Isn’t that the greatest lesson of Nano? It seems harsh, but I’ve been at this for 5 years, and I think that has always been my realization as NaNoWriMo goes on. You may think you had a great idea, you may think that your plan could burn through 10 books of information. You would be wrong.
Because our imagination isn’t a book, or a movie, or a one season television micro-series. What you have in your head is something different from what goes down on paper, and the difference between that exciting image, and the cruel reality, can be painful for the uninitiated.
I think my clearest memory of the difference between imagination and reality relates to an amazing video game called Ice Hockey. It was for the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, the original Nintendo. In my head, this game was the holy grail. The controls were tight, the graphics amazing for their time. When I found another copy of Ice Hockey, I could feel the memories rushing. I knew exactly how it played, I knew the game by heart. Well, my imagination’s version. The real game is still fun, one of my favorite sports games, but the sentimental value definitely outweighs the… gameplay value.
This difference, this cognitive dissonance, works with art as well. When I originally wrote a NaNoWriMo, I was adapting a story about a man who woke up without his memories, in a world where the same happened to everyone. The idea was chaos, just getting down the block would be tough, some people had gone nuts, others tried to adapt and communicate despite not even knowing how to speak a language.
In my head the main character had a long path that would easily fill the 50,000 words. He would save a woman from a man who managed to take over a supermarket. He would find a community and they would find educational material to help relearn the world. Then he would fall in love with the lady he saved, a beautiful final act that would conclude my masterpiece.
I burned through all of that in about 15,000 words (of 50,000). So, suddenly I had to figure out what else I needed to do. I thought my story idea could fill the world, and instead I barely created a few chapters of a book.
I pushed the story on further, created deeper characters in the community they put together, created new conflicts besides the lack of memories, gave my characters real goals. Over time, things changed, grew bigger, and the story went from a flat concept to something worth writing about. The silly story I thought of a few nights before November, became a 50,000 word novel that I remember fondly.
Of course, I never would have realized how long it was, if I hadn’t tried. That is the real goal of NaNoWriMo, it shows you what you can think, and what you can truly create. The difference between the quaint idea, and the concrete reality. The worlds you want to create can stay memories, ideas that give you a tingling feeling, and for many people that is good enough. The idea, as small and undeveloped as it is, can fill the space in your brain as if it were the real deal. For me, Ice Hockey was the game of the year, and if I had never played the game again, it would have continued to hold that positive space in my mind.
For some of us, leaving that memory be is impossible. The idea has to find an outlet, and if it isn’t as a 50,000 word novel, then maybe it will be a 10,000 word short story, or a 2,000 word flash short. It has to come out though, or it will pester you, prick at the back of your brain, remind you that it is not reality.
So you have to make the choice. An unrefined reality, or an unreal image.