Unearthing an old project for Camp NaNoWriMo

About 25 years ago, there was a trilogy that nearly ate me alive.  Well, it seemed like it at the time.  I was in my mid-20s.  

I had what I thought was everything I needed to be a writer.  I had a degree in English Literature.  I had things I wanted to say.  I knew words.  I knew grammar.  I could analyze the symbolism of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, like any self-respecting literature nerd.  So, I embarked on creating a trilogy.  

I spent hours, days, months devising the backstory, researching the science of what I was trying to write, and creating characters.  I read books on craft.  I thought that I knew what a story arc was.  I mean who doesn’t understand a story arc or a character arc.  I sure thought I did.    

Writing this trilogy was all I ever talked about.  Being a writer became part of my identity.  I was a writer.  I felt smug about it.  I would go into the library in search of books, all the time thinking about how one day when people read my book, they’d wonder about this very moment.  I was very impressed with myself, I am pained to admit, but admit it, I will.  Apparently, you need more than just smugness and a passing understanding of a story arc to write a story.

I got two chapters into writing the book, and I got overwhelmed by it.  It was a bigger story than what I could write.  I felt like the trilogy that I was so proud of turned into a leviathan and swallowed me whole.  In retrospect, it could have been my hubris that ate me alive more than anything.  But eventually, I gave up.  I not only mourned the loss of a project; I mourned the loss of my SELF.  I got so wrapped up into the trilogy that a failed project left me so deflated that I couldn’t really start anew.  Oh, I tried to start anew.  I’d tried to ride the wave of inspiration, but just as it would peak, I’d let the wave pass.  And there I stayed.

I felt like a fool.  I talked about it so much, and I didn’t even finish it.  I was humiliated by my own enthusiasm, my vanity.  To this day, I have lingering feelings of shame sharing enthusiasm about a project, fearing that I may not finish it and look like a fool.  

About five years after I gave up on the trilogy, I decided to write the backstory, as the story.  Why?  I don’t exactly remember.  I was waiting for graduate school to start, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.  I embarked on creating the backstory to the backstory.  

This time it wasn’t that I got overwhelmed by the story.  I got overwhelmed by life.  I had started graduate school, not in writing but in psychology.  Activities for the one did not support the other, so that story got shelved.  Here I am, some 15 to 20 years after shelving the second book, I’ve decided to resurrect the first trilogy.  

In between then and now, I went to graduate school, adopted a baby, and tried to start writing a series of slice-of-life shorts that went nowhere.  While hating every minute of writing the slice-of-life shorts, I fell into becoming a marketing guru of sorts and rediscovered a passion for marketing, a passion that I thought had faded (another story for another time).  I shelved the slice-of-life story and focused on writing about marketing.  I thought, great.  I’m a nonfiction writer.  I also thought, great I did it again.  I was excited about a project, talked about it on social media, and then scrapped the project.  I feel some shame about that.  My feelings of shame were that I somehow lost face.  But in the end, I didn’t lose that many followers, if any.  So, the judgement of myself I think was mostly contained within me.  

I put my shame aside and just leaned into marketing.  I wrote about marketing.  I gave advice to individuals.  I even put on a couple of webinars with plans for more in the future.  It’s going pretty well.  At the advice and encouragement of a friend of graduate school and certified Executive Coach, Dr. Aparagita Jeedigunta, I’ve launched a website for just my marketing efforts with the requisite social media platforms and identities to go along with it.  I get to share my passion about marketing and teach through my second website.  I love teaching, so this is a great outlet for that.  Still, the call to create lingered.

I was talking with one of my World Indie Warrior friends, Claerie Kavanaugh.  I was telling her about this trilogy that nearly ate me alive some 25 years ago.  She said something like can you hear how excited you are about this?  Maybe you should write that.  Maybe it was the genre and not fiction that was the problem.  I thought, maybe it was.

Serendipiticiously (if that’s not a word, it should be), Camp NaNoWriMo was going to happen in about a month after this conversation.  I decided to participate.  Not by working on the draft of the nonfiction workbook I had just finished or the nonfiction book on marketing that I was planning, but on breathing life back into that trilogy that I conceived of so many years ago.  

I set the bar low for this Camp NaNoWriMo project.  There are the logistical problems for why I set the bar low.  I have a toddler, so work can only be done during naptime or stolen moments that he’s occupied.  I’ll admit the main problem is that I’m afraid that I will once again get into this project and once again not finish it.  

This fear, though, is tempered by age and also by the knowledge that I did in fact finish something really hard to do, which was graduate school with a thesis and dissertation to boot.  I know that I can write a large project.  My dissertation was at least novella length, or it was until it was brutally (or was it mercifully?) edited down to its long short story length.  

I know that I can write longer pieces.  The question is, can I write fiction?  Do I have it in me to torture my characters?  To write a story and not something instructional?  I really don’t know.  We will just have to see.

After all of this, my story may suck.  And really, that’s one big thing that I’m afraid of.  My story sucking.  After all of these years to definitively answer the question of do I have what it takes to be a fiction writer for the answer to be no.  Would I’d rather face that or live with an unrealized dream?  

If it does suck, then the question becomes, do I have it in me to learn the skills to make it not suck?  This question goes even deeper for me.  I had a lifelong dream of being a writer.  A dream that predated the twists and turns of my life that led me into psychology.  I am faced asking myself if being a writer is simply a dream, something that fades upon waking up, or is it a deep passion that I’m willing to do whatever I need to in order to make it happen?  I wanted my doctorate badly enough to finish it, which was no small feat.  Do I have the same drive, the same desire, the same investment in my WHY that I’m doing this to do what I have to in order to write fiction?  I don’t know is the only answer that I have right now.  Instead of trying to ask a big question, I’ll go with a smaller one for now.

Camp NaNoWriMo for me is about answering that simple question.  Can I write a decent backstory of 10k words?  I set the goal to be 10k words, so that I’d have something to measure.  I figured the first draft of a story bible should be about a novella length.  Part of my reasoning is that I can’t really measure the problems and questions and thinking and research that are necessary to develop a world, so the most concrete way for me to measure that would be by measuring the wordcount of the story bible.  

At the time that I’m writing this, I just spent the last two days trying to figure out something of the “plot” for the backstory.  It’s important because it is the basis from which I am growing the society. 

Basically, I am writing the history leading up to the story that I’m writing, because I want the world to have an organic feel to it, and I can’t think of any other way to come up with a world that feels like it is real, unless I grow it.  I took a history class in college (5 million years ago) called the City in History.  It was basically the best history class to take EVER if you were going to attempt to create an entire civilization.  I don’t remember the details of the class, but I do remember the final.  It was a single question.  Develop a society from scratch.  In 90 minutes, we had to write, essentially, an essay of a world that we built. 

As far as my Camp NaNoWriMo project, I have solved my current problem.  I have to look a few things up, then I can get back to writing.  And that’s what I will be doing, in a stolen moment if it happens today, because naptime is now over.

©2020, 2021 Michelle Raab, PhD. All rights reserved.

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2 thoughts on “Unearthing an old project for Camp NaNoWriMo

  1. Lots to say here. My brother (an author) slaved on a novel for years. When it was complete, no one picked it up? Did it suck? I don’t know, I never read it. He dove into a new project and got it traditionally published. Lots of praise, but I’m not sure how well it sold. The book is really well written and enjoyable. *If* you have it in you, I think publishing a novel would be one of those things that makes your life complete. I don’t think I’ve got a novel in me. I struggle enough trying to come up with a short story of any length. A trilogy seems like a daunting undertaking. I think you’re smart to break it down into simply writing the backstory. It will undoubtedly send your story in directions you never imagined. Best of luck to you.

    I often wonder what, if anything, I’m going to ultimately do with my writing. It’s a rewarding hobby, and maybe that’s enough, but at times I feel like I’m missing out on a natural progression.

    1. Thank you Jeff. I always enjoy your thoughtful comments. I’m not sure where this story will take me. I still have the questions in me that drove the first iteration, but I’m in a much different place now so the story will undoubtably be much different endeavor.

      I understand your quandary. In that I ask myself that question. That’s the question that drove this piece. It’s good you’re asking that question, I look forward to to possibly reading about how you go about answering it. Like … what’s the natural progression would be interesting to read maybe.

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