One month & eight years

In 2004, I’d never written a novel. But I thought I’d like to try, so I signed up for NANOWRIMO, the worldwide initiative that kicks off every November 1 with the goal of getting everyone who says they have a novel in them to actually sit down and write it — 50,000 words in 30 days.

In 2004, I wrote 55,000+ words on the novel idea that had been in the back of my mind pretty much my whole life. At the end of the month I was declared a NANOWRIMO winner. They even awarded me a certificate! I felt good.

I knew some of the writing was pure dreck, but there were some characters I was beginning to like, some scenes I was pretty sure I could do something with, and the beginning of a story arc. To work on someday. The certificate and the manuscript went in a drawer and life got busy going in other directions.

Here it is November 2012, and the air is buzzing with budding novelists stockpiling coffee and chocolate by their keyboards ready to bang out 50,000 words in 30 days. Here I am still working on the same novel.

It astounds me that it has been eight years since I took those first steps. Eight years spent on other writing projects, including writing and publishing my memoir. But all the while, that manuscript stuck in the drawer was never far from my mind. So a couple of years ago, I pulled out the file, dusted it off, and went back at the keyboard to finish it.

I’m making progress. My novel — working title “All She Ever Wanted” — is set in pre WWI, at a time when women didn’t yet have the vote. All She Ever Wanted is a coming of age novel about a young girl who struggles to have a career, to make her own decisions, to break free of the expectations society had for women at that time.

I’m knee deep in the second major re-write. Since attending an advanced novel writing workshop at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival this past summer, I’ve launched a major rewrite of the first third of the novel, discarding a good share of the original drafts, maximizing (I hope) the conflict, getting my characters to act their age. But I need a framework, a structure, to keep myself focused. When NANOWRIMO rolled around, I realized this could be it.

I’m not starting a new novel this year, so technically I can’t be an official participant in NANOWRIMO 2012. Still, I’m using the concept to keep me on track. I started again at the beginning of novel and am moving through it page by page, discarding what doesn’t work, writing new scenes when I need to, gaining internal cohesiveness.

At the end of November, I won’t get a certificate from the NANOWRIMO Office of Letters & Light, but I hope to award myself one for sticking to it and working through my manuscript in such a purposeful manner, from start, hopefully almost to finish. One month plus eight years. It’s a long time, but the symmetry of  using NANOWRIMO to help me take the next steps in what I started so long ago feels right.

Comments

  1. Excellent idea to use NaNo as a concept for your editing. Why didn’t I think of that, she says! Perhaps we need a new version of NaNo focused on revision?

    • Thanks, Mary. I think NaNo has, or at least had, follow up sessions geared toward finishing what we started. But I’ve been away so long, I could be mis-remembering. My current situation is betwixt and between. Writing more new copy than a simple revision (if there is such a thing!) and revising/integrating the new with the parts that still work. I take all the help I can get.

  2. Hi Carol, what a great inspiration. It’s hard to pick up an old project, but I believe you will power through to the end and that it’s going to be a wonderful novel.

    • Thanks, Rachelle. Encouragement from folks like you helps immensely. I am committed to telling this story – whatever the story turns out to be! It changes by the day. The one thing I’ve always known is how it ends.

  3. A.D.Trosper says:

    NaNo can be a great motivator. I’m sure you will have no trouble reaching your goals.

  4. What an interesting idea to self-motivate with NanoWrimo and work on the novel you wrote eight years ago. I’ll be interested to follow your progress and what you achieve in one month

    • I’ll be sure to post my progress Penelope. I’ve heard that when you want to reach a goal, the more people you tell about the goal, the more likely you are to stick with it. I hope that’s true!

  5. Carol, love the inspiration and motivation I read in your words about your 2004 NaNoWriMo experience. I’ve not yet tried my hand at a novel, but have an idea fostered by something my brother-in-law talked about writing some day. He is no longer cognizant of the world around him due to a rare and severe dementia. So, I’ve asked his wife how she feels about my using it, giving him credit of course for its genesis. Maybe next year . . . .

    • Sherrey, I so sorry about your brother-in-law’s dementia. Fiction can be a powerful way to tell a story like that. Have you read “Still Alice”? An incredible tale told entirely from the POV of a woman who has early onset Alzheimer’s.

      I found NaNoWriMo a great tool for dipping my toe in the fiction pool. The NaNo process encourages you to keep writing and not look back. No editing. Every day, just sit down and write another 1,667 words that carries the story forward. The process pushed me past the fear of making things up and freed me to enjoy the opportunity. Good luck with your story!

      • Carol, I have not read “Still Alice,” but I will. I’ve been scratching here and there to read everything we can on dementia and from the POV of a patient would be the best way to know what may be going on inside the mind. Bob’s brother is diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, rarely heard of and little research, but the second most common after Alzheimer’s. In a year, we have lost all but the shell of him. He was my wordsmith partner, my writing mentor and encourager, the best brother a brother-in-law could be!

        • My heart breaks for all of you, Sherrey. Given what you say about how close he was as a family member and writing inspiration, my guess is you would honor him by writing his story.

          Lisa Genova is the author of “Still Alice.” She’s holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience and does a lot of work with dementia and brain injury. Her second book “Left Neglected” is about brain injury. She might be a good person for you to get in touch with.

          I wish you the very best.

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