I officially participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time this past November. Although I achieved the goal of writing 50,000 words in November, the event ending version is not complete, has loads of holes, and has far too much non-action for anyone to truly ever want to read. But, that’s okay because the editing process is all about fixing these issues, right? I have been putting off going back to edit the work for a few months now, and I highly regret not jumping right back in even though November had come to close. Reaching the goal gave me such a sense of personal accomplishment that I “rewarded” myself with too much time away from my writing. I have now reached the point where I am determined to push through to a complete first draft. As I work up the courage to move to the editing phase, I thought I would share the opening scene.
Charlie awoke suddenly. He never slept well in strange places, but had fallen into a deep sleep tonight shortly after crawling into bed. What was it that woke him up? He didn’t remember hearing anything. Although he had lived in California and had been awoken for earthquakes before, he was now in Michigan, so that would have been strange. A still silence continued. Charlie stared at the ceiling thinking it would now take forever to get back to sleep.
He looked over at the nightstand, but there was no clock. He grabbed his phone, yanking out the charging cable that didn’t quite reach all the way to the bed. Pressing the home button the iPhone came alive. It was only two thirty-seven, the same time he woke up regularly at home. “It would be easier to get back to sleep in his own house, his own bed,” he thought.
The ceiling had a couple faded water stains above the windows, which was not unusual for an older house. The ceiling fan was quite dusty. “Didn’t his friends clean before inviting guests for a long weekend?” he mused. Then the unending stream of worried thoughts began Did he send out that report to his boss on Thursday before leaving? Did he lock the door, turn off the stove, set the alarm? “God, I hate all thoughts that invade my mind when all I want to do is sleep.”
The squeak was subtle, more like the extended, quiet screech of an old door opening very slowly. “Could that have been what woke me?” Charlie considered. “I’m usually a heavier sleeper than that.” Other people in the house getting up to use the bathroom or get a drink never woke him up before.
Huffing, out-of-breath noises followed by soft footsteps directly outside his bedroom door were more pronounced. The steps were quick, like socks or very soft soled shoes alternating on hardwood and the hallway carpet runners.
Charlie was more alert now. The random thoughts had been swept from his mind by these unusual sounds. “It’s not my house,” he thought to himself, trying to put the odd footsteps and breathing noises out of his mind. Charlie closed his eyes and tried to force himself back to sleep.
Several minutes passed again with nothing. “Tim’s dog, it must have been Rascal.” Rascal was a big Golden Retriever. His soft pads and panting could easily have made those noises. Charlie let out a deep breath trying to slow his heart rate and get his breathing back to that slower pace of sleep. He had tried to learn meditation but never got passed the first lesson or two before losing interest.
PFFT, PFFT, PFFT. These noises were new. That was not a sound from a dog. Wide awake, Charlie sat up in bed. The flowered comforter fell to his waist. He slowly swung his feet to the right until they found the edges of the bed covers. He scooted over until he could feel his bare feet soundlessly touch the floor. He tried to remain as silent as possible, less in an effort to hide his presence and more so he could continue to focus on the noises outside the guest room door. “It could be her,” he thought as his heart rate increased again.
For several more minutes, no more sounds reached his ears. Charlie questioned, “Did the dog finally settle down? Did the person quietly moving about the house return to their room or were they simply out of earshot?” He could feel in his gut that there would be more sounds; this was’t over. He didn’t know when the next noises would come and if they would be recognizable. He had to wait to make sure everything was alright.
Perched on the edge of the rarely used mattress Charlie considered his next move. He feet on the floor grew colder with every minute he pondered the situation. “It’s not my house, I’m not used to these sounds,” he rationalized. This was now the longest period between noises since he was startled awake. He grabbed his phone again. Two fifty-two. Only fifteen minutes had passed since he first checked the time.
Now he was wide awake, but the only thought keeping him up was what could be happening elsewhere in the house. Charlie had always been a curious kid and had retained this trait throughout adulthood. He had this inherent urge to be part of the action, at least the action he thought would be the most fun or interesting. He had no fear about joining a group of kids on the playground or inserting himself in a conversation of strangers at a party. In business he could take control of a meeting or larger conference because he could show what appeared to be a genuine interest. In many cases he had some level of interest but he had a unique ability to fake it if necessary.
With the noises in the house, his curiosity grew. The noises were nothing to be fearful of, but now that he was awake he needed to know who else was up. Sleep would be a long way off now. The noises had been quiet for some time now, at least that was Charlie’s perception. In reality it had probably only been a couple more minutes, but late at night for an insomniac, those minutes tick by slowly. He lifted his feet from the floor and began to swing them safely under the covers.
SCLASH. It was a quick noise like the shattering of safety glass. Charlie’s feet hit the floor quickly. HIs right big toes snagged the hem of the sheets and dragged most of the sheets and comforter halfway across the bed. Cautious to not make any noise of his how, Charlie did not stand up right away. It wasn’t his bed or his house and could not be certain about a squeaky bed frame or loose floorboards. He untangled his toe from the sheets and pushed them behind where he sat on the bed.
Each new sound had been stranger than the last and grew in intensity. Were they closer to his room at the far end of the hallway or simply louder? He knew he needed to investigate. Although not his home, these were his friends, they were like his family. What if they were in trouble.
I learned more about myself while writing the first 50,000 words than I ever expected. I did it on the sly, so my wife was not aware of my participation until I reached the goal and revealed to her what I had been doing for the past month. From the start I had serious doubts that I could reach the goal particularly because I did not feel I had a clear enough picture of the characters, plot and especially the ending in my head to be able to get the words out. The process revealed to me a number of things I did not know about my writing style
- I can let my characters lead me down the path they want to go
- I am not an up-front outliner. Writing scenes helps me work through the plot problems.
- I do not need to write in order, but can jump back and forth throughout my story to write the parts that interest me when I sit down at the computer.
- I can achieve my own personal writing goals, even if I know at the time the writing is horrible.
I used this event to show myself that getting the work out is the most important part of writing. Although I pushed out my fair share of bad writing, at least I was writing and recognizing the good from the bad and what might work from what didn’t make sense. In the end, I found that my very worst writing was a completely blank screen.