Am I doing NaNoWriMo this year? Yes, but not for the obvious reasons.
In spring of 2011, I rode an elevator to the eighth floor of a Manhattan office building, clutching the first pages of a short story I’d begun prior to the star of this beginners’ fiction writing class. Once I located the classroom, I sat down beside a woman about my age who clutched a glossy three-ring binder.
As the conference room filled, we chatted amiably. We had a lot in common: we were both mothers; we both lived outside the city; this was the first fiction writing class for each of us. However, that’s where the similarities ended. During introductions, she explained that, instead of workshopping the two to three short stories suggested by the class syllabus, she would offer up CHAPTERS of her NOVEL for critique. The binder she held contained an entire BOOK.
When her turn came, she opened that binder to page one and began to read her story, something to do with the plucky daughter of an Indian family resisting her parents’ attempts at an arranged marriage. I recall being transported by the dialogue, the lush setting, the young protagonist’s spunk.
More than that, I marveled at my classmate’s achievement, the satisfying chunk of pages contained between those plastic covers. How did one write an entire book, I wondered? Where did one begin?
Fast-forward to fall. Writing furiously by then, I had registered for a tsunami of writers’ resources. A notice about NaNoWriMo caught my attention: Write a novel in a month!
Gamely, I registered, despite having offered to host a sit-down Thanksgiving meal for forty that same month. I had only a wisp of a premise when I rose early that first morning in November. I hewed to the rules: no outlining, no editing. Day after day, I wrote in the dark solitude before work. And though I did not approach the target 50,000 words that November, I learned several crucial lessons: that if you put yourself in a chair day after day, words come. Sentences develop. Characters show up, talk to you, prod you. They take you places you never knew existed.
And slowly but surely, you have a chapter. You have a story. The story might be winding, unyielding, but it’s there. The process teaches you that with a little bit of discipline, it IS possible write a book, even one that never sees a bookstore’s light.
NaNoWriMo helped me to unlock my classmate’s secret.
I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo twice more since then. Both of those labors remain in figurative drawers. Since that first fiction writing class, I’ve published one novel, with another coming in summer 2017. But this November, I’m giving it another go, for an entirely different reason. It’s because I’ve lost my way a bit as a writer, distracted by publishing’s expectations. My book was well received, but seven months later, sales have leveled off and reviews slowed to a trickle. Such is the way for most published authors. And now, having submitted my second manuscript, I’m in developmental edit limbo, waiting for feedback.
And I know the question is coming, that all-important “What are you working on now?” inquiry that will determine my immediate fate as a writer. NaNoWriMo couldn’t be better timed, because this year, I’m going to use the challenge to test-drive a new idea, to see if it has wheels and traction. But more importantly, NaNoWriMo makes me go back to the well and rediscover the passion for writing madly, for one’s own satisfaction, for the thrill of watching words fly onto the page, adding up deliciously each day.
When NaNoWriMo 2016, this may or may not turn into book three or four. Or a sequel to book one. Perhaps it simply will join its predecessors in the drawer. I don’t know yet, but I’m excited to explore the possibilities on the page.
Because that’s what writers do.