James’s experience as a WriMo:
I’d struggled for a few years to convince myself that I had what it took to be a writer. Even now, I sometimes note a reluctance to answer when someone asks “What do you do?” In 2011, a friend sent me a copy of the Writer’s Market as a birthday present, to encourage me. There was a calendar in the front with tasks to spur writers on, and in October it said “Sign up for NaNoWriMo”. So I did. I made it about 6,000 words in, but by the end of the first week I felt so little for my work up to that point that I scrapped it and started over. I was much happier with my second attempt, but it meant I had some serious catching up to do. I made goal, but only because I managed to crank out nearly 16,000 words over the last three days of the event. Everything from that last week is a blur, looking back. Last year, I hadn’t planned to participate at all, and jumped in at the last second without any preparation or planning to my credit; I lasted a day, reaching a grand total of 333 words. I decided pretty early on that I’d redeem myself this year, and have spent most of October getting everything set for November.
What are you writing about this year?
My last two attempts were both science fiction–my favorite genre as a reader–but over the summer I started to feel as if appreciation for scifi might not be enough to qualify me to write it. I read a lot of semi-autobiographical literary fiction, and realized that, with its exploration of psychological and emotional experience and focus on character in lieu of plot, it was much more within the realm of my abilities at this juncture. I’m aiming for a confessional novel, sort of a dramatized memoir along the lines of the books in Henry Miller’s Obelisk Trilogy.
Who’s the best character in your NaNo novel?
Since my book, The Third Face of Janus, is based on my life experiences, I’d have to say I’m the best character. I haven’t given myself an alternate name yet, and might save the pseudonyms for the revision process. Not to sound solipsist, but I think that ultimately we can only really know ourselves, and oftentimes even that experience proves limited. My story will reflect those beliefs, and maybe even touch upon the sadness of remaining isolated despite our best efforts to the contrary.
What advice would you give to all your fellow WriMos?
I think that, looking back on my successful first outing, the thing I would stress most is routine. This is something you see touted pretty much everywhere offering writing advice, but it’s doubly true when you’re down to the wire and scrambling to reach the finish. There’s just something about being able to set the mood–whether it’s in terms of environment, behavior, timing, what have you–that so greatly facilitates the writing process. Maybe you’ve got a treat you let yourself have after every thousand words, or a setlist that plays on repeat while you’re working–the important thing is to create circumstances that tell the brain “It’s time to write, now”
Sneaky Ninja question! If you could change one thing from the history of your life, what would it be?
Tricky Ninja question is more like it! I subscribe to the notion that to change even the slightest thing in the past would make for tremendous changes in the future, so I’m inclined to say I wouldn’t change a thing. Every step along the way, good and bad alike, has had a hand in leading me to this very point in my life, this particular stage in my development. I wouldn’t give any of that up. If there were no serious consequences in the present, though–more for the sake of altering the bio a bit? I would have signed up for NaNoWriMo years sooner, and done a better job of tackling last year’s event.
The most difficult part of the writing life, at this stage, has been finding the right milieu, that niche in which my style of writing seems to fit perfectly. This is partly why I’ve made the leap from scifi to litfic. I’ve found interacting with other writers invaluable, to this and all other literary ends, and feel I’ve finally learning to make use of Facebook, Twitter, and my blog for that purpose. I’ve gained a lot by way of research, but there’s no replacing the insights gleaned from a simple chat with another aspirant or two. I enjoy most of all the opportunity to discuss the craft itself, and explore the writing life in blog posts on occasion. I agree with Socrates, that “The unexamined life is not worth living”, and feel that to engage in any creative pursuit requires such examination as to fulfill even the bleakest of lives. It takes courage and determination and no small amount of gall, but in the end, the journey is every bit as rewarding as the destination could hope to be. We write because that’s who we are, and we’re all so much the better for it.