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!

Ending my literary narcissism

writing_bwWhen I originally started write meg!, I had very random concepts of what the blog would be. I’ve always been a writer and figured if I were going to chronicle my daily adventures in some way, I’d have to include my writing life in there. At the time, I was only a year out of college and still wistfully planning on scripting a few poems and getting myself into some sort of major poetry magazine.

Until, you know, I completely lost interest in that. I remember walking out of class with my good friend Erin, both of us chatting about the prose we’d whipped up over the weekend. We had so many stories to share about . . . everything. Living. Loving. And everything came easily — those lines I’d rip out of some corner of myself and tap out on my laptop, printing out my most recent poem for critique in class the following week.

I don’t know if that’s part of my problem — I’d gotten so used to writing on a deadline that the idea of just working on a project, long term, lost its appeal. Poetry was my preferred medium — succinct, powerful. I loved cramming so much into a tiny space, challenging myself to see if I could manage to convey something real in less than 20 lines. I’d spent all of my high school years writing poetry in massive documents in Word (I never write long-hand anymore, except in my personal journals) for the sheer love of it, and I spent my college years writing poetry in massive Word documents because . . . I was getting “graded” on it.

Though I’m proud of many of my poems and have even seen them published in regional magazines, I realized with a jolt that for as much as I loved reading novels, writing novels had to be my true calling. And when I discovered National Novel Writing Month with a few of my coworkers at the newspaper where I’d become an editor, it was abundantly clear that fiction was where I needed to be. (In fact, my second post ever was about NaNo — and this same subject.)

So it was all clear — I was a writer, and I was a writer of fiction. In the span of two years, I’ve completed three novels topping a total of 900+ double-spaced pages. I’ve sent out countless query letters, many of which received unintentionally hilarious responses. Of the three books, all have featured strong, assertive but ultimately vulnerable twenty-something women trying to, you know, figure out who they are and ultimately leave behind a louse of an ex-boyfriend — and everything about him that dragged her down.

They were all told in first-person. All three took place in Washington, D.C., or its suburbs. Each heroine had dark, shoulder-length curly dark hair, dark eyes and a biting wit she had no trouble unleashing upon whoever happened to be closest. Each of them had an ex in the picture that they couldn’t quite get over, even though years had passed. Two of the three had an obsession with all things British — and one of the three even made a pilgrimmage to London.

Sounding familiar?

Yes — they were me. All of them. Completely and entirely me, me, me. Did I realize this while I was writing each of the aforementioned novels? No, I can honestly say I didn’t. In fact, at one time I would have fought with you for suggesting that my main characters were just me talking in a variety of situations.

I know that “writing what you know” is old writing advice, but I don’t think that anyone meant it quite so literally — outside of the world of memoirs, anyway. And hey, I’m great, but that doesn’t mean I want to write and read about me all the time. And since I’m not trying out new voices and narrative styles through my poetry anymore, I’m now doing something really daring, something totally different, something shocking . . .

I’m writing in third person.

My heroine is no longer me.

She’s in her twenties, sure, and maybe she has a lousy ex still hanging around the picture’s periphery (don’t we all?). She’s gone through some things and come out the other side of it, even if it doesn’t always feel that way (again, nothing new). But just the idea of writing from a totally different perspective has made me feel completely energized, as has reading Jill Mansell’s Millie’s Fling, which I’m about halfway through now! Mansell does a superb job of writing from an outside perspective but still keeping everything personable, interesting and compelling.

So here’s to trying something different . . . and quitting my literary narcissism! Let’s hope the fourth book is the best yet.

26 days; 292 pages; 83,385 words


Twenty-six days,
292 double-spaced pages,
83,385 words.

My novel is done! My NaNoWriMo project is complete!

nano_08_winner_largeNow, as people often ask me, does that mean it’s any good? I don’t know. It’s definitely a rough draft — emphasis on the rough — but I know I have something here. It just feels good to finish a book . . . there’s nothing quite like wrapping up a crazed, elaborate tale and writing “the end” evenly at the bottom. I’ve now finished three novels in the past year and feel sincerely accomplished. Now, if only I could track down a literary agent interested in representing a silly 23-year-old chick lit writer in D.C. How many of us could there possibly be, right? I know, a million. But it’s okay — I’ll surge proudly onward and outward! As James Morrison would say, “I’m not lost — just undiscovered.”

My progress this year:


Playing NaNo catch up

In an effort to stay calm before my audition tonight, I’ve returned to my NaNoWriMo novel. I’ve been slacking a little lately, I know, but that’s mostly because I know I can crank the words out the best under serious pressure. It’s pathetic that one of the whole points of NaNoWriMo is to quickly get a novel out in 30 days — and this is a serious challenge. If the 30 day threat isn’t enough, I have to make it harder for myself: instead of spacing it out and writing a little every day, I have a tendency to write 2,000 or 3,000 words every other day, then sit down and hammer about 10,000 in a single afternoon.

I’m doing all right, though. And I’ve finally hit my stride with my new book! Sadly, it’s another “break-up” novel — my characters are always getting over the really nasty end of a relationship. But since it’s easiest to right from personal experience, I just roll with it! And now that I’m happy and in love again, I can explore that aspect of the aftermath, too. Barf, I know! But it’s fun to see the sunshine after the rain . . . and it’s even more fun to write about it. Break-ups are always the catalyst for something more — something greater.

Here are some fun widgets demonstrating my noveling prowess.
Disregard the sad red squares from the days I failed to buckle down!:

Yes, I’m well on my way!

Wish me luck tonight . . . my heart is in my throat, I’m so nervous! I just don’t want to humiliate myself with my rusty acting expertise . . . we’ll see. Oh, the FEAR!