I started writing something


After chewing a small slab of espresso-studded dark chocolate before driving back from Spencer’s last night, I was smacked face-first with a story idea.

It’s been so long since I wrote fiction that I almost overlooked the whole thing. Like any good aspiring novelist, I once kept a notepad in my purse for turns of phrase and plot points and character names I loved. Anything and everything could become the basis for a new poem, a short story . . . or, when I was daring, a new book. I’ve started countless novels but only finished two since college, both during National Novel Writing Month. I’m proud to have finished them — even typing THE END — but reading through them now makes me cringe. They’re great drawer novels.

Since starting working at the newspapers I’ve called home the last six years, I’ve written primarily for print — and all decidedly non-fiction. I scribbled made-up stuff for four years in school before a personal column opened up so many chances for me to grow. But while I honed my real-life storytelling, my desire — and inspiration — to create fictional characters withered. I became focused on paying work (and rightfully so?), but I’ve always felt something was missing. From my writing life.

I talk about my “writing life” and my “reading life” and how important both are to me: Megan, a literary-minded and bookish gal with frizzy hair and an overactive imagination. I started writing stories as soon as I mastered the concept of a pencil, and I was telling stories even before that. I’m not saying they were any good, you know, but I was playing make-believe with characters of my own creation before I knew that could be . . . well, an acceptable thing.

Driving home tonight, Hanson blaring through my car’s worn-out speakers, I suddenly thought of an old plot I’d turned around in my head for years without ever putting finger to keyboard: a girl who wakes up in a hospital room with every man she’s ever loved crowded around her bed. Is she awake? Dreaming? In limbo? How did she get there, and what does this mean?

I looked up at the fat supermoon, hanging bright and low in the sky, and something finally clicked. I started to flesh it out. Even without my trusty notepad handy, I began to create links and back stories and wild characters before I finally reached my driveway. I’d planned to read more of Chocolates For Breakfast and crash before starting another work week, but the words and thoughts and people came so furiously that I had to sit at my laptop before they disappeared.

I wrote 4,500 words without stopping. Now it’s 12:30 in the morning. The espresso-laced chocolate seems to have worn off, but now I’m running on pure adrenaline.

This . . . I’d forgotten how good this feels.

I feel like me.

No plot? Start thinking of what you want

Skimming through one of my favorite blogs — Smart Bitches, Trashy Books — I was reminded of an exercise I did in preparation for NaNoWriMo last year. Today is actually the first day we can sign up for the 2008 NaNo challenge, but the server has been “too busy” since I started trying to log on around 9 a.m. this morning. Guess I’ll just wait until tomorrow!

But the challenge from Chris Baty, founder of National Novel Writing Month and author of the how-to guide No Plot, No Problem!, is to sit down before beginning your story and come up with two lists: one includes all the elements you love in a novel; the other features, of course, all the elements you really dislike in a novel. The idea is to take your two lists and make sure you’re following these guidelines as you’re writing your own novel — we write what we like, right? I know I do.

So here are my lists, which are in no way conclusive:

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Gearing up for November

I ran through yesterday with a bit of a fire in my belly — and I still have a few sparks rolling around in there now. I rolled all my windows down driving to work this morning, cranking up a live version of John Mayer’s “Why Georgia” and singing along at the top of my lungs . . . My hair’s a mess now, of course, but I’m feeling good! I guess I’ve been very busy at my day job, which is usually a catalyst for me to get a lot of other things accomplished. When it’s quiet and I find myself with an abundance of time on my hands, I seem to get lazy. When I’m crammed with projects to finish, running from one job to the next, I seem to appreciate my “free time” much more — and I get tons more finished in those precious few hours of space. This is one reason why NaNoWriMo works so well — you don’t have more time to write your book in 30 days. You create the time. The time materializes as you juggle and balanace all of the other forces in your life. And you succeed!

Speaking of succeeding, I purchased my new NaNo shirt last night — just so there’s no risk of me not having it by the time Nov. 1 rolls around. Last year we had a “write in” at the Borders in my hometown — and it was awesome! I organized everything through the regional message boards and was so excited with the reception. We had about 20 people attend, everyone armed with laptops, pens, notepads and, of course, tons of coffee. We took up a fourth of the cafe with our long tables, everyone writing furiously in 45-minute increments, then getting up to stretch, grab more caffeine or talk about some ideas going around in our heads. It was incredible how many of us were working on similar things — and how we all found each other to join in the experience together. I really hope we can stage another write-in this year, possibly at the same location. I’m thinking about Sunday, Nov. 2? If you’re in Southern Maryland and are interested, let me know!

In the meantime, it’s back to work . . . I’ve got a book release for Christopher Paolini’s new book Brisingr to attend tonight (I’m working, not quite so enjoying) and still have several projects to take off the floor this afternoon. No rest for the weary!