I need your peer pressure in order to make this happen. Your peer pressure – harsh and brutal if necessary – is my only hope.
It’s November again, obviously, and as I kept getting nagging spam emails from the NaNoWriMo people, I slowly succumbed to the allure of Why not? You should know, this is maybe my fourth attempt at the annual – and the first three ended very early in the least impressive sorts of failure. That’s part of why I’m telling you about this. I’m hoping the pressure of going public will give me a healthy sense of shame at the thought of giving up or falling flat with regards to something I’ve told hundreds of people that I’m going to do. So that’s where you come in. I need your peer pressure – need it more than ever before.
What the hell am I talking about
I realize that more than a few of you will have no idea what I am talking about. What in the Jesus, you may be mentally yelling at your phone, is “NaNoWriMo”? Good question, so let me back up. NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month, which is November. There’s a website. I have no idea who started it or when or why or how anyone even turned it into an actual thing (probably some of that is explained on the website, or at least Wikipedia, but I’m way too lazy right now). Here’s how it works, though:
- In order to “win”, participants must write a 50,000 rough draft of a novel (which is quite short, but entirely respectable) entirely during the month of November
- This means 1,667 words per day, every day, for the whole month
- The term “rough draft” is used very strictly during this challenge; it’s suggested that participants draw up an outline prior to the start of the month but during November do nothing but the actual writing
- This means any and all editing is strictly forbidden (the suggestion is to take December off and then edit and begin revising the draft in January)
- Participants can create an account on the official site, enter a novel title, cover, and synopsis, and then publicly log daily word counts as the month goes on
- Most people, like me, end up flailing helplessly by the end of the first week, and accepting defeat by the end of the second. I will not allow this to happen this year
- Contrary to my nature and the whole fabric of my being, I intend to adhere to the rules of the challenge
What’s the project?
So, what am I actually working on? Some Great American Novel, a sequel to the glorious roman à clef You’d Guess From Their Cries? A more mature sophomore effort more removed from autobiographical experience, more ambiguous, more wry and seasoned? An experimental hallucinogenic stream of consciousness piece spewed forth from the spirit of the land?
None of the above, as it turns out (although now that I’ve typed it out, that last idea actually sounds really cool…making a note to save that one for later, unless one of you wants to steal it, which is fine). In fact, I am kinda breaking one pretty big rule in the sense that what I’m going to be working on isn’t technically a novel at all. Instead, I’m attempting to put together a compendium of separate pieces, of varying length, organized into three distinct parts. I wouldn’t even call it a short story collection, because it’s going to include songs, poems, crypto-scriptures, hymns, and fragments from letters, historical journals, and long-suppressed public records that haven’t seen the light of day in generations.
It’s called The Monadnock Codex
That’s the working title, anyway, and this is my working cover:
Rather than try to explain it all over again, here’s the description of the project as I’ve written it on the official NaNoWriMo website:
The untold stories, the hidden legends, they’re all around us. Every day. Tales of spirits and gods and heroes and ancients and glorious deeds live in our forests, in our mighty granite rocks, in our streams and rivers, in our aged, silent stone walls, on the peaks of our boldest mountains, and in all the dirt resting calmly in their shadows. They are the only remaining treasures worth hunting, and like all treasures, they are closely guarded by those few to whom they’ve been entrusted.
Now, for the first time in generations – if not longer – some of these lost, forgotten, and never-known tales are presented here exclusively. Explore, if you are up for it, this invisible peek into the world-behind-our-world, but beware – what is revealed cannot easily be forgotten. Be prepared to be changed forever…or pick another book. You’ve been warned.
As Wizard of Monadnock, a prominent bald mountain sitting at the geographic center of New England, I have enjoyed several years of unprecedented access into this cache of oral tradition, text fragments, apocryphal documents, mysterious engravings, and dark tavern whisperings. After many months of pleading, negotiating, PowerPoint proposals, and hard-nosed bartering, I have been released from my oaths of silence and initiation and granted legitimate sanction to translate, curate, and edit this text – and present it to the world.
The Monadnock Codex itself (which comprises roughly half of this volume) was unearthed by members a shadowy mystical order sometime in the mid-1940s. Its discovery was never announced in any local papers, and only a few known copies were ever made. Its contents are as mysterious as they are illuminating – ranging from what appear to be hymns and ballads to epic narratives to crypto-scriptural sacred passages. Many theories abound – none of them definitive – regarding the precise age and origin of these texts, but as with all old and buried writing, the Codex was found in an unorganized, seemingly out of order state, with missing pages, illegible pages, and many shreds and fragments of nearly-destroyed paper.
While it was decided that some of the writings in the Codex remain secret, the majority of the corpus was made available to me for this project. My task was to choose the most important of these “declassified” writings – not an easy job – and then prepare and present them to a modern audience. At all times, I have taken great pains to remain faithful to the original style and structure and voice – and, most importantly, spirit – of each piece, but within those parameters I have updated the language of each and filled in many gaps with my own approximations. I have supplemented the selections chosen from the Codex itself with my own interpretations of other, similar local lore passed to me in the shadows and over dry ciders and in corners and smugglers’ safe houses and other locations I cannot and will not disclose; indeed, while you will find many editorial notes explaining context and origin, there will also be times where further detail cannot be provided, and there the text must speak for itself.
I’m confident that it will.
Interesting, right? I mean, if nothing else?
Because I’ve taken on a project with such a varied and fluid structure, my practical day-to-day approach (as well as the post-November editing) is going to look quite different than it would for someone plotting out a traditional novel. This project is not a straight line, so I never have to worry about beginning, middle, and end – I never really have to worry about sequence at all. In addition, I have a lot of ideas for what might end up in the Monadnock Codex, but I would consider a very small number among these ideas to be must haves. This gives me considerable freedom of choice.
Instead of drawing up a traditional outline with order and structure and development and all that, my “outline” breaks down the project into the three parts I’ve decided on, and underneath each of the three parts is a list of suggestions for inclusion. As of right now, there are 39 of these suggestions – and that number may grow and shrink and grow again throughout the month. I will not write all 39 ideas. I do not even plan on trying to write all 39 ideas. But if I stick to the plan and actually hit my daily and weekly word goals while chipping away at the compiled suggestions, my suspicion is that the 50,000 words I now have in my hands, whatever it is that comprises those words, will represent the rough draft of a complete work.
On a daily basis, I look at those 39 suggestions and I pick whichever one I think sounds the most fun and I try to use that to hit my word count for the day. Alternately, as I get going, if I really enjoy something I was working on the day before, I can choose to continue working on that thing. There’s an act of faith element here, because I actually don’t know what sort of creation I’ll be holding in my hands at month’s end. It may look totally different than what the synopsis above describes, and maybe even the title and cover will turn out to be useless.
Even still, I have faith that whatever it does look like, it is going to turn out to be something worthwhile. In any case, so long as I follow the rules about keeping writing and editing separate, the editing process may be when the majority of the construction, connection, and organization of the book actually occurs. That’s an advantage, I think.
What’s the Point?
So anyway, what am I going to do with all of this, once I have a draft and then edit it into something halfway coherent? Well, actually, I was thinking of enlisting your help with that, as well. I’ll plan on generously sampling the work with you and then I’ll seek your input as to what’s the most valuable vehicle for the project. Possibilities include, but are not limited to:
- Self-publishing as an e-book, as with the existing Wizard of Monadnock Books
- Crowdfunding a self-published physical book with paper and attempting to self-promote it in local stores
- Seeking an actual real life publisher and/or agent (I mean, yeah, right – but if you readers and listeners think it’s a good idea, I’m down to give it a try)
- Accept that it’s not really that good and publish it as a serial on the website (and I mean no offense to my dear readers by this, and always try to fill this site with good original content, but I only will want to publish this as blog posts if I’m convinced it’s truly terrible and can convince you to agree with me without actually reading the whole thing)
But really, all that’s a few months away. For now, I’ve got to start hitting my daily word counts! Since I’m starting one day late (in classic, clutch Wizard style), I’m already almost 2,000 words behind! So my commitment to you all is to provide you regular word count updates and other more general progress reports, both on the blog, the Facebook page, and in any podcast episodes (there will be at least 2) recorded during this time period. You can also track my progress right on the NaNoWriMo site here. And I need you to interact with me – not just to encourage me and give me Gatorade as I run by, but to give me shit, to put deep fear of failure and laziness in my heart, to make me feel the pressure of potentially letting dozens of friends and strangers down.
What better motivation is there than that? This is gonna be fun.