In the midst of a chaotic first week of November, it was also the start of National Novel Writing Month — an international effort that asks participants to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days (the month of November). Many of you have probably heard about it ad nauseum at this point, but I’ll throw in my own little status report — and update you on the role noveling as played in my life lately.
In college, I was all about poetry. When I wasn’t reading it and discussing it in class, I was penning my own. Long poems, short poems, sonnets, freeform, hiaku — I did it all and, most of the time, enjoyed the heck out of it. But once I left the University of Maryland with my shiny new B.A. in English, I went to work at the newspaper I’ve called my career home for the past three years. And in those three years, do you know how many poems I’ve written?
One. Maybe two. And both of there were embarrassingly terrible.
In these years since college, I’ve reconnected with my noveling roots — and NaNoWriMo has played no small part in that. A kid who would once while away entire afternoons writing epic “Star Wars” continuations in her father’s den, I’ve written no less than a dozen books in my lifetime.
Were they any good? Well, the early ones were written by a 10-year-old so, you know, I think they read the way you’d expect a 300-page tome from a fifth grader to read. But the more recent stuff, well . . . I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two from having thrown myself full throttle into my column and write meg! Blogging has helped me figure out a way to say things quickly, intelligently and, with any luck, humorously. So the three NaNoWriMo books I’ve written the past three years,while solid efforts of which I’m proud, aren’t the pinnacle of what I can achieve. Since last November and the start of my newspaper column, I see a major shift in my writing style and tone.
For the better, I hope.
This year’s novel, as yet untitled, is currently topping out at 11,772 words or 39 double-spaced pages. I wrote on my lunch breaks at work every day last week and quickly lost myself in the world of Josie, a freelance travel writer who hops off a bus in Brooklyn to discover she no longer carries a flame for her free-spirited, slacker boyfriend. While a talented artist, Nathan lacks a little thing called drive. And when he conveniently forgets to pick her up from a bus station in Manhattan, Josie is done and done. She slips onto the next bus back to D.C. with nary a text message to the man who once stole her heart. Then forgot he even had it.
In a fit of revenge after their cold break-up, Nathan decides he’s tired of covering up a certain canvas he toiled over for months. His most beautiful and ambitious work to date, Nate’s been hiding this beauty from a waiting art scene, afraid of what Josie would say should it appear in galleries, magazines and blogs around the world. He might not be that famous yet, but it’s only a matter of time . . . and this one? It’s one to get tongues wagging. A provocative, colorful and very nude painting.
And — scene.
By the end of the week, I would like to hit 20,000 words and flesh out Josie and Nathan’s relationship. Right now, it’s all been told in dribs and drabs — a special moment here; a recovered memory there. I’m introducing peripheral characters like Josie’s pragmatic sister, Anna, and Anna’s wounded rocker brother-in-law. I have Nathan’s overachieving mama in there, too, plus Josie’s own parents — busy making new plans for life as empty nesters.
I’m not entirely sure where this is going, but I’m trying my hardest to bring in everything I love about a good women’s fiction novel: a powerful, independent and sympathetic main character; loving, colorful and well described friends and family; a moving plot which brings readers on a journey; a delicious love story which has me frantically turning the pages. I haven’t introduced all of those elements yet, but I’ll get there.
Writing is, above all else, tough work. And once the writing is done, we’re into the Edit Zone — which can be a scary, scary place. I’ll be chopping, rearranging, moving, subtracting, adding and crying. I’ll probably get disgusted a few times and want to give up. I won’t, though, and here’s why: with each book I finish, I know I’m getting closer to writing my own little masterpiece. I get better and better. And each paragraph brings me closer to my lifelong goal: becoming a published novelist.
But since life is all about the journey, I’m just enjoying this moment of creating.
And writing until my fingers ache.
That’s the only way to get it done.