Wednesday, November 25, 2015

NaNoWriMo: What does it all mean?

I first visited Dinosaur Land in 2014 which I decided to go on an Instagram Vacation. My plan was to go from Arlington (where I live) to Baltimore (a city I love) to Richmond (to visit friends). Along the way my plan was to stop at roadside attractions and unusual points of interest like the American Visionary Arts Museum (a must see in Baltimore). I photographed the pineapple that greets visitors to Charm City and Nipper the RCA dog. I stopped at the Giant Roller Skate (but did not skate; need to go back to do that) in Bealton,VA. However, Dinosaur Land was always the true destination.

March in the DMV is a strange month. It's hard to predict the weather; it can be gorgeous and spring-like or hold onto winter with an impressive death grip. I once described it to a friend from New Orleans as "what would happen if February and April had a baby and that baby hated sunshine and happiness." As I was driving from Arlington to White Post, VA (where Dinosuar Land is), it started to sleet and snow. The route takes you down 66 through the Shenandoah Mountains so you can imagine how much fun this was. By the time I got to the parking lot, it stopped sleeting but was still bitter cold. Dinosaur Land was open; I was the only visitor. The young man who sold me my ticket told me to be careful but to enjoy. I stepped through the entrance into a strange and magical place. I walked around the park, taking pictures, reading the signs, and wondering why more places like this don't exist. It made me feel like a kid again and that was before I browsed in the gift shop.

No one is going to build Dinosaur Land today (unless it resembles something more like Jurassic Park) but I'm sure glad Joseph Geraci thought to do so in the early sixties. I've been back twice since 2014 and plan to go at least that many times next summer. Places like Dinosaur Land represent a lot of things: nostalgia for the good old days, a specific type of American entrepreneur, and the belief that simple entertainment is the best kind of entertainment. It's the ideal place for hipster kids to take selfie (and me too - I have some Dinosaur Land selfies too) but also a fun thing to do with little kids on a pleasant summer day. Places like Dinosaur Land make me think about my childhood and driving from wherever we lived to Detroit in the summers and the sort of hazy veil that sits on top of childhood memories. We never stopped at a place like Dinosaur Land but we had adventures and enjoyed the fun of the road.

As I started prepping for NaNoWriMo this year, I had a hard time getting into my original idea. I liked the idea but I when I sat down to write a character sketch or timeline, I got stuck. While I think it's a good idea, it's just not ready to see the light of day. Yet. So with two weeks until the start of the month, I threw out that idea and decided to go with something else. I decided to write about a Dinosaur Land-like place in a similar type of town in Virginia but tell the story from the perspective of a young girl, Iris, (and later her as an adult) whose family owns a roadside attraction called Land of Legends. She grows up there and its really the only place she knows. She wants to be an artist not run a park in the middle of nowhere. When she returns as an adult the realities of running such a business sink in; it's fallen on hard times and the land is worth more than the family legacy. Iris has to decide what to do with the park and how to preserve the history of her family.

Land of Legends features Iris's family, including her father, grandparents, aunt, and two cousins. There's a boy who returns later on but not as a love interest, a grumpy cat named Ethel, and the legends themselves. The park features a Yeti, Bigfoot, dragons, a kraken, mermaids, a maze with a Minotaur, fairies, and a family of unicorns. Imagine growing up with that in your backyard and with the expectation that you will run this one day. I genuinely liked every character I wrote even the bratty little girl who tries to climb on the unicorns. It was fun to write but as with any writing, it was also work. I struggled through 1997, the summer Iris turns 13. Getting through the middle was the most challenging part of the story. I also made the decision to kill a character although the character that died at the end was not the character I originally planned would die. That's how these things work; you have a plan but things happen and you change course. However, I kept going and I finished the first draft. I wrote a fun, little novel. It's not going to change the world but it changes me.

Which brings me to the end: what does it all mean? When I tell people about NaNoWriMo and about "winning" (which is what they call it when you get your 50K word goal and finish), they seem rather let down. I assume it's because they think winning means my novel will be published. That's not how this works. I get where they're coming from; when you write a novel people expect you to publish it. Maybe I will one day but that's not the goal for me. I have done this for the last three years to push myself to take an idea and turn it into something complete. I like the structure of the month; I have to discipline myself to write and commit to the project fully. Writing is not just a hobby for me but since it's not my full time job, taking this month to really dedicate time to an idea and to crafting characters and to seeing them develop makes me incredibly happy. It gives me purpose and fulfills my need to do something creative every day.

The other reality of this is that it doesn't stop because the month is over; not the novel or my writing. I write a weekly blog, I write for work, I write things I don't share publicly; I will always write even if no one reads. I'll take a little break from the novel but will return to it at some point to revise and edit and decide if I want to do anything else with it. I've been working on revising last year's novel, Transient Suburbia, on and off since the summer. My goal for the coming year is to finish the revisions to that novel and do something with it. I don't know what that something is but I want to see that novel out there in the world. I have two weeks off in December and most of my time is going to be devoted to working on that novel because I believe in it and I love it. Eventually I'll do the same thing with Land of Legends and my first NaNoWriMo novel, The Metro Counselor.

The 2015 Stats:
  • Started on: November 1
  • Finished on: November 23
  • Total days: 19 days (I wasn't able to write four days for various reasons)
  • Best day: November 22 - 8171 words
  • Worst day: November 18 - 184 words
  • Total words: 50078
  • Pages: 95
  • Chapters: 26
  • Number of times I watched the kraken scene from the 1981 film Clash of the Titan: 40
  • Number of pairs of themed socks purchased: 3 (Yeti, Bigfoots, Unicorns - all from Target)
  • Packages of peanut M&Ms: 2
  • Bottles of wine: 2
I'm happy to share my "finished" NaNoWriMo novels with anyone interested in reading them. I wanted to post the whole novel this year but it didn't really lend itself to being posted on a blog. 

Coming soon to the Island: the conclusion of NaNoWriMo, The Eye Shadow Experiment (no, I did not join a band but it is an excellent band name), a check in on how online dating is going, and my guide to not hating the holidays. 

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