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.