Today we hear from Writers Forum member Carolyn Roberts Faubel about her NaNaWriMo experiences. If you participated in NaNoWriMo, we would love to hear your story as well!
We are writers. It’s what we are.
Is it really what we are? Or is it what we do? Can you know, deep down that you are a writer, but the “doing” part is more elusive? Of course, we write little things, a poem here and there, an article, a bedtime tale. But the larger passion, the dream, the thing that wants to connect us to our real identities as writers is patiently waiting to get stirred up.
From writing my first little plagiarized story in the third grade, I felt the thrill of creating with words, painting a world, setting a scene, putting characters in it and typing along to see what happened next. Although I was consistent in writing over the years, the span of time between my stories, poems, and writings was long, and I felt like I wasn’t really accomplishing anything significant. I had no discipline, and I had no defined goal.
I didn’t call myself a writer. I wanted to, but I didn’t. When I did write, I saw myself as “doing writing.”
Growing older can make you peer closely at your goals and desires and compare them with how much time you are really spending on them. What place did I want writing to have in my life? How passionate was I, really? After discussing it with myself (I’m never bored, having such an attentive person to talk to anytime I wish), we decided that the thing we wanted to do more than anything else was to start, write, and complete a novel. Specifically, one for the preteen kids, about 5th or 6th grade. Wonderful! I had a goal. And about that time, I began to identify with “being a writer” as an identity, rather than as an activity. But now what? I was itching to put my typing fingers into action.
The standards I set for myself can be tough. The weight of my need to lay down meaningful and worthy and coherent words kept my typing fingers hesitating above the keyboard. Ideas got jotted down on little notebooks. Tips and tricks from books and the internet got filed. Websites with story prompts teased me to go have a look. And the dark ugly thought grew in me. Did I have it in me? Could I ever write something as long as a novel, even a short one?
And then came NaNoWriMo.
My sister told me about it. It was beautiful. It was permission to write a crappy novel! Just fling word after word at the wall, making them stick into something resembling a completed book. High encouragement to throw something together that might barely make sense, if that’s how it worked out. I looked at it as practice, and a test for myself. If I could do this, if I could just FINISH a crappy, disjointed little novel during the month of November, NaNoWriMo month, then I would know what I was made of. I would know that I wasn’t just a writer, but by golly, I wrote!
That morning of November 1, I had no plan, just a laptop and a cup of coffee by the window. My fingers began to type:
Like waves rolling and breaking further up the sand, now drawing back, then reaching forward, consciousness slowly came to Kevin. He still felt the paralysis of deep sleep, felt like his body was encased in plaster, and he couldn’t twitch so much as a finger, but his mind was beginning to move from the night towards the day. With great effort, he managed to open his eyes halfway. They felt sticky. Bright light from an open curtain washed across his vision, and for a moment Kevin felt the room begin to spin. Or was it his body spinning? He couldn’t tell. His head ached, and his mouth felt sour. Had he overslept until his body rebelled, or did he have the biggest hangover of his young life? He moaned and heard the pitiful sound as he exhaled. I can’t remember anything, he thought.
Neither Kevin nor I knew what was going on yet, but we both began to discover how he had gotten into his predicament.
It was pretty fun the first few days, but then the daily writing discipline began to be overtaken by other tasks and chores and obligations. And then November was gone, and I had not finished my novel. Drat! A bit of regret and disappointment in myself colored half of December 1, but then my natural optimism took over, and I stashed my story for later and planned on repeating my efforts the next November.
Later, much later on, Jared realized the significance of the thudding and scraping sounds that had started to waken him during that night. But he had not wanted to fully wake up at 2:00 in the morning so he had shut his eyes tighter and created peaceful scenes in his head to try to go back to sleep. It had worked, and he had been able to sleep in another 3 or 4 hours. At first he was horrified to realize that he had been sleeping away, like a Goddamn kid or something! While the most terrible and important thing in all of his thirteen years was going on, he was snoozing away, just like a baby!
(The Wail of the Zither)
Just like “Kevin,” “Wail” also did not get finished. I was annoyed at myself and stashed this one also for later. But I tried to use the experience get some revelation about my style, habits, pitfalls. I’d had a better idea about where this story was going, and that made it more enjoyable to sit down and write it. But the two-week mark was the killer zone, and I just couldn’t get my momentum back after that half-way point. I also realized that I was not a fast writer. Thoughtful, yes. Speedy, no. It was hard to just type away, not worrying about sentence structure, grammar, developed ideas. That would be what I would work on next year! Freeing my careful, controlled thoughts to something more fun and free flowing. Maybe.
It was more than a couple years later when I was able to try NaNoWriMo again. This time, I had a secret weapon, a writers club! I was a member of the Redding Writers Forum, and I knew that at least one other member was going to plunge into the word frenzy of National Novel Writers Month! I could feel the silent backing of the like-minded people entering this dash. I signed up on the website in October. I created a summary of my intended story. For once, I knew what was going to be happening ahead of time in my book! But I was very disappointed when outside events kept me from taking the time I needed to begin writing. After the first whole week of November had passed, I decided it was too late. I knew I wrote slowly, and there was no way I could catch up. But then, I got an encouraging email from NaNoWriMo. And it said,” If you haven’t started yet, it’s not too late!” A simple message, reminding me how much of this is about the trying and the effort. Just get your damned laptop out and start writing! I got my resolution back. I began typing:
At first, the girl felt, rather than saw the rosy glow that surrounded and enveloped her body. It was warm and felt good. Soft almost, like a fluffy sunset cloud touching her sore skin. She didn’t know why it was sore and felt bruised, and why her head ached, but the red warmth felt nice and she laid there as she tried to think. Was it morning, and she was just having a hard time waking up? It didn’t feel like her bed, her sheets. It felt more like the grass in the back yard. She didn’t remember anything, and it gave her a little bit of a scary feeling. The girl did not want to open her eyes. It was safer and more pleasant to just lie there, probing her thoughts to see if anything came to her. There was a great temptation to just go back to sleep, but in spite of her wishes, her mind only became more alert and awake. She opened her eyes. And instantly the girl knew she was not in her back yard.
(The Strange Planet of Alien Snails)
Alas, “Strange Planet” did not get finished either, yet. The halfway-through-the-month doldrums caught me again. But I learned even more about myself and what I will need to pull this off, this novel-writing stuff. For one thing, I will have to be a NaNoWriMo renegade and break a rule. Because I write more slowly, I shall begin my novel next year on October 1. I consider this accommodation similar to a handicapped horse race, and I do not feel guilty in the least. I shall take the time commitment more seriously and block out what I need in my calendar. I shall collect even more people to keep me accountable. I must prepare for the mid-month slack-off and put strategies into place. I will appoint for myself a place to write that is beautiful, inspiring, secluded enough, and provided with a bowl of snacks and a place to set my coffee cup. I will give myself permission to write purple prose if need be, to use bad grammar, if that’s what it takes, and to have some things just not make sense, if that will get the thing done.
Because that’s what I am, a writer.