Crossing the Finish Line

I wonder if it’s against the rules to wrap up this idiotic escapade with a few words about the experience of taking part in NaNoWriMo ?

In the beginning, writing fifty thousand words in one calendar month seemed like a tall order. Writing a little over sixteen hundred words each day was intimidating – especially as a typical blog post might only reach a few hundred words. It turns out I had nothing at all to worry about.

So how have I managed it ?

Mostly by luck. For the past few years there has been an old Apple iMac computer near the attic hatch – I fetched it downstairs, wired it up, and had a look at software I might run on it. It was a toss-up between a text editor called “TextMate”, and a word processor called “Scrivener”. Scrivener won out, because it has the idea of cue cards – each piece of writing can have a title, and a synopsis, like cards attached to a cork board.

I began by writing down a list of subjects – infant school, junior school, secondary school, computers, video games, and so on – all pretty wide subjects that I thought I might be able to tell a few stories about. I then set about doing it. I will admit to having something of a private battle with myself early on – re-arranging the cue cards seemed far more important than getting on with writing anything.

Each day, after finishing work, returning home, getting through dinner and completing the various chores that family life throws at me, I have been sitting down quietly in the junk room at the front of the house with the old iMac, and disappearing into a world of memories, recollections, and long forgotten stories.

At work, I have spent lunchtimes typing into a website called “writer.bighugelabs.com” – that provides a minimal writing experience, and saves as you type.

Once finished with writing, everything has been backed up to a place on the internet called “GitLab”, and also to a ZIP disk, via a twenty year old ZIP drive. I will admit to being amazed that the ZIP drive still works so reliably after all these years. There’s an old saying about not fixing things that are not broken, isn’t there.

On some evenings I have struggled to get past a thousand words, and on others I have been surprised to see two, or even three thousand in the little word counter at the bottom of the screen. After slogging through the first week, I relaxed into it a little. I think I perhaps realised that fifty thousands words were possible after all. I never anticipated that I would begin writing two pieces each night, instead of one.

I suppose the overriding thought – while in the middle of writing – has been “don’t you dare stop if you’re on a roll”. There’s also the whole thing about one memory unlocking another, and another. I’ve found myself recalling people, places, and adventures that I had not thought about for years – decades in some cases.

I have been keeping a secret too – a secret I feel a little bit guilty about. I’ve been sharing most of my words with a distant friend on the internet as I write them. She’s one of the best writers I know, and a wonderful friend. She’s also been a fantastic cheerleader throughout – pushing me to keep going. I think perhaps everybody needs that in some way or another. When NaNoWriMo started I posted to their forums looking for “writing buddies”, but didn’t really get anywhere. Then one day my friend suggested that she might like to see what I had written so far (I’m sure she worded it much more strongly than that) – and it just sort of carried on from there.

I almost feel guilty about how easy it has become – that fifty thousand words really isn’t that difficult after all. I suppose in the grand scheme of things – when compared to nearly five thousand blog posts stretching back to 2003, fifty thousand words really isn’t that big of deal – it just seems like it when you’re stood at the bottom of the mountain, looking up.

I’m not so sure I might describe the feeling of crossing he finishing line as wonderful. Although the challenge SEEMED like a mountain, there’s really no view as such. It almost feels like the mountain was inflatable all along, and each step forwards has deflated it just a little. I’ve ended up standing pretty much where I was at the start, but with a huge pile of words littered around my feet.

Will I carry on writing the memoir now NaNoWriMo has finished for me? Maybe. Maybe one day. Will I ever do NaNoWriMo again? I can’t imagine doing so – but then I know enough about myself never to make grand predictions like that. It does seem a bit ridiculous to steel yourself for one month of idiotic writing, when there are eleven other months when you might have invested just as much effort.

Will the iMac remain on the spare desk in the study ? Will it be used again ? It would seem a shame if it doesn’t continue being used – especially after buying an original keyboard for it from E-Bay. If I manage to get hold of an authentic Apple mouse for it, it will probably rip a hole in space time, and return back to 1998.

It’s funny really – now I have crossed the finish line, I seem to have nothing but questions – questions about what happens next. Maybe that’s a part of the human condition – certainly my condition – never being content to sit back and admire what I have done – always looking forward to the next thing.

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