I am a writer. Rather, I should say, I am a writing hack.
While I have had works published in newspapers, magazines, literary journals, and you may have even breezed by my commercial work on radio, television, print, the web, and billboards throughout the southeast, none of these writing ventures has ever been truly satisfying. For to me, the true measure of a real writer is whether he can sustain an idea until he reaches a book length manuscript, and in this area I have failed. Often.
I maintain a metaphorical drawer of dozens of false start novels and nonfiction books that haunt me, that doggedly pursue me in my daydreams.
Let’s face it: the bulk of my work has a shelf life of recently expired, days’ old pastries from the bakery thrift store. Sure, my writings have value to some, but for how long? A week, maybe—and only if you toast them.
My self-loathing remains exacerbated by a 45-minute commute between Meridian and Livingston with my daily carpooling buddy and good friend, Dr. Alan Brown. Brown, as you may know, is the author of 27 books, most of which are about ghosts. For the past seven years, he has recounted stories of his ghostly research in the car as he prepares each manuscript for publication. Jealous much? You think?
What makes Brown better than I am? Is he taller? Well, yes, by two inches. Is he older and wiser? Well, I guess he is. Is he faster? Thinner? Again, yes, on both counts. Is he better looking? Decidedly not, but you be the judge. What makes Brown better than I is his pursuit of a hobby, which brings him more joy than a child gets from a $500 gaming system on Christmas morning. He also has celebrity and some extra cash to show for his efforts. I have dreams. I have dreams of becoming a “real” published author.
Yes, I have dreams, dreams like the person who hopes to one day win the lottery but never buys a ticket.
What’s really different between us? Brown has trained himself to put his butt in the chair—every day—until he reaches his word count. He remains focused on a singular objective. And as nearly as I can tell, those are the only differences between us, other than he’s wiser, taller, faster, etc., and perhaps even better looking. Again, you be the judge.
For the past six years, I’ve toyed with the idea of accepting the National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, challenge, which is fully outlined at NaNoWriMo.org, the website of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
This year, I’m going to participate.
Essentially, the challenge is to produce a 50,000-word manuscript in the 30 days of November, which works out to an overwhelming 1,667 words a day. Participants who become winners by reaching this word count earn special discounts on writer-related products as well as a badge that can be placed on websites and t-shirts. And don’t forget about the self satisfaction of completing a first draft in a single month.
I’ve had an idea for a non-fiction book for a while now. While it technically doesn’t count as a novel, I can participate as a Writing Rebel, legally speaking. You can too by checking http://nanowrimo.org/forums/nano-rebels for the rules.
The NaNoWriMo contest has been going strong since 1999 and a surprising number of manuscripts have been published which were born out of this personal challenge. For example, Sara Gruen’s “Water for Elephants” novel, which was made into a major motion picture starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson, began its life as a NaNoWriMo 30-day challenge. To date, “over 250 novels have been traditionally published,” according to NaNoWriMo reports. According to today’s statistics, 191,146 writers stand ready to write on Nov. 1. Last year, 341,375 would-be authors accepted the challenge.
If you, like me, have always wanted to write a book, accept the challenge yourself and become one of my Writing Buddies in the support forums. Let this be your opportunity to start your career as a famous novelist or writing rebel like me. Writing close to 2,000 words a day pales in comparison to Stephen King’s daily commitment of 10,000 words a day, right? You can do this too!
I’m inspired to compete, not so much with Brown or even with the other hundreds of thousands of wannabe writers participating in this year’s NaNoWriMo contest. I am here to compete with myself. Whether or not I reached the Holy Grail of 50,000 words in 30 days remains to be seen. If you’re so inclined, you can check my word count progress chart at http://www.ZAphoto.com. Will I crash and burn because the contest begins on a Friday? I don’t think so, but then again, I have years of experience not producing a book-length manuscript working against me.
Organizers recognize that participants may need some encouragement now and then, so they’ve arranged for pep talks from writers who know what it’s like to stare at a blank screen or sheet of paper. World famous author James Patterson, for example, will offer words of encouragement to those who have lost their way, which is great.Then again, all I have to do is look at the shelf that houses my personalized Brown book collection to inspire me.
If only I had used the energy required to write this article to add to my word count . . . .
Brown’s latest books from 2012-2013 include “Haunted Big Bend, Florida,” “Haunted Meridian, Mississippi,” “The Big Book of Texas Ghost Stories,” Haunted Natchez,” “Haunted Vicksburg,”and “Haunted Kentucky: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Bluegrass State,” all of which which were driven by personal fulfillment and not some silly contest, are available in the UWA Bookstore as well as regional bookstores, such as Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million, in addition to all major online retailers such as Amazon.
My latest book is currently available in my mind.