Chris, I finally did it! I hit the NANOWRIMO goal!
Nevermind that it's years later, or that it's not even November, or that the novel isn't finished at 50,000 words. I did it!
For those unaware of the cultish power of NANOWRIMO, let me fill you in: Chris Baty and 20 of his friends started the whirlwind novel-in-a-month writing challenge in 1999, transforming the agonizing novel-writing process into "half literary marathon and half block party." Since then it has grown to include an epic 50,000 participants who spend the month of November writing a 50K word/175 page novel, receiving pep-talk emails from Chris himself and using his handbook, No Plot? No Problem, as their guide. It's difficult, and exhilirating. Sixteen hundred plus words a day frees you to write anything that might come into your head - the garbage, and sometimes the inspired.
I managed to finish about 18,000 words that November on a manuscript that had been knocking around in my subconscious for a few months, ever since my fateful friend Tina asked, "Are you going to write about Ezri?" We were at the 2004 SCBWI conference in Los Angeles, about to hear the fabulous Libba Bray talk about "Shutting Off Your Brain and Getting to the Heart of Your Writing." (Later I got to bond with Libba over a glass of wine, but that's another story). With Tina's question rattling my bones and Libba's words about shutting off the critic ringing in my ears, I opened up a blank notebook page and started to write. And write. And suddenly I had this story, and a girl who was saying, "I don't have chicken soup in my soul; I have brimstone."
I kind of left it alone for a few months, making notes and thinking more about that girl, and about her sister, and about her mother and their lives together. And Tina, who is just about the most gracious, non-pushy person in the universe, called me up and said, "I wouldn't be doing this except my writing group wanted me to tell you that you have to write this book." Which I might usually take in stride (read: ignore and keep writing notes) except that another friend of mine whose dreams have a strange way of coming true and who knows absolutely zero about my writing life had called me up a few days before and said, "I had this dream that there's something you're supposed to be working on for the next eighteen months, and it's big. So go work on it."
And then came Chris, and his confounded National Novel Writing Month. So I decided eighteen months would commence on November 1st, when I would start actually writing my first draft. Eighteen months later to the day, I took my unfinished manuscript to a conference and retreat, and I applied for a grant. And held my breath.
I'm still kind of holding my breath (as I continue to slog toward finished-ness), wondering if there is some cosmic impetus for me writing this story. Because some days it's hard. Actually, a lot of days it's hard, because it's a hard story. I wish I was writing a Gossip Girl book, or something where the characters are nice and do nice things (I am so jealous of the wonderful Shannon Hale I can hardly stand it), then I wouldn't have to put my character on a cliffedge and shove her off myself. I'm a praying sort of person, and I often ask, "Am I doing the right thing?"
I'm not really sure of the answer. I took this question to the pastor of my church, who is also a friend, hoping for someone with a more direct line than me to give me a more direct answer. Because even though most people don't get possibly prophetic dreams to tell them what to do, it's still a bit of a stretch to believe them. Pastor J said that no matter what happened with it, if it would help me to process Ezri's death, it would be a good thing. In the cosmic scheme of things, nothing is wasted.
This isn't the answer I was looking for, but it will have to do. Other possible answers include images like the desert, and transformation, and how we're given just enough light for the step we're on. And when we tire of trying to decipher the prophets, we can look to the more concrete teachers, like Chris, who tell us just to get to 50,000, no matter how many times we have to type, "Must finish story. Must finish story. Must finish story."
Alas, my story isn't finished, and the clock is ticking. My guess is that I can fit the rest of it into about 65,000 words, give or take 5,000. At my current rate, that will take me about five more weeks. Daunting, especially since the toughest stuff is yet to come. Before I continue, I think I'll brush up on my No Plot? No Problem.