The stories we have to tell — NaNoWriMo ’11

So here’s the thing. During National Novel Writing Month last year, I had this great idea for a story. I worked on it for a while, cobbling together pieces here and there, but I ultimately “lost” NaNoWriMo by not even getting halfway toward the 50,000 word goal. The year before that? Total failure. Though it was amazing time, my week-long trip to California completely derailed my attempts to write a book in a month.

I’ve gotten gun shy.

But I know it’s possible. This is my fifth year participating in NaNoWriMo. In 2007 and 2008, I cranked out books like nobody’s business, putting fingers to keyboard and flying through stories with breathless speed. I was super psyched to be a novelist, you see, and ecstatic that I had the capacity to create entire worlds. It was like playing God. And after years of writing poems and papers in college, just writing for writing’s sake was exhilarating.

But those projects were all abandoned, locked up tight on flash drives. Gathering metaphoric dust. Looking back on them now, I see how much my writing style has evolved — and those early projects? They’re . . . well, they’re just not good. Without redemption. A bit embarrassing, if I’m being honest.

As of Oct. 31, the night before NaNo was due to start, I hadn’t decided if I was committing to another year of writing debauchery. Did I have it in me to try again — and risk failing? How embarrassed would I be if I tried for the third year in a row to craft a book, then wound up with some piece of garbage I would bury deep on my hard drive?

But I’ve been thinking and thinking, plotting and scheming. And I’ve realized that, even if this latest attempt sucks — and even if I never finish at all — the greatest gift NaNo can give a writer is discipline, which is what pep talker Maureen Johnson is telling us. I’m used to writing on deadline at work, cranking out 500-word columns, but that’s nothing compared to the stamina writing a full-length novel requires.

I’ve changed and evolved and improved as a writer, and I know I have great paths yet to wander. I’m not at my peak. I’m still young and quick and maybe a little arrogant, as my hate-mail-writers are quick to point out, but that’s okay. Everything is, in fact, a learning experiment.

So I’m trying. I’m writing again. I’m vowing to myself that I will try to finish a novel — and that is enough.

I’m more than 12,000 words in and loving it. I’m scared and this book may be terrible, but that’s not what’s important at the moment. It’s just about getting the story out. I’ve begun scratching notes on slips of paper, keeping characters straight and developing their personalities. I’ve thought about conflicts and resolutions and all the things I love about the books I’ve read and cherished. I’ve thought about what makes a great heroine — and a great villain. I’ve thought about love lost and found. Most importantly, I’ve thought about the story I have to tell — the one that’s uniquely mine — and the pieces of it I can weave into something bigger.

We all have a story to tell. I believe that absolutely, unequivocally. I know with all my heart that is true.

I don’t know what I’m going to come up with — but it’ll be something.

And I hope someday I’ll get to share it with you.

EDIT: If anyone would like an extra writing buddy on the NaNo site, I’m megan_lynn. Looking forward to this grand adventure!