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  • Answering Hubby's Qs about National Novel Writing Month
Answering Hubby's Qs about National Novel Writing Month
Written by
Pam McGaffin
December 2016
Written by
Pam McGaffin
December 2016

I didn't blog last month. I needed all the creative energy I could muster to write a novel in 30 days. Okay, I didn’t really do that, but I did pound out more than 47,000 words during NaNoWriMo.

Those of you familiar with the largest writing event in the world already know I fell a little short. To “win,” you have to write 50,000 words by midnight Nov. 30. Still, I’m happy to come away with a start on my second novel (albeit a sloppy one) and the realization that yes, I can write fast if I turn off the inner editor and just let ’er rip.

My NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo page charting my progress

I’m not going to say too much about my novel in progress because I’m still discovering what it’s about, but I will tell you that it’s written from the point-of-view of crows against a backdrop of climate change and possibly a national pandemic.

My husband, Mark Funk, grew a little alarmed by my sudden obsession with pandemics, animal extinctions and under-water cities. So to reassure him and satisfy his curiosity, I asked him to write out some questions about NaNoWriMo for me to answer. (Mark, like me, is a former newspaper reporter so he asks really good questions.)

Q: Why on earth did you want to do this?

A: I saw NaNoWriMo as the perfect opportunity to blow through all my hesitancy and self-doubt and get a bunch of words down on my second novel. I also hoped to develop a healthier, more joyful writing habit. It’s really freeing to just write and let the characters and story take you where they will.  I ended up going to some surprising places. I also ended up with a lot of movie-cliché dialogue, but sometimes you have to plow through the bad to get to the good.

Q: Crows occupy the center stage in your book. Why crows? What attracts you to these birds and what do you think humankind might learn from them in the age of climate change?

A: The seed for this novel came from the BBC story on Gabi Mann, the Seattle girl who received gifts from the crows she fed out of her backyard.

It got me wondering what was going through the crows’ heads, and that led to the idea of writing a novel from the crows’ point of view. They’re so smart and funny, I knew I’d have fun creating the characters. Plus, they’re easy to observe. All I have to do is walk outside.

A story about crows is a story about our urban environment, and climate change seemed like a natural backdrop. Crows are expected to adapt to global warming better than most birds, but they aren’t immune. For example, they’re particularly susceptible to West Nile Virus, a mosquito-borne illness that has been linked to rising temperatures.

What can we learn from them? Crows are smart, social and adaptable. They’re also devoted and protective parents, as anyone who has been dive-bombed knows.  To combat global warming, we’re going to have to be smart, adaptable and better stewards of this earth.

Q: Talk a little about the pressure of trying to complete a 50,000-word novel in just 30 days.

It’s intense but doable. At first, I found it really hard to hit my daily minimum of 1,667 words, like I was scraping the bottom of the creative barrel. Some days I just didn’t have it in me and gave up. After the election, for example, I had to force myself back to the keyboard by telling myself my story was more important than ever.

As the month went on and I discovered the magic of timed “word sprints” (a nifty feature on the NaNoWriMo website), I found it much easier to not only hit the minimum, but exceed it.  On the final day, I wrote like the wind, putting down more than 6,000 words, but I couldn’t quite make up a 9,000-word deficit. Speaking of pressure, I found it really tough to get to sleep most nights -- a combination of too much caffeine and not being able to turn off my brain.

Q: You weren’t alone in Seattle. More than 2,260 pursued their muse here. Tell us about the NaNo gatherings in our city.

A: I only went to three “write-ins”, two at the Wayward Coffeehouse in Roosevelt and one at the Greenwood Public Library. I enjoyed comparing notes with the two young women I met at the Wayward, but these meet-ups weren’t about socializing, they were about getting work done, and the participants I met were serious about that. At the Greenwood Library, I sat with one other woman in a small study room. I couldn’t help but notice that she was typing way more than I was – humbling. Afterwards, we introduced ourselves and have since traded emails promising to stay in touch.

I’m interested in meeting other writers, but I’m not sure I’m the sort who can get a lot done in a coffee house. I feel too self-conscious and I’m distracted by the other customers and their conversations. Maybe, with practice, this will come more naturally to me. I hope so because writing is lonely work.

Q: After November 8, your narrative, at least as described to me, seemed to blacken. It was as through a murder of crows had flown between the earth and sun, casting a long, dark shadow. Why the mood change after Nov. 8?

A: Ha! Need you ask? You live with me. Actually, my novel was always leaning towards the dark side: crows and climate change just don’t spark super happy thoughts. That said, my novel isn’t total gloom and doom. I would like for it to be hopeful. That’s my goal anyway.

Q: Will you participate next year?

A: If I have a strong idea for another novel or if I’m still working on this one, then yes. I couldn’t start NaNo with a blank slate. I’m not that creative.

Q: Did you notice that I started to grow a beard just before Thanksgiving?

A: No.


Please check out more blog posts about writing and life on my website.

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