As you’ve no doubt been informed ad nauseam, November is National Novel Writing Month. Abbreviated as NaNoWriMo, this public platform offers a deadline-oriented structure for individuals who need serious motivation to write their novel. It’s also a charitable cause dedicated to helping literacy flourish, and writers can engage in sponsored activities, as well as connect with local writers and groups.
What I’m Learning in Year One
2015 is my first year participating, though it’s by far not a new event. I’m primarily a non-fiction writer, essays being my forte. But I decided to jump on the bandwagon and create a draft of something that could be worked into a novel at some point. As a freelance content writer, I can generally crank out a respectable number of words that are topic relevant and cohesive. So, I thought, what the heck. Why not? Officially, we’ve entered day 9 of the challenge, and I’ve more than held up my end of things, as far as word count.
It’s a new experience for me in more ways than one, however. I’ve spoken about my creative process before; until I began the challenge, I never really saw it. It was always something that happened in the darkness behind my eyes and the product of it simply appeared on the page. In regard to the word-count driven writing, for the sake of creating content, not necessarily concerned with quality or clarity, something in me balked. I realized that many of the seemingly-spontaneous pieces were not spontaneous at all. At least not as I’d believed. I stew concepts for a creative piece for a long time. They swim around in the back of my consciousness, like a bouquet garni, slowly seeping flavors into the soup of my awareness.
That’s where the blossoming comes in. An organic balance exists in these pieces, but it doesn’t come from nowhere, and it isn’t created from nothing. That balance is a product of weeks or months of widgeting and making nonsense noises to myself. It’s just that none of it happens on paper, and it’s not a motivated action. I have never sat down with my journal and thought, “I’m going to write a piece about _____,” and then proceeded to thrash out ideas or write outlines. My creative genius that seems so spontaneous is simply the visible result of a lot of staring into space, walking around, having conversations with strangers. All the while, that little bundle is bobbing about, getting soggy and seeping strange goodness into the matrix of what will eventually become a poem, an essay, a blog post.
Write the Story That Kicks You in the Shin
I was not afforded that luxury with this driven word-count. While the topic has been on my brain since I left Albuquerque a year and a half ago, I never did any serious draft work. I kept shying away from the central memories–a tender node of scar tissue still too sensitive to prod. You might wonder why that should matter, given that NaNoWriMo is focused on fictional works. Well, I see no issue fictionalizing non-fiction events–in the general scheme of things anyway. I began with a will and a nasty head cold on November 2nd. And I began the story using a 3rd Person Limited perspective, thinking this would provide the necessary distance from the non-fiction-fiction of memory (no, that wasn’t a typo), while also allowing me to access a believable perspective. Omniscience wouldn’t have suited at all.
But while I made word count, it felt awkward, like I was wearing my shoes on the wrong feet. They were my shoes. But they felt…weird, off, somehow incorrect in a progressively more unbearable way. So, on November 5th, I switched to 1st Person Limited. I made the decision before I sat down to write, and what happened after that was like turning on a tap at full blast. Rather than the unsatisfying and horribly dull word-strings I had been creating, I started writing about something completely different. It still took place within the chosen realm for my narrative, but it started much earlier. I’m now a day ahead, in terms of word count, though I’ll continue to write every day, and hopefully, by the end of November, I’ll have a collection of words that generally hang together and from which I can shape a novel.
Like Bluebeard’s Wife
Something else surprised me about this shift to 1st Person. From the moment I started telling the story, I accessed a far more personal Voice. I began to write about things that I don’t usually admit–shortcomings, failures, perceived frailties of character. What started out as a bit of cathartic revenge is now something else entirely. Tonight, I thought about that. All these years, I have put up some type of front for the sole benefit of others. I am stronger, more capable, smarter. I’m better at whatever than those other people. I totally already did that thing, went to that place, met that person. And it was hollow. It’s not that I’m not pretty smart or capable. It’s not that I haven’t had some wonderful experiences. But it feels like I’ve been alive for 34 years and never admitted out loud that I don’t know the answer to that. Even when I completely have no idea what you’re talking about.
I’m a little afraid of this new novel draft that’s spinning itself. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that the main character is me, more or less; that all the characters are drawn from people I knew and interacted with in Albuquerque, more or less–although liberties will be taken with timelines and character makeup. This isn’t the same story. It’s not about drawing caricatures of those who hurt me. It’s too real for that. Perhaps what frightens me most is that the narrative path is compelling enough that I feel it. It thrums in my head while I’m walking the dog and doing laundry.
Tonight, I wrote about Jill, although her name is changed in the story, just like everyone else. I wrote about the first time I met her. And I had to remember how I first saw her. While it in no way excuses what she did later, it does function to help me see her not as some dim-witted harlot, but as a warm and kind human being who reached out to me when I knew no one in Albuquerque. I suppose it had to happen at some point, but it is a form of forgiveness and understanding that I was not expecting–one I’m not sure I’m prepared to cope with at this point.
That’s all for now.