Catching the Horse, or How I Wrote a NaNo Thing

“If you fall off the horse, get back on.”

It’s an old saying, tried and true, that failure does not mean to stop trying.  Fall off the horse, jump back on quickly.  The longer you wait, the harder it is to work up the courage to try again.

But what if you wait so long that the horse wanders off?

This last year, my writing life has mainly been devoted to revising my novel manuscript.  Writing and rewriting, incorporating comments from beta readers, changing the order of scenes, ripping out characters, you name it.  At this point, the “horse” of my manuscript isn’t ready for show-jumping for an agent, but it’s getting close.

While I threw all my efforts into polishing this manuscript, something else was happening so slowly, so quietly, that it took me a long time to notice.  The “horses” of all my other stories were wandering off into the sunset, reins trailing behind them.  I was so focused on what I’d already written that I wasn’t producing anything new.

Then November arrived, and with it, National Novel Writing Month.  For the last six years, NaNoWriMo has provided a springboard for my creativity.  Something about knowing thousands of other people are also crazy enough to write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days alongside me is remarkably freeing.  At midnight on October 31, metaphorical trumpets blare, and I’m once again spurring a novel down the track hurtling toward the finish line of “THE END.”  In all of my attempts, I’ve hit the 50,000 word NaNo goal, though “THE END” has eluded me.  That’s all right.  Each of those novels gained enough momentum during the NaNo race that hitting an ending is inevitable.

NaNo 2011 rolled around after I had spent most of the year polishing the hooves of my thoroughbred.  I looked around to find another story to ride for NaNo and discovered all of my horses had wandered off, and what was worse, I was not certain I could entice any to come back to me.  When I first started writing, I never imagined I could come up with any story ideas that could hold my attention for long enough to produce even one novel, much less several set in the same story universe.  This year I had the opposite problem.  I wasn’t sure I could do it again.

In the weeks before NaNo, I fretted about what to write.  Should I play it safe and write the next adventure in my usual characters’ lives?  Should I use the time to finish one of my other drafts?  Or should I, could I, use the momentum and joy of NaNo to try something new?

My “stable” of stories has room for many novels.  So far, the stalls are filled with a thoroughbred of an almost submission-ready manuscript, another thoroughbred waiting its turn for grooming, and a few work horses that need a lot of training before they’ll be ready for the submissions race.  I knew I could easily use NaNo to entice another work horse into the stable.  That’d be the safe course.  Write another adventure for my characters, give them another mystery to solve.  Plod forward.

Something within me rebelled at the thought.  I’d played it safe by spending all year in revision and never poking my head outside the stable door.  Something within me wanted to soar.

So how does one entice one’s creativity to return from the green pastures where it’s wandered off?  Soft words and treats?  Threats of spur and whip?  That’s a good way to scare creativity off into the hills never to be seen again.

Getting creative about being creative works.  So does sneaking up on the problem.  Novels can be skittish.  Too much pressure, too many expectations, and the enthusiasm to work on so large a project can wither.

This year, I snuck up on NaNo.  I decided not to write a novel.  I wrote a Thing.  Every time I put hands to keyboard or opened my notebook, I fed words to the Thing.  It sat in a corner of the stable yards gobbling down word after word while the horses looked at it askance and stayed out of the way of its voracious appetite.

And a funny thing happened to the Thing.  The more I worked on it, the more coherent it became.  The style is different than anything I’ve attempted before, the ideas are new, and its place in my story universe opened up so many ideas that I’m still reeling from all the tantalizing possibilities.  By allowing my Thing its thingness, by not forcing myself to conform to my own expectations, something wonderful was born.

Now after NaNo is over, I have a 50,000 word Thing still hungry for more words.  It’s looking more like a novel than when it started, but I’m not sure whether the Thing is going to hatch into a horse like my other novels.

Right now, it’s looking a lot more like a pegasus.