A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail with a subject line that read, “Do This!”
It was from my knitting, writing, and blogging friend and frequent “I Want a Cookie” commenter Amy, who was talking about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The idea is to write a 50,000-word novel in a month. Amy will be participating for the third time in November.
My initial reaction was, “Are you kidding? I can barely manage a blog post every day! What the hell would I write a NOVEL about??”
While I love the idea of having written a novel, the actual writing of one troubles me. E-mail has ruined me for any kind of REAL writing. But that’s only part of the problem.
I’ve heard writers talk about novels they have written, writers who felt like the stories and characters came through them from some unknown place. I’ve heard them talk about characters who speak to them, even when they don’t want to hear what those characters have to say. I’ve heard them talk about the NEED to write.
I’ve always imagined that before a person writes a novel, they can feel it. Like a persistent itch, demanding action with increasing volume until a person has no choice but to scratch. Or like being pregnant, feeling that little something moving around inside, feeling it growing until it wants out with such insistence that there’s nothing to do but push it out.
I’ve thought that there simply isn’t a novel IN me, because I don’t feel any of that. No itching, no contractions, no voices, no stories. Nothing. Just the overwhelming feeling that I could list a thousand valid, highly reasonable, perfectly understandable reasons why I really, really don’t want to even try.
And I might have been able to leave it at that, if not for the nagging memory of having felt that way before. In the early months of 2003, when my sister, Meghan, suggested that I sign up to run a half marathon, I felt the same way. Every ounce of me said I wouldn’t be able to do it, and I was crazy to even try. That, at the time, was exactly the reason I knew I had to do it. I signed up, and six months later, in spite of myself, I ran the whole thing. I even survived to tell the tale. I can still walk! Who knew?
And there's no denying the fact that I know a hell of a lot more about writing right now than I ever did about running.
According to the NaNoWriMo website, this event is an informal, casual, supposed-to-be-fun sort of thing. It’s okay if the novel sucks. It’s SUPPOSED to suck. Cheating to achieve the 50,000-word count is encouraged. Equal measures of silliness and support are available on the website’s forums pages. The idea isn’t to get published (although that could, and sometimes does, happen), it is to prove to yourself that you can do it.
So today, I went to the NaNoWriMo website and registered.
Of course, I had six months to train for the half marathon. In this case, I’ll have 30 days. And… I have no idea where or how to start, or even what my novel (my novel! oy!) will be about.