NaNoWriMo Week 1 update, and a few thoughts on the process

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Wrapping up the first week of National Novel Writing Month this year, I’m finding myself more excited about the process, and the output, than in either of the last two years.  I’m currently 12,200+ words into my book, far exceeding the 10,000 word pace I’m supposed to be on, and find myself struggling to put the computer away, rather than forcing myself to sit down and write.

It’s been a different experience this time around; I’m not often stuck trying to figure out what to write, since I’ve lived the story, and therefore know it already, and I love the feeling of just sitting down and writing and having the words come out unfiltered and without hesitation.  This is often not the case with writing for me.  I often find myself questioning where I’m going, trying to decide how the pieces fit together to compose a larger story, how much to disclose, how much to give away.

Most of these differences lie in the fact that, for the first time in my writing experience, I’m working on a piece of non-fiction.  With this book, it’s about telling a story that’s already been laid out in my head, so my concerns are less with narrative structure and flourishes, and more with how to explain the events and people in a way that others will understand them, will know them and relate to them.  While it’s necessary to have such a focus in this kind of writing, I think it could be extraordinarily useful in my prose as well.  Often I will rush into the process of writing a fiction story, eager to get the plot down, or to establish characters, but in showing such eagerness, I think I probably miss something in the description of things, in truly letting the reader see and feel the situation.  It’s going to be a focus of mine in the future.

As for the book itself, it’s coming along swimmingly.  I’m tip-toeing the line between sarcastic humor and heartfelt emotion, and so far I’m keeping my feet under me.  The most recent chapters have been hard, revisiting some particularly difficult times in my past prior to hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, dovetailing with my early struggles on the trail itself.  I’m definitely looking forward to more enjoyable stories from the trail and my life in general, but it’s been important to lay down a groundwork of shitty stuff to show what the hike actually meant to me.  It’s a work in progress, and I’m hoping to break free of some of the downer stuff in the next couple days, maybe tomorrow if I can put in a double session today, but for now it’s been a bit of a slog.

That being said, it’s time to get back to writing, but first, a taste of the book, from a chapter I’ve written about trail addiction, and withdrawal.  It’s kind of a floating chapter at the moment, haven’t figured out where to put it yet, probably going to save it for later in the book, but we’ll see.

…I am an addict. There’s really no other way to put it. For me, and for so many hikers, the trail is a drug, and we are the tweaked-out, teeth-gnashing, fidgeting denizens of nature’s crack den. When we’re on the trail, it beats us down, makes us crazy, ruins our health, puts unnecessary strain on our relationships, and sometimes even leads to profound (read: nonsensical) insights on the world and the people in it. When we’re off, we itch. We tear at our hair. We don’t shave our faces, our legs, our overgrown back hair, because maybe, just maybe, we’ll be back on trail soon, so what’s the point? Most importantly, we yearn.

We yearn for the times we spent on the trail, all of them happy in retrospect, all of them good. We ignore the difficult times, the night our tent collapsed in the ice storm, or the time we tripped and almost fell off a thousand foot ledge. We forget the pain, the blisters on our toes, the open lesions on heel and ankle where our new boots rubbed us raw, the dehydration cramps and the stiff joints in the cold morning air. We reimagine our travails as our triumphs. The worst times become the best times. The best times become the stuff of legends. The trail is a siren, a sexy ex that we just can’t keep away from, that we feel compelled to go back to, just for one more chance to see them without clothes on….

Gotta get back to writing.  If you’re interested in taking up the challenge yourself, there’s still time to get that 50k words done before the end of the month.  Sign up at www.nanowrimo.org or hit me up and friend me at my page.

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