The Great American Collective Novel(s)

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By Cami Ostman

Well, dear friends, NaNoWriMo is over.

I had grand ideas of adding 50,000 words to my own novel in addition to facilitating our two RWB collectives, but alas, that’s not how the month unfolded for me. The good news, personally, was that once I added about 17,000 words to my own novel, I realized that the skeleton of the story was done and that what is needed is a careful, slow revision with attention to detail. For me that was a victory, even if it did mean watching NaNo buddies update their word counts all month while I played with words already on the page.

And the further good news for me this November was that I had a TON of fun with No Rest for The Wicked. A total of 51 writers wrote a total of 57 chapters in two versions of a novel that started with the same set of characters and circumstances and veered in about… well 51 different directions! Each evening I would post a chapter, thank that day’s author for contributing, email the author for the next day’s chapter and go to bed wondering what Eli’s clan(s) would be up to in the next 24 hours.

I observed that most of you who participated brought your expertise and passion to the project. We clearly had writers with medical, legal, poisonous, and arsenal specialties. We also had the soft-hearted among us who tried (to no avail) to redeem characters such as Eli and Randy, only to have them villainized once again by their successors.

The dog found her voice in version ONE, where Eli decided to leave his fortune to his four-legged friend, the only creature who had any true affection for the man. In version TWO, Eli feigned bankruptcy to see who loved him best. The answer, no one, really.

And by my count, a total of three illegitimate sons came out of the woodwork (well, actually, one switched-at-birth, one a result of a date rape, and one who thought he might be Eli’s from a 15-year affair, but who secretly did a DNA test to discover he was the product of his mother’s one-night stand with a different man altogether).

I don’t know about everyone else, but illegitimate children notwithstanding, I learned a few legitimate things about the writing process this month. I learned:

1. If you set a time limit and make yourself accountable to other people, you WILL get words on the page.

2. First drafts are rarely consistent with what has come before and that’s why God invented revision.

3. People of all skill and experience levels are willing to risk writing and putting their work out in public IF the pressure to be perfect (or even good) is taken off the table–ergo, perfectionism is not the friend of productivity.

4. It is possible to write 100,000 words in 30 days–even if it does require 51 authors.

5. I live among supportive, good-natured, risk-taking writers whose works I cannot wait to read in the years to come.

Thank you to all who made the NaNoWriMo Great American Collective Novel (s) possible this year.

 

Join us for a reading from our two great novels at Village Books, Monday, December 10 at 7pm.

2 Responses to “The Great American Collective Novel(s)”

  1. Tele

    Thank YOU, Cami, for having this vision – and then shouldering a heroic amount of organizing to bring it to fruition (twice!) One of the things I’ve come to love most about living in Bellingham is the cooperative spirit of our writing community; I hold you largely responsible for fostering that generous energy. We’re lucky to have you here, my friend.

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