“67” or “When the Wordsmith Well Runs Dry”

And now, another look back at my pre-blog, behind-the-scenes writings, as posted in my “Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale” Facebook page’s notes during National Novel Writing Month 2010.

The Making Of…: “Those Last 67 Words”

Misanthrope. Dipsomaniac. Bivouac. Propinquity. Obstreperous.

What do these words have in common? A couple of things, really. Firstly, they were all recommended to me, out of the blue, by my mother, sometime over the last twenty days of my novel-writing adventure, just in case I ever find myself at a loss for words. Secondly, not one of these words, or any of the many others Mother Dear has been so kind as to stop by at random times to share, have found their way into “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale”.

Just the same, I appreciate… Oh, look at that – this just in, I kid you not: “Miscegenation”. Thanks, Mom.

Trying to write a minimum of 1,667 words a day is no joke. …Or rather, that is probably exactly would be, if I didn’t give a hoot as to which words I were tossing together, higgledy-piggledy. (“Higgledy-piggledy” also having made an appearance as one of Mom’s words, FYI…) Quantity is easy enough if you throw quality out the window, but I would likely go mad if I did not allow myself to stop, go back, erase half of that, replace that word with a lustier synonym, change “he said” to “he reflected” or “spoke So-and-so”.

Call it my sense of artistry. Call it my deep-seated perfectionism. Call it my inner-editor, if you want to do like the NaNo people do. It all amounts to the same thing: Saying the same thing over and over again until, finally, I feel that I’ve said it right (or close enough to right to fly for now; I am still on a deadline).

But like I said – that number, one-six-six-seven, is just the technical minimum. And in addition to having a sense of artistry, perfectionism, and the compulsive need to edit as I go, I am also something of an overachiever. So my eyes see “1,667”, and my brain automatically tacks on something at the end like, “…Is the height that the bar has been raised for Other People; you, Danielle Shipley, must therefore aim higher!”

How high is “higher”? Not as high as it has been, I have to admit. Day One’s word total was, if I recall correctly, somewhere in the five-thousands or more. Fast-forward to yesterday, where I hit something around nineteen-hundred and said, “Eh, good enough.” Just so long as I pass 1,800, I allow myself to call it a success, though it takes leaving the 2,000-word mark in my dust to put a real smile of satisfaction on my face.

Quantity versus quality. Empty filler words versus the handful of gems that really make that run-on sentence sparkle. That’s a battle I face every day as the hours tick by and the word count creeps up and the story takes shape.

Sometimes, after fooling around with the same 800 words for the entirety of a morning, I may begin to feel a little edgy. Why isn’t this going faster? Why aren’t we on the next chapter yet? How can such a momentous scene take so darn few words to tell?

Sometimes I hit word sixteen-hundred, and the afternoon’s nearly over, and I’m starting to sweat (maybe figuratively, maybe not; it can get really hot in my room, with the door closed). Okay – just sixty-seven words to go… 67 and I can technically quit… Just scrape out those last 67 words…

“You owe me a shout-out in your novel’s acknowledgments.”

My characters have clammed up on me. That sight or sound or scent defies a descriptive paragraph. The dog is downstairs, wondering why his dinner is forty-five minutes late for the third evening in a row, and silently cursing his so-called owner and her so-called projects that are apparently so much more important than man’s so-called best friend. (Sorry, Max.)

What do I do at times like these? WRITE, dang it! Just keep writing! Stop looking at the clock, stopping double-checking the word count, do feed the dog, then get back there and write some more!

And I get there. Sometimes painfully. Sometimes easily. Sometimes painful for the characters but easy for me, sometimes vice versa. Whatever. We got there.

And how do I reward these daily accomplishments? How else? I turn around and fire off another half-thousand words a pop in messages to my NaNo friends.

There’s a word for people like me. I’ll leave it to my mother to tell me what it is.

*She’s still giving me words for this month’s Camp NaNo, by the way. This morning’s word was “didgeridoo”. Love you, Mom, but I very much doubt it’s going in.*

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2 thoughts on ““67” or “When the Wordsmith Well Runs Dry”

  1. Oh, those Nano-days! They really are something. It’s strange in a way because why would you need to write your novel at the same and (supposedly) the same place as thousands of others when you have every day of all year for that, but it’s like a magnet, drawing people in. (And then making them crazy!)

    • True enough, any month could be a Novel Writing Month. Then we could be crazy all year long! Of course, for many of us, 50K in 30 days isn’t the kind of pace we can keep up indefinitely. And sometimes it’s hard to motivate yourself to write every day when you don’t have a concrete word-count goal or time limit in mind (or peer pressure from all over the world. o.0). For those who need that extra push to write — and who desire a little extra madness in their lives — NaNo’s a sweet option. (:

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