As I am looking forward to starting my second National Novel Writing Month on November 1, I was looking back through the blog posts I've written about my plunge into fiction. As a journalist and author of four nonfiction books, writing a novel seemed a mystery beyond my realm of possibility not so long ago.
Yet, earlier this month, my first novel From my Mother was released. I wrote the first draft for this 53,000-word novel during NaNoWriMo 2010. I considered it an exercise in writing and was curious to try the challenge of creating so many words in one month. (It's a similar process I used in writing a first draft for what would turn in my third nonfiction book A Work in Progress: Exercises in Writing).
While I hoped, I didn't expect that NaNoWriMo would result in a novel that I'd feel comfortable publishing. Yet that's what happened and that's why I am up for the challenge again this year.
Here is a post I wrote on November 30 last year, the day I finished my first NaNoWrimo. My initial thoughts on it were:
1. It's possible to write 50,000 words in a month;
2. Word count is a powerful motivator (as I already knew from writing my nonfiction books but the superb NaNoWriMo screen with the statistics to follow your progress is just fantastic and I updated it every few paragraphs);
3. Having one or more NaNoWriMo writing buddies is superbly motivating, too;
4. The emailed peptalks we received from the various NaNoWriMo people I've filed away for future reference and inspiration;
5. I highly recommend anyone who has ever considered writing a book of fiction to join NaNoWriMo next November. It's worth the effort.
Six months later, in May 2011, I wrote this post after I made the effort to clean up that first draft, created a cover and took advantage of the free paperback copy CreateSpace offered to NaNoWriMo 2010 winners. I did so, according to the May 2011 post, because:
This will a. give me a record of my first attempt at writing a fiction book and b. perhaps motivate me to make the (many) revisions needed to improve this very rough first draft but mostly c. inspire me to try again, applying the lessons I learned by simply trying.
With any challenge we always need to start somewhere, and work at getting better at it, if that's our goal. I'm not sure if From My Mother ever will see the light of day, other than in my personal proof copy. But, just like my quest for the sub-3-hour marathon, I have absolutely no doubt that one day I will write and publish a decent novel. You just have to work at it, and enjoy the process.
I can't wait to hold the paperback of my first attempt at a novel and plan to keep it on my desk as a reminder to take the plunge into fiction.
By then a few courageous readers ploughed their way through that rough draft and encouraged me to spend some time and effort revising it, which I did. Still, it was hard and the unrelenting self-doubt every writer experiences was never far away. I wasn't sure I was able to make the revisions needed, and I was preparing my next nonfiction project instead.
Since finishing NaNoWrimo 2010 in November and ordering that proof copy in May 2011, I finished my fourth nonfiction book. While I had plenty of ideas, even drafts, for my fifth nonfiction title, I had trouble getting started. It took a few months to figure out why.
In July, I wrote this post about finishing what you start which I felt was the reason I was crushed under the mental weight of committing to a new manuscript:
The last few weeks I've been trying to start on my next book. It's been a hard process, and I cannot seem to decide which one to write. The longer my indecision the more I beat myself up over my seeming lack of productivity.
I believe that one of the problems is that there are several first drafts hanging out on my hard drive. And I wonder if my struggle has something to do with leaving too many projects unfinished, so I have begun working on two of them, while also trying to start a new one. But I'm still in doubt.
Trying to relax, I find myself getting more stressed and second-guessing myself. Or wondering if it is a sign that I need to focus on another one. The most complete, though no less Shitty, First Draft (as Anne Lamott calls them in Bird by Bird), is my first attempt at a novel with the working title From My Mother.
I committed to completing another few rounds of revisions to From my Mother, working hard to finish it by October, which I did. Last week I spent hours contacting reviewers asking if they'd be willing to read and review the result, both scary and exhilarating.
While I had attempted to write a novel before, it was doing NaNoWriMo that allowed me to complete the 50,000 words that left me too mentally invested in the first draft to ignore it. It motivated me to read more about the process of crafting fiction and, more importantly, reading novels with fresh eyes, hoping to understand how and why they work.
While From my Mother might not yet earn me a Giller Prize nomination, I know that committing to participating in NaNoWriMo a year ago has brought me far closer to the possibility; I have completed my first novel after all. Practice makes perfect, as they say, and that is exactly what From my Mother was. Check out 4 excerpts here.
So, what are you waiting for? Register for National Novel Writing Month now. It starts in 3 days! Find me at www.nanowrimo.org/en/participants/therunningauthor. Good luck!