18 October 2010

Hunter Thompson, NaNoWriMo
and finishing what I started

I’ve spent a good bit of each morning during the past two weeks re-reading Hunter S. Thompson’s Songs of the Doomed. It’s an interesting read, consisting of essays and snippets from throughout the good doctor’s career, beginning in the Fifties and leading through his arrest, prosecution, and successful defense against a variety of drug and other charges in 1990.

I’ve always liked Thompson’s work, especially his books
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Hell’s Angels. But for me, reading Thompson is almost always certainly a Dangerous Thing – mainly because it puts me in a Cynical and Angry Mood and makes me want to write about the absurdity of both politics and American society in general.

In and of itself, such a temper isn’t necessarily a bad thing to have – I believe I write pretty well when I’m being snarky – but unfortunately, such a mood is in direct opposition to my one of my major goals for 2010. I’m trying to live a More Mindful Life, including taking steps to become a Kinder and Gentler Richard. So far, my attempts are becoming more fruitful each and every day, and getting myself all cranked up over the ravings of my most-admired madman don’t sit well with that aim.

On the other hand, Thompson inspires me to write, and that is most definitely a Good Thing, especially with November looming ahead. As you may or may not be aware, November is home to the annual month-long madness known as National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short). It is a time filled with sleepless nights, plot holes, and massive amounts of caffeine as thousands of writers across the world each attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days.

I participated last year, cranking out a first draft of a novel called Snakebit (coming in at just over 50 thousand words, and just under the wire), and I was thinking about ideas for this year’s event. I’ve got a decent idea for a story, a supernatural detective comedy set in a small coal-mining town in central Alabama during the Great Depression. But as I sat on the deck last week, telling Jean about my idea and what kind of research I want to do, she looked at me with incredible intent, and said:

“Really? You’re going to start a new project when you’ve got two-thirds of not one, but two books written?”

“Uh… well,” I stammered, knowing full well that both
Snakebit and my episodic science-fiction comedy Committed are both crying out for attention and have been for months on end. “It’s – it’s a great idea for a new story, right?”

She sighed. “I don’t know what it is about you and finishing things,” she said quietly. “Something – it may be self-sabotage, maybe it’s something else – but something is keeping you from getting done what you want to get done.”

It’s a fair cop.

I don’t know if it is fear of success, laziness, or something else entirely which has kept me from finishing these projects. In general, I use the excuse that “life got in the way”; it constantly seems as if something more important than my writing requires my attention.

But no matter the cause, it is time to actually complete one of these projects. So, in the spirit of NaNoWriMo and the balls-out attitude of Hunter, I am undertaking a new venture this autumn: Call it FiYoNoAlMo – Finish Your Novel Already Month.

Instead of taking part in NaNoWriMo and beginning a new project (and I really, really want to start something new and pretty and shiny), I am using this inspiration to finish Snakebit. My goal is to have a submission-ready manuscript by December 1. It’s no small matter, but I think I can do this. I mean, I wrote that first draft in a month; surely I can come up with a rewrite in 45 days.

What makes this time different is that I’ve learned a lot in the past year, about how to manage my time, how I trip myself, and what’s really important to me.

This is important. Now is the time. And I have a novel to finish.

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