER] or [GREEKWORDFORPOTTERY] or [LOOKTHISUP!] so that you can find and replace them later.  After November.  Or July.

It’s completely illogical, utterly contradictory to my usual method of writing, and nonsensical on the face of it.  But it works!  Last November, 50,000 + words of sprinting gave me a solid basis for my new, original novel.

Did I keep all 50,000?  Ah, no.  Some of it was horrible.  Some of it was doggie doo-doo.  Some of it sounded like a bad SyFy original.  (Oxymoron you say?  Some of those 50,000 words would make Sharknado seem like a Golden Globes shoe-in.)  But I locked down my mythology, my main character’s origin story, and the basis for life in this universe and that, my friend, is writing gold!

“I’ll just peek over a shoulder if I can.  That’s odd – I’m reading about flying monkey ninjas!  Upside-down purple dolphins!  The unexpected appearance of a character we had presumed dead!  These are not the normal ideas of our intrepid Writers!”

Okay, some of the so-called inspirational ideas that come flying out at writers during a Sprint are less than useful.  My steampunk/fantasy novel doesn’t have room for a one-eyed Marie Antoinette or time-traveling Nazis.  BUT, when a certain NaNo Sprinter suggested a sudden blizzard out of a clear, blue sky, my dry-as-dust imagination found a twist that my story desperately needed.

“Look at that!  One of the pack has tossed a crumpled piece of paper in our direction.  Let’s read his communique.  Interesting.  It says, “Keep Calm and NaNo On.”  Well, not very original, but perhaps we should walk away slowly, ladies and gentlemen, before any other projectiles are aimed in this general direction.”

It’s July 30th, and I’m 6000 words behind.  So, for the next two days, if you see me out and about at the local coffee shop/library/book store with my head down and my earphones in, please don’t talk to me.

I’m Sprinting.