I’m sure plenty of you have heard of, and maybe even are participating in this year’s NaNoWriMo event. For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and the project encourages writers to spend one month writing a 50,000-word piece of fiction.


I’ve decided to participate in NaNoWriMo this year.

Sort of.

The thing is, I don’t write fiction. I’ve tried. It’s terrible. Plus, it’s weirdly more personal than the truth. Nonfiction is just me re-telling you embarrassing shit I’ve done so you don’t hear it from someone else first, whereas fiction exposes fantasies. That is some jelly I do not think you are ready for.

So I’m going to tell you 30 stories in 30 days. And I don’t know if all of these stories will be good. Some of them are going to stretch the definition of stories (“bunch of dick/fart jokes” is on my list of potential story topics). But there will definitely be 30 of them and they will definitely be posted daily.

Starting… NOW.

 

Portrait of the Filmmaker as a Young Lady

The first film I ever made was a 15 second stop-motion animated film called The Kooky Circus. I have never seen it.

I was in the fourth grade, living in Omaha, Nebraska and I participated in one of those “gifted and talented” programs called Challenge. Once a month I’d get out of class for a few hours to work on brain teasers and special projects and one month we learned about stop-motion animation. Our teacher set up a camera and we each got to make our own film.

I don’t know how particularly “gifted” I was, but I had a special talent for slacking off on special projects. When it came time to write a script I found a toy elephant and a toy giraffe and decided that it would be really easy to move them around in a “kooky” manner. I think I looked around for a toy monkey and I think I eventually proceeded without one. (You guys, they’re called “motion pictures,” not “motion great ideas.”)

I did put some extra effort into the title sequence, cutting out each letter in the title from a different color of construction paper and making them all swirl around the screen as they entered the frame. In fact, the title sequence is where I spent 90% of my time and effort. After that I made a toy elephant do a backflip and a toy giraffe dance around erratically for a fraction of a second. And… fin.

“Good film! All of the thumbs up!” –Critics

A month later our teacher set up a little premiere event for all of us in the group and I waited patiently to see my finished film. When I finally spied the first glimpse of my jaggedy construction paper letters flying across the screen I blushed, giggled, and covered my face with my hands in a very “Ohmygod, you guys! I’m sooo embarassed!” gesture, which was less cute than it sounds and kind of silly and unnecessary.

When I stopped giggling I looked up and my movie was over. The filmstrip had moved on, without fanfare, to the next student’s film and I sat, mortified, knowing that I had missed my chance to see how it all turned out. Would the elephant complete that backflip? Would the giraffe’s dance be delightful? I never found out. And I never will.

I have spent the last 30 years reprimanding the giggly, silly little girl inside. That film might have been kooky, and it might have been lazy, but it has had a profound effect on me. It’s made me realize how much I regret letting fear make me miss out on something fun.

One down, 29 to go.

 

I could have finished National Novel Writing Month. Seriously. I pounded out 43,492 words with four days left, leaving me a mere 6,508 words to go to hit the “winner” level of 50,000 words by midnight last night. That’s a spittle-soaked couple’s squabble, or a wild weekend road trip, or a dimly lit barstool meditation on the meaning of civilization.

I’m a filmmaker.

A multi-hyphenate.

Writer / Director / Producer is usually how it goes.

Except if I were to choose the order, it would be Director / Producer / Writer.

When I write, I prefer punchy, active sentences.

I don’t usually go much further than: Who? What? How?

Let everyone else fill in the blanks.

The person reading a screenplay has neither the time nor the patience for long, esoteric descriptions about the Hero’s freakish allergy to shag carpeting. Nor do they care to read extensive passages about the psychosomatic development of said allergy due to the heartache caused by one Love Interest after their first sexual encounter in 1978 in his Aunt Rita’s Airstream, which had not only the floor, but the walls lined with the stuff; and who, years later, coincidentally enough, happens to be standing across the room from Hero at a party. Unfortunately for Hero, he notices her just after having lost his trousers in a round of Strip Twister.  Having fallen on his pants-less ass in shock at the sight of her, his derriere begins to swell three times its normal size. (131 words)

FADE IN:

Hero struggles with his jeans and falls to the floor; his belt tangled around his ankles.

Shag carpet.

He cringes.

Flashback to the inside of the Airstream:  Against a background of warm, plush shag carpet, desperate teenage hands grope any available patch of sweaty virgin flesh.

He opens his eyes.

He sees…

Her.

She looks gorgeous.

Panic.

She walks toward him – easy familiarity in her azure eyes.

His ass begins to swell at an enormous rate.

Shit.

FADE OUT.

(Word count: 77)


Efficiency.

Economy.

Lazy?

Maybe. Maybe not.

“I would have written less, but I didn’t have enough time.”

Film is a collaborative medium. If you do your job right as a director, the actor and the camera can say volumes with the simple flick of an eyelash, an artful manipulation of the lens, and the lighting… oh God, the lighting!

A picture is worth one thousand words.

So what, pray tell, is one word worth?


For reasons unbeknownst to me, last November, I joined the insanity of writing fifty thousand of the little buggers for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo in the inner circles) and tried assembling those words into some sort of coherent order, hopefully with the aim of resembling a story.

Maybe it was because some friends were doing it. Professional novelists, mind you, all.

Perhaps it was because I had a story that I’d been kicking around and I thought it needed a little ‘fleshing out’ before turning it into my next screenplay.

More likely, it was because I had gotten drunk on Halloween and thought it would be something “fun” to do, while killing time at my insanely boring new temp job.

How hard could it be to write fifty thousand words?

It only meant needing to average one thousand, six hundred and sixty-seven words per day.

Piece of cake, right?

If by cake, you are referring to some sort of Red Velvet cake from Hell that used blood, vomit and vodka (not necessarily in that order) as its primary ingredients instead of red food coloring, buttermilk and cream cheese frosting, then, yes. It was a piece of cake.

(Note: cream cheese frosting could be used in either scenario.)

I started with a bang and on the first day wrote one-thousand, eight-hundred and six words. One-hundred and thirty nine above average.

Above average. Whee!

It took me three weeks and several sleepless nights to get myself back ahead of the word-count game. I mined emotional graveyards. I ran a Marathon down Amnesia Lane. I pulled out old letters, photos, journals, yearbooks; trolling for names, memories, events, people, clothing, bad hair; anything to give fodder to the Muse.

I wrote every waking moment that I was coherent. On the subway, at work, on the toilet… I wasn’t necessarily typing all the time, but I couldn’t escape this story that had caught hold of me, filled my pores and was oozing from every orifice. (Ew. Gross.)

I cried. I kicked. I screamed. I drank. I hid. I stamped my feet and held my breath. I wrote long, passionate essays that had absolutely nothing to do with my characters or could contribute in any way towards my word count.

I drank some more.

I turned to the Internet. I struggled to resist the urge to up my word count with Ye Olde Cut-n-Paste Institute of Writing, knowing the Apple-C/Apple-V keys would magically conserve innumerable keystrokes and save me the carpal tunnel physical therapy sessions.

I vowed not to cheat, but in desperation, some of my characters found themselves singing entire stanzas of Van Halen’s classic, “Hot for Teacher” or Duran Duran’s “The Chauffeur” (124 words). There was a wedding announcement ‘published’ by the local newspaper (987 words) and passionate outpourings that had once been scribbled in juvenile journals in turquoise, raspberry-scented ink, complete with open-circle-dotted “i”s found themselves suddenly converted into 12-point Courier (3,706 words).

Anything to get those fucking numbers within spitting distance of my fellow scribes whose little blue word-count-o-meters were blowing mine out of the water. Me, a mere scribbler.

And then, I fell in love.

I took the time to get to know these people. Sat down with them. Shared a few pots of coffee and handfuls of peanut M&Ms. Got under each other’s skin.

And like magic, my characters found their voices. To be certain, many were reminiscent of our favorite American Idol disasters, but a couple had some serious chops. Pav and Callas (R.I.P.) would be proud to share the stage.

Subplots emerged from the ether. Main plots got resolved. Not every ending was happy. Not every ending is.

But the demons; they got exorcized.


Long story short:  I made it.


Fifty-thousand, two-hundred and fifty-four words. In thirty days.

I abandoned my friends, gained three pounds (the M&Ms, maybe?), refused calls from my mother and wrote throughout the entirety of the WGA strike.

All for the sake of fifty-thousand, two-hundred and fifty-four separate assemblages of letters that were strung together into some sort of coherent order, resembling a story.

A novel.

I wrote one.

I’ve learned the value of a word.

If you asked me to define that value, I could write another.

Fifty thousand and more.

But I’ve decided to save my words.


Efficiency.

Economy.


I’ll need them if I decide to finish the damn thing.