National Novel Writing Month: Empowerment through Stories

[N.B.: This is a post I started writing in October and then promptly forgot about posting until now! Better late than never!]

It’s National Novel Writing Month! It’s my absolute favorite time of the year. It’s crazy, it’s hectic, but it’s such a mainstay of my writing life I think I’d be lost without it. This will be my 10th year as a NaNo Participant, and my first year as Municipal Liaison for the wonderful Skagit Valley region.

I don’t typically relish public leadership roles (social anxiety, nagging self doubt, existential dread, etc.), but I felt so strongly about NaNo that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. My first NaNo, back in 2007, came at a time of my life when everything was in flux: I had just graduated college and found my first full-time job in all its soul-sucking glory, started dating my first girlfriend and so came out as queer in an awkward, bumbling sort of way. I didn’t know what I was doing with my life and I felt out of control of it. I don’t even remember how I found out about NaNo (I think I saw a book in a bookstore by Chris Baty?), but it sounded like a great distraction and sufficiently impressed my girlfriend, so I was all in.

I didn’t make it to 50K that year (it would take about 5 years of trying to do so) but I found that I could write, I found the pleasure in telling a story. I wrote a sci-fi novel about a lowly office assistant who has an Alice-in-Wonderland-type journey to another planet where she discovers her true powers. It was a really meaningful story for me, about the powerless finding power, about hope in darkness, about the suffocation of roles and binaries and how to free yourself from that. Most of all, the actual act of writing gave me hope and purpose. I had something meaningful to say and I was saying it. That’s a kind of power I didn’t know I had access to.

And I was hooked. Ten years later and I haven’t regretted a single hectic November. And it’s wild to me that I’m now an ML and my job is to cheer on other novelists, people who love what I love and value what I value: personal narratives, freedom of expression, stories of all kinds. For me, it’s never been about the word count, it’s always been about the community. Through our stories, we reach out to others and share the deep, undiscovered parts of ourselves.

Antidote for Rejection

This is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart right now. If you write, and you want other people to read what you write, then you know about rejection. The deflating feeling of inadequacy, of lack, of not being good enough. 

It’s funny that a profession overwhelmingly comprised of sensitive introverts requires them to put themselves out there in such a deeply personal way.  Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I’ve stopped pandering–so much–to my ego. It’s not that I don’t care if I get published or that it doesn’t hurt to get those formulaic thanks but no thanks letters back from lit mags–I do, and it does. It’s just that I’ve decided I’ve got to have faith in myself, and faith in the transformative powers of the writing process. The rest will come, or it won’t.

Believe me, I’d love the outside affirmation. I’d love the recognition, the accolades, but I also know from hard-won experience that those things are insubstantial. There’s a Buddhist saying, “Praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and sorrow come and go like the wind. To be happy, rest like a giant tree in the midst of them all.” Success and rejection are just two sides of the same coin. If you are unmoored and grasping, they’re both problematic. The praise itself doesn’t make your work valuable. And in fact, it just sets up further expectations and opportunities for self-doubt. Do I deserve this? Am I a fraud?

Further, I think as writers we would be better served by reframing our personal stances on success and failure. Consider: It’s not you against the world. We writers are all in this together.  Instead of stalling over rejections, let’s work towards creating a community with other writers, supporting them in spite of their own rejections, and (trying) not to be envious in the face of their successes. A generous spirit is expansive, creative, transformative. It’s something to work towards because that’s where the magic happens.

NaNoWriMo 2019 Updates

Hello!! It’s almost that time of year again, that most wonderful time, National Novel Writing Month (AKA November). It’s always a highlight of my year, and a wonderful reminder to keep creating, because our stories matter.

This year will be a little different for me because I’m taking on the role of Municipal Liason for the Skagit Valley region. (Whether that new role will help or hinder my word count remains to be seen.) Regardless, I’m looking forward to getting to know fellow writers in the region and helping them tackle their novels.

I haven’t formally decided on what I’ll be writing this November, but that’s what October is for. Preptober, as it’s often called for NaNo purposes, is all about setting yourself up for success in November. For me, it involves two main areas:

  1. Novel prep: Brainstorming, planning, and outlining, as much or as little as desired
  2. Life prep: Planning everything outside the novel to carve out as much time as possible for writing in November!

Since I’ve seen a ton of resources online for novel prep, I’m going to focus more on the second point. For me, this usually involves meal planning and prep, event planning for big events (for Thanksgiving and my daughter’s birthday, as well as ML-hosted NaNo events), general housekeeping, and self-care. It also involves coordinating with other people (partners, writing group, babysitters, etc.) to create a team to help support you during November.

I plan to post more on these topics during the weeks of October as I’m going through the process myself. Happy prepping!

NaNoWriMo: Halfway Point & Excerpt

25K written, halfway through.

Here’s an excerpt from what I wrote today–obviously very rough, weird draft. Sorry, if it’s not clear what I’m going for, it’s supposed to be a page of a letter from the main character, this wellness guru/religious leader. It’s roughly modeled off of Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians and Song of Songs, so hopefully that explains the strange tone somewhat.

Love is another illusion. It is one of those grasping, desperate attempts to outwit your natural solitude. You may fool yourself for a while, but sooner or later you will recognize love is an illusion that cannot be sustained for long.

Ultimately, it is a betrayal. Sometimes this betrayal is like cold, slick metal between your ribs. Other times it is a dull constant aching, like a cyst, like a cancer. Either way, it will eat you from the inside. You will be changed. Look at me. I was in love once, I was cut from the inside out. My whole body, a thousand tiny cuts. I will bleed away, eventually.

It is like that wonderful dream where you have found the Other, the one who completes you, the one who can look into your eyes as if they were her own, the one who seems like they can reach into your heart, and gently, gently, cradle it. They have entered your bloodstream, and you feel overwhelmed with joy. You feel as though you have found what you had been missing all along. That precious, vital thing that had been cut out of you so long ago, returned and now you are whole. You are, at last, yourself. Only, of course, you wake up. Everything is the same as before. You are not changed. You are the same person you’ve always been, half empty and bewildered. You grieve the loss of that feeling of wholeness, like a sawed-off appendage, even as you realize it was never really something you possessed to begin with. That is the essence of love. That is when you realize what the poets say is, somehow, true. He cannot contain you. You will vanish into thin air.

Ask yourself, for how long can you keep your beloved? You cannot possibility expect him to stay in there, inside your head, alongside those incessant thoughts, the gruesome doubt, the internal screams that keep you up all night. There is no room for him, either.

Writing Routines, Odd Research, and NaNo Update

First update of the week! I got a little behind this weekend on my word count, not really by doing anything fancy, but just throwing away the little bit of routine I have during the weekday does make for more of a challenge. I finally just got caught up today and am days away from making it halfway through!

As for my story, I’m essentially in the same boat I was before. Very little plot. It almost seems like I am writing the backstory for my characters, like the actual action starts long after the parts that I’m writing. Does anyone else do this? While definitely not a useless exercise, it’s a little discouraging. If the whole month goes by and I haven’t made any progress in terms of plot, then I suppose I will try my hand at outlining a plot in great detail and see how that shapes up. But no time to think about that until November is through!

Also since I made it back on track with my word count, I have some spare time to do my favorite thing: Wikipedia research! Look what I’ve found: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linda_Hazzard. Linda Hazzard started a sanatorium in a small town in Washington State where people from all over would go for her fasting remedies. She went to prison after over 10 people died in her care, due to starvation, over a period of four years. This has sparked a bit of inspiration regarding alternative medicine and quack doctors. An interesting read and definitely relevant today.

My story is set in a sort of alternative wellness center in middle-of-nowhere Washington, so this’ll be good inspiration.

I’ve also been on the NaNoWriMo subreddit, which has had some interested conversations that I hope to later turn into posts, such as revision plans after November, time management (e.g., what to do when you fall behind), and how to schedule the time to write, for example, with a toddler. Stay tuned for future posts!

Nano: Eventual update

Despite all odds, I’ve been keeping up with my word count. I’m now at 13K and counting! Though my story is in tragic shape, the actual part about putting the words on paper (normally very hard!) is coming much easier than usual. So I suppose I can’t complain…but I’m going to anyway.

My story itself is a mess. It’s just a collection of shorter stories about a variety of women and their various problems (all could be individual stand-alone stories in the own right, if I wasn’t so set on something else). As of yet, they are not related, so I need to think of a way to connect the stories (you know, a plot or whatever). Ugh. I am so worried that I am going to get to the end of November with 50,000 words, and think, “what the hell was I doing?” Well, too late now.

Today I wrote a little piece that was basically this retelling of a kabuki play that I learned about on NHK’s Kabuki Kool.  (By the way, one of my favorite shows). It’s called the Zen Substitute, I think, and it really resonated with me because it concerns deceptions, broken promises, promiscuity, and all sorts of fun relationship stuff. But mostly, it struck me because the husband never calls his wife by her name, he calls her this not-so-flattering pet name, “the mountain god.” Actually, it sounds kind of flattering, but I think he’s basically saying she is terrifying. And he goes to great lengths to avoid her wrath. It doesn’t stop him from keeping a mistress, but, whatever. I’m not completely sure why that stuck with me, but it did. Something about how female rage can be elevated into a sort of godlike status, almost mythic proportions. I want to make strong female characters in my story, but I also want them to have depth. Through their own shortcomings, through their own missteps and failings, they emerge into their full, dangerous potential. That’s the gist of what I’m going for, at least.  More on mountain gods later, I’m sure!

10,000 words

Hi there! Here’s another quick status update on how NaNoWriMo is going. Today, I hit the 10,000-word benchmark–that’s right, I’m 1/5 of the way done!

I wish I could say that my story is coming together. It’s not, not really. I’ve still no clear plot to speak of. But I do have a host of interesting characters, and these images and ideas keep popping up. I hope that at some point it’ll just come together, or at least I’ll be primed to put all the pieces together and get to the true heart of the story after November is through. So, to those of you still plodding your way through NaNoWriMo in the dark like me, keep at it! It’s not a sign of failure, just a sign that you’ve got more writing to do!

Quick Update

It’s November 4th. It’s been an exceptionally busy week (Halloween + my birthday + my daughter’s birthday), but I’m happy to say that I’m not even *that* behind on my writing.

I’m at 5,000 words!

But I have been getting a little discouraged in my story. As I write, it’s painfully apparent that I have no idea where to story is going (not shocking since I spent hardly any time planning). Even though I knew this would likely be the case when I went into the month, it is a little daunting, sitting down and free writing, no editing, just whatever pops up.  I keep thinking, “you’re going to waste your whole month with this?”  “This is going nowhere.”

It takes a lot of effort to keep telling myself that this is to be expected, that it’s part of the fun, and that it’s maybe even necessary to get at the soft underbelly of what I want to say–the real story. If I spent all November writing meaningless, disorganized drivel, but came away with a solid kernel on which to base a “real” story … that would be worth it. Or, even if that doesn’t happen, if there are no breakthroughs and no kernels, I still wrote something, and maybe it was something that needed to be written, that will pave the way for ideas later down the line. Maybe it’s just something I need to get out before I can move on to something better.

I do, honestly and from the bottom of my heart, feel that it is really important to trust the writing process. You might not get what you want out of it, but you get what you need. Regardless, it is challenging, to come back to the keyboard day after day with some vague hopes and a whole host of self-doubts. There are so many other things I could be doing, things where success is much easier to gauge, things that are instantly gratifying. So many things that don’t seem as likely to make you look like a complete and utter failure.

Anyway, I just wanted to be honest about how quick and easy it is to fall into this mindset. Hopefully, I’m the only one in the world who feels this way, but I doubt it.

Day One: Recap

“’In all men’s hearts a slumbering swine lies low,’ says the French poet; so come ye, whose porcine instincts have never yet been awakened, or if rampant successfully hidden, and hurl the biggest, sharpest stones you can lay your hands on at your wretched, degraded, humiliated brother, who has been found out.

-Oscar Wilde

Day one, and it has been ridiculously productive! I hit a gold mine by retelling a real-life experience that’s been fresh in my memory. I wrote it out as a nonfiction piece, then rewrote it in a slightly creepier tone and fictionalized some major elements to make it fit in as it as part of my novel.

I basically used it as part of the backstory for my main character. It’s really helped me get into the story a bit more. The main character (don’t have a name yet) went through a series of traumatic experiences, eventually leading her to completely change her life and transform into this pseudo-religious leader/cult leader/feminist icon (or something). This is where the story begins!

Also, I feel like I should explain the Oscar Wilde quote: I really like it and it fits into my story, somehow. It’s pretty biblical. I always think of women being stoned in the Bible, but I guess it applies to men too.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoning