10 days that changed my life

Or, how I wrote 50,000 words in under 10 days.


In the beginning there was an average person who liked sports (played basketball in school but gave it up once work started), a little music (was forced to learn the piano at a young age), acted in a drama or two (strictly amateur stuff at college) and writing.

It was writing that held the greatest interest, and there are small black notebooks of random scribblings, lyrics and other stuff.

Years passed and projects that were started were abandoned.

Then came fanfic, which was devoured by the truckload. And then writing fingers started to itch. Lo and behold, lots of ideas but not finished. The only finished fanfic had just over 2,300 words written over a long weekend inspired by an imaginary real incident.

Then came the discovery of nanowrimo by accident. It was 21 November 2004.

The mission was to write a minimum 50,000 word novel during the month of November. Start writing on 1 Nov and finish on 30 Nov. From scratch.

Eeep.

It was already the 21st, that left 10 days. Other people had had nearly 3 weeks’ headstart.

So what? Just try. It’s not a competition, word counts are entirely controlled by self discipline, at the end, “winners” get a nice pdf cert, some icons they can use as avatars, and a sense of self satisfaction. But someone can submit the same word 50,000 times and it’ll get through.

Here’s how I did it.


Day 1. Sunday night.

The idea was hers. I told her about the challenge and she immediately came up with the premise. A woman loses her fiancé just before the wedding, goes into deep depression, only sees him in her dreams so she takes to sleeping a lot. Her work suffers, her friends are worried, not sure of the ending, may be eventually she stays in the dreamstate and joins him, ie leaves our reality.

I did a quick calculation, 50,000 in 10 days = at least 5,000 a day. Considering I was in the middle of writing Common Areas and it’s taking me anything from 3 days to a week to write a chapter target of 1,500 words, that is a tall order.

I start thinking about it but I haven’t made a start. I created a separate category in the original writing section though, each part will be an entry.

Day 2. Monday.

It starts of with an examination of what is normal. She is a normal person, with normal ideas, past, ambitions. I want to emphasize the normal-ness of it all. That tragedy can hit anyone anytime.

The beginning of the dream is also normal. The couple wakes up, brush their teeth, have breakfast, go to work. I imagine a suburban house, an average looking office, nothing is supposed to be out of place.

The phone ringing in the dream brings us back to reality, she struggles to get up, and go to work. I have her working in a bookstore, cos it’s the best I can come up with, it’s not that original but nevermind. I introduce a couple of co-workers, nice people who are concerned about her. There’s a small side thread about their effort to buy out the current owners.

She falls asleep and has another dream that starts off in soft colours and hugely romantic. Then suddenly it goes pear shaped and he appears on the bed in what I imagine his state was when he got killed.

The middle of the chapter is padding, I took some wordage on stages of grief and added her thoughts about each step.

Finally it’s a bit of backstory about how the dreams started and what she has been dreaming about so far.

Scene to remember, one that I bring back at the end of the story: they meet for coffee (in the dreamscape) and the first words he says to her are,

“For some reason they don’t have brown sugar, normal white ok?”

Day 3. Tuesday.

The most obvious place to start the next part is her thinking back at the nightmare. This is followed by the friends going to a club and meeting more people. I don’t want so many characters, but there has to be a few other characters apart from the main ones.

By part 2, we already know the name of our MC, who is Katy. The dead fiancé is Brian, the co-workers are Fatima and Rusty. I introduce a few more, Mei Lan (“their circle’s nearest impersonation of Jenny Shimizu”), Daria van der Tak (an attorney introduced by Mei Lan) and Conrad (a pretentious git who pretends he’s a high flying financier). Conrad disappears after one more appearance, but Mei Lan and Daria really evolve as characters, by the end of the novel they have fairly major scenes. So much so that it’s probably possible to base a future novel off these two characters.

I might change their names though. At least Mei Lan’s, which is a blatant attempt to pad the word count, by using a two-worded name. I didn’t make so much use of the van der Tak though.

There’s a second side thread about how Katy is struggling with Brian’s employer about beneficial interests of his insurance, pension, 401(k). That’s why she needs an attorney. I did a whole lot of research on the net about the rights of common law spouses when it comes to cases like this.

For US, it depends on state. There are 11 states (plus Washington DC) that recognise common law marriages to the extent that the parties live together, act as if, and represent to the world-at-large that they are married. The intention to be married (like registering, booking hotels etc) as well as proof of intent such as loan applications, joint accounts, deeds are used when the courts need to determine whether or not a common law marriage exists. A good point is, there isn’t usually a need to determine unless it’s a case of will contest, divorce proceedings or wrongful death claim.

So she has an arguable case. I haven’t presented whether they lived together but the apartment is certainly in their joint names. Plus the wedding’s arranged, they have the license already, the intent is certainly very strong. The way I see it, because there’s no will, there has to be some hoops to jump through before the probate is finalised, but unless there’s strenuous objections from his family (conveniently, his parents have passed away and he has no siblings) or other claims, she has a claim.

Made a start on part 3. This is the part where everything starts off well but then unexpected people keep turning up and unexpected things happen.

They got their financing from the bank manager and have a party to celebrate. Lots of people come, more chance to develop the minor characters. Lots of feel good factors there.

Day 4. Wednesday.

After the good comes the bad.

After the party Fatima’s mother suddenly shows up demanding money and gets dismissed. Needless to say she will be back again to wreak havoc.

Some boys causes small damage when they overturn a jar of marbles. This actually happened that time I was at Forbidden Planet once, these things rolled everywhere and took a while to recover.

When Katy gets home she finds a letter addressed to Mr and Mrs Brian and Katy, which causes a mini-breakdown. Which leads to a dream.

Then comes the first of the Very Important Dreams. No longer normal every day dreams of brushing teeth, this time they are somewhere symbolic, at a railway station, with Brian supposedly leaving, for somewhere. She doesn’t want him to leave and appeals to a nearby angel, who refers her to

“the Woman Upstairs”

Part 4 starts with a visit to the cemetary. It figures that she visits him regularly, perhaps making it a ritual. The touching of the name on the headstone is inspired by Paths by Justskipit, I hope I’m not infringing on any copyright there.

She said to me I have to include some scenes that describe their lives together, I didn’t want to do flashbacks but I did make her do some reflective thinking.

Day 5. Thursday.

I’m bad. I’m surfing the net and writing during the day. At work. Yikes.

I surfed around the nano website and ventured for the first time into the forums. Came across people who were finished, others who were behind. But lots of encouragement.

And Dares. Oh my, dares. Ideas, preposterous situations, challenges, apparently a tradition. Some seem impossible to incorporate but as I read through the thread I copied the ones I thought were promising. I went back to the last 2 parts and incorporated some of the dares. It’s fun.

The third side thread, about Mei Lan’s growing feelings for Daria which gets revealed when she and Katy have lunch together. I find it easy to write Mei Lan, and to a certain extent Daria, much more so than Katy, who seems a bit too depressed for me.

A fourth side thread, where she blurts out that she had a one time affair, which is supposed to set up future scenes of guilt, but not really utilised at the end. Deep down, probably just my inner smut kitten wanting a little attention.

Wrote the first part of part 5 which is the dinner party. Shameless padding where I put in planning the menu, the actual recipes and stuff like that. Katy and Fatima plays matchmaker to Mei Lan and Daria.

What Mei Lan wears, a ruffled Pirate Shirt, I got the idea from Master Will, who was wearing a Poet’s Shirt at that first moonlight party. Didn’t want to be that extravagant, and found a pirate’s shirt at amazon. The wide yoke and the criss crossed laces at the front were so perfect, shows off a bit of cleavage too, hehehe.

Day 6. Friday.

One of the Dares is to include Thanatos, the god of death. I did some research, mainly at wikipedia, on this god and Greek mythology on the whole. Perfect. Thanatos had a twin, Hypnos who was the god of sleep. Even more perfect.

Thanatos and Hypnos will appear in one of her dreams, how fitting is that?

I wanted to explore a bit more about the Woman Upstairs and Take-charge Katy’s demands. So I stick them in a waiting room and make them go through an interview with a panel of “judges” to see if their demands are met. Kinda like St Peter at the Gate.

I have the 2 gods, then I decided to add representatives from other species, like aliens, humans, animals, robots. Couldn’t figure out the animal part, but the robot the obvious choice is the one from Metropolis, the original robot in the original sci fi film by Fritz Lang. I asked my non sci fi focused colleague about aliens and she came up with Superman. Great, cos he can represent humans too.

The interview scene was surreal but very easy to write. The whole idea, and that wasn’t actually done very well, is that the interviewees see whoever they want to see. So the penguins before them could have been interviewed by others, and not this particular bunch. I named the panel the gods and robots goon squad.

I wrote most of this at work. Bad me.

Had to go to a dinner Friday night, missing precious time. I was pretty angsty at that stage, all too aware that I was running out of time. And my temper was bad too.

After dinner when I got to her place I wrote a little about the aftermath but that was it.

Day 7. Saturday.

My first full day for writing. And it did not go well.

I was too distracted by my usual places. Fanfic, fanfic, fanfic. Plus WaTchers and The Chosen had new eps which I’d missed. So I was reading them, or surfing through wikipedia. No good at all.

A whole morning and afternoon and all I managed was writing about going to the con, that’s after reading a whole load of material about Comic Con, tarot stuff and scraping the bottom of my mind for anecdotes.

Luckily at the back of my mind I’d already been planning for the next downturn — of the bookstore being broken into and vandalised. CSI experience became handy. What I didn’t realise was that Fatima’s mother turned out to be the culprit which will lead to Fatima leaving. I know now why people sometimes say characters have a mind of their own, I didn’t expect Fatima to leave.

Again the ending of the story came from my best girl, who suggested that Katy runs into a double of Brian at a Christmas fair and they talk but this new person has different personality to her Brian and things happen that may or may not be good.

So I was desperately calculating. At the end of Saturday I was at 33. I can’t have the Christmas fair until at least 40, preferably 45. I have the Woman Upstairs issue to resolve, at that stage I had no idea who that woman is. That’s towards the end of the story, not till the mid- or late-40s. So I have something like 10,000 words I have to fill and no new scenes.

Day 8. Sunday.

Was a very hard slog that I got through by sheer determination.

I took out a character mentioned early in part 1, her therapist, and wrote in a visit. I wrote in a replacement for Fatima which led to a little sci fi trivial pursuit. The funniest line, when Rusty says to Mei Lan, “I’m sure Daria will go ga-ga for your Lara” when they were talking about costumes. Plus of course the significance of both 42 and 50,000.

Then a Dare of putting a recipe for chocolate cake somewhere in the novel, as an interlude. Did that.

Still not enough words. So I used another tried and tested method. Katy writing a letter to Brian to express her feelings. It was long and rambling but it summed up her feelings.

A further interlude, again thanks to my inner smut kitten, of my version of truth and dare, they took turns describing their first sexual experience. Oh I’m bringing out the clichés now.

Day 8. Monday.

I had my office door closed for most part of the day.

Which brings me to the first of the dream finales. The gods and robots goon squad make an appearance, and she finds Brian. They have a night of perfect sex.

In the shadows of candlelight that shone unabated, they danced the slow dance of long lost lovers, as if it were the first time, or their last. It was not a greeting, nor a farewell. It was simply a finding and also a closing. For they had cast the circle now, and a circle had no beginnings or endings.

Aaaannnd I’m at part 10.

The Christmas market, again backstory and padding.

Then she spotted the guy, the one who looks like her Brian. But it was just a glimpse, under the influence of a fair bit of alcohol.

I’m at 45,863 when I leave the office, just over 4,000 to go.

The second part of the dream finale was easy, it’s all about the carousel in the room that I’ve always dreamt about. They get on, it spins faster and faster and they get to the place where souls are judged. They meet the goon squad again and still there are no answers.

I know now who the Woman Upstairs is, it’s no one, or rather, it’s Katy herself. That in order to get over the grief, to learn to live again, and all that psychobabble stuff, she has to face herself.

The only person who can help her is her

So I write in a bit where she faces off with Thanatos, because ultimately it is his show, this journey is all about facing death. At the end when she is having the argument with him, and the others try to intervene, she says,

This is between Death and me.

and then finally,

“I am the Woman Upstairs, look at me.”
The face in the mirror was her own.

So I got to 48,000+. And I knew there was only the one little ending scene, more of an epilogue. And I was around 1,000 words short. Damn.

Shit.

I took her back to the market to finish her Christmas shopping, I gave her a small flashback about a winter coat, I made her think about the ending of the dream.

Then I told her,

She truly believed she would not dream of Brian again. Though she was saddened by the thought, it was not as devastating as she expected it to be, nor did she feel guilt at that realization. He had gone on ahead, euphemistically, with Thanatos, although she was sure he gone some place upstairs.

Heaven, if you will.

It was time to move on.

The last scene would be better off in an epilogue but it’s only 290 words. She runs into the double guy and the first words he says to her are,

“For some reason they don’t have brown sugar, normal white ok?

And I’m done.