Novel hunting

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Happy Halloween!

I’ve been silent for a good long while, I know, and it has been an eventful seven months or so. I had a sad sort of summer, but I didn’t really notice how sad it had been until the weather changed in late September, the air suddenly cooling and lightening as the heavy cloak of humidity lifted. I felt buoyant and energetic and realized that I had spent the entire summer in a deep funk. It wasn’t only emotional heavy lifting that got me down – I was also dealing with early pregnancy shenanigans, which are never pleasant. (We are expecting a baby girl in late January.)

I have always loved autumn, and this year I welcomed it gratefully. The boys went back to school, brimming with enthusiasm and eager to be back among their peers, and of course there’s Halloween. We’ve been gearing up for Halloween for a while now and Kaya burst out of bed this morning, dancing with excitement. There are parties at school (the boys were armed with treats to share with their friends and their costumes in their backpacks), we’ll watch Nightmare Before Christmas after school, and then they’ll go out trick or treating.

But the best thing about fall has nothing to do with today and everything to do with tomorrow. My favorite thing about fall, that I’ve been looking forward to all year, is National Novel Writing Month. It takes place every November, and during this month participants commit to writing a novel of 50,000 words – from scratch – in 30 days. It’s crazy, but it’s completely awesome.

I’m not sure when I first heard about NaNoWriMo, but I joined in 2011 and made no progress at all on my novel that year. For every year that followed, November would roll around and I’d be ready with excuses to get out of trying again, even though writing a novel is something I had always wanted to do. I would be traveling that month, there was a medical situation in the family, Thanksgiving dinner would need to be made – I rolled out every reason I could find. I’m not sure what changed my mind last year, but I decided to cut it out with the excuses and give NaNoWriMo another shot. I somehow managed to convince Baki to join me, participating in the Young Writers Program (where school-age writers can set their own word count goal and write), and thus discovered my secret weapon – a writing partner.

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Baki and I spent an hour a day writing together – this is one of our work stations, but we moved all over the place. We would put in our earphones (I listened to a ton of Korean pop music – very upbeat but with lyrics I could not understand) and type away. Sometimes it was easy to get the words down, other times it was like pulling teeth, but having someone in the room typing alongside me helped more than I could ever have imagined. Baki had set his goal at 5,000 words, and he finished his novel early in the month, maybe by the 20th or so, a first-time novelist at the tender age of 11.

I was writing until the very last day of November, but I made it. Anyone who achieves their word count goal is a winner in NaNoWriMo, but it is really way bigger than that. I always thought I didn’t have a story to tell so I couldn’t write a novel, but I discovered last November how untrue that was. I started my novel with a handful of characters, a setting, and only the vaguest notion of a plot. As the month wore on, the story just grew on its own. I love to read, and the stories I love best are the ones that feel true, like they have some sort of skeleton or integrity that holds them together, separate from everything else. And as I wrote my own story I was amazed discovered that even my lowly attempt at a novel had resembling that inner logic – there was story there, waiting to be written. All I had to do was discover it. I mined everything in my day for clues – conversation, newspaper articles, random thoughts that popped into my head while driving. There were discoveries at every turn. This was not at all how I imagined writing my first novel would work, and it still amazes me. But something about the time crunch broke down all of my resistance to it, and I just pillaged every waking moment for plot points.

Not that what I wrote was a masterpiece. It was a crummy first draft, full of plot holes and typos, characters that morphed mid-story into something else, and motivations that changed as the story grew. It is a long way from being anything that I would let anyone read (except maybe my partner in crime, Baki), but it is my first novel and tomorrow I am going to start on my second.

So I’m going to throw this out there to anyone who might be reading – if you’ve ever toyed with the idea of writing a novel of your own, why not take the plunge and do it this November? Commit to something crazy and see what happens! Tell everyone you know that you are doing it in order to put some pressure on yourself (like I’m doing right now), and if you can, find a writing partner.

If you can’t find a partner, there are virtual write-ins on youtube (dates and times are posted on the NaNoWriMo website) and amazing word sprints on Twitter. The Twitter word sprints (@NaNoWordSprints) were an invaluable tool that really got me unstuck more times than I can count. They are going on practically around the clock, with themes and prompts that changed with their moderators, tons of support and feedback, and all around WriMo inspiration.

If all I ever do as a writer is bang out a wobbly first draft every November, I will consider it time well spent. Why not join in the fun?

3 thoughts on “Novel hunting

  1. HUllo and good to see you again! Congrats on writing again this november. I did it once and thoroughly enjoyed it. I never even thought of doing it again. One thing it did was have me super organised for that month! Good luck. Love that Baki is writing too – how he must have grown – congrats on your next baby too – wonderful.. c

    1. Nice to hear from you! I remember when you did it – I was inspired by you. I hope Baki will continue to join me in years to come, but maybe his little brother (and eventually sister) will take it up too…Happy Halloween!

  2. Gail Sobels

    Wow . Wonderful news for your family Siobhan. And a little girl . On-Ke would be so happy for you . Stay fit fat & happy . X

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