Kage Baker constantly toyed with the idea of taking writing courses. Or teaching them. Or just hanging around some event where training or teaching was happening, and basking in the warm, collegiate atmosphere; especially if there was one in the bar.
She did teach a few courses, at conventions and such. A couple of times, she critiqued convention attendees short stories – she said it filled her with great hope, because so many of them were really excellent. She said it also made her cringe, because she had taken so much longer to get good at it than the aspirants whose work she was reading. And it demonstrated to Kage how poorly she, herself, would take to such public criticism; which pretty much put paid to her vague inclination to try a Clarion workshop. She said it would turn into a murder mystery.
One teaching gig was at a convocation in Colorado Springs, where we got a quickie course in the symptoms of altitude disease. We learned to hydrate constantly, to keep to a moderate walking speed at all times, and joked about how badly we’d be breathing in our 60’s. Now that I am in my 60’s, and much better versed in congestive heart failure, I know how jejune and shallow that glib expectation was: but unless one takes up marathon running or poorly-accessorized SCUBA diving, the pains of shortness of breath can come as an amazing surprise. Not for mere giggles is it acronymed as SOB.
What I remember best about it was our (slow and panting) walk through the Garden of the Gods. It’s an extraordinary place; Kage said it was the image of her idea of a garden for the Children of the Sun. We were also thrilled to see that the runways at the Colorado Springs Airport are regularly used as race tracks by pronghorn antelope. It seems much more interesting and less safe than mere bird-strike.
She never did decide on taking any more courses herself. That built-in self-doubt, and the equally built-in arrogance, of the self-taught and naturally talented prevented it. Besides, Kage never really had enough time when she wasn’t actually writing for publication. She had no time for classes, courses or seminars. She just went on keeping her creative muscles warmed up and continually exercised, and thought about signing up for for a class whenever she stopped to play video games.
Something Kage never contemplated – or even heard of, I think – was National Write a Novel In a Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo by its devotees. I discovered it the year Kage died and I moved back to Los Angeles, and I have stayed with it ever since. The main event is an online marathon of writing. It runs from November 1st to November 30th, and its simple purpose is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. No re-writes, no polishing, nothing but getting the words out in a steady flow, day by day. If you stick to the daily minimum of 1,666 words per day, it can be done easily. You post day by day, get your word count verified at the end, and voila! With luck, you have the basis of a novel, which can then be polished any old way or amount you like before you consign it to either a publisher or your trunk files …
I always begin at 12 midnight on Halloween nights, eating leftover Halloween candy and running madly into the sweet night by the light of Jack O’Lanterns and orange faerie lights.
This exercise is an enormous amount of fun, and pain, and frustration, and triumph – just like real writing, but condensed and higher proof. I’ve reached my goal more times than not, and have the T-shirts to prove it. I have also produced 2 completed manuscripts: one has been published (The Women of Nell Gwynne II, from Subterranean Press) and the other (Knight and Dei) is even now being considered by Tachyon Publications. I consider these great successes, considering I had never finished a solo novel on my own before 2010.
These nice folks do sponsor other writing events throughout the year, but NaNoWriMo is the Big One. And I just got their annual notice today, declaring that the 2019 site is now open and functioning. You can register your name and novel, set up your parameters, and starting counting down the days until November. It’s wonderful to contemplate. And who knows? I may even get another embryonic novel again out of the exercise.
If I do hit the 50,000 word mark, you all, Dear Readers, will be owed acknowledgement and thanks. You have set me up nicely for the marathon, keeping both my imagination and discipline exercised. Or at least as much as they can be – I may still hobble rather than sprint, but at least I continue to move forward.