It’s Halloween. Or as I like to call it, my last day of sanity before writing takes over my life. When I had planned to do NaNoWriMo this year, I was expecting my summer job to end a month prior and to use October as a full on prep month. However, my job ended yesterday, leaving me but a day to prepare for the storm. Needless to say, it’s going to be one crazy month.
With November always comes a flood of blog posts about the pros and cons of NaNoWriMo. (For those of you who have never heard of it, this is a writing challenge; seeing how many people can write a 50k word novel in the span of one month. Just for kicks.) This will be my 4th year participating, and having won the past 3 years, I would consider myself fairly knowledgeable on the whole thing.
I joined in 2013, when I finally had enough of my friend pestering me to join. I’m not entirely sure what convinced me, but I’m so glad it finally clicked. (Thanks Nikki.) Since then I haven’t looked back. Not even when I started college or was in a play last November. I won’t quit now with this hard semester I’m in, even though I’m still pretty exhausted from work. So why do I keep at it even though it literally almost kills me every time?
NaNoWriMo has taught me so much about myself; about who I am as a writer, as an artist, and simply as an individual.
My first novel was personal to me at the time. My main character struggled with self image and it really focused on her friendship with her sister; which were things I was discovering for myself at the time. Allison had wanted to balance her struggles out just enough to help other people, but she and I both found that you can’t. You can’t help someone while consciously and purposefully going against that advice. Sometimes you need to get help for yourself.
In 2014, I wrote what I consider to be my most important work. It was a novel called Forlorn Hope, which was derived from a military term I found. It’s a band of soldiers that are chosen for a mission that has a high risk of casualties. That story focused on spiritual warfare and a group of teenagers that it affected. I re-wrote that story twice more since then, and I learned more from it each time. I have spent over 2 years working on it and I have changed so much, and I watched the characters change too. I watched as the plot took on heavier elements. I saw my lead lady, Azlyn, transform and grow. That novel is so deeply personal to me that I feel exposed when people read it. It’s like bearing my soul to someone else and letting them peak around. That story was born at one of the hardest times in my life. I actually never even wrote an end scene until the third draft; because I wasn’t sure how her story would close. I took all my frustrations out on that book. It contains all my questions, all my insecurities, all my anger, and all my doubts. I wrestled a lot with pain and anger at the church and at myself. I wondered about God and His purpose and His goodness. I was heavily inspired by the book of Job, and essentially it’s modeled off of that. (And throw in a hint of The Catcher In The Rye.)
Ernest Hemingway said “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” No piece of advice has had such an impact on my writing than that one did. Most of my life, I struggled with talking about exactly what hurt me. I could be vague; briefly mentioning my “fear issues.” But I would never dare say what that meant or what triggered it. But I heard that quote sometime in that year and following that small tip transformed the way I wrote. Whenever I got scared, I would write. When I was struggling, I would write. When I was burdened with questions, I would write. I would address all those things about myself and the world that I hated. I stopped shying away from ugly details and just got down to it. I wrote all my problems and through that, I was able to come to solutions.
Last year in 2015 I wrote a story about a girl who runs away from her abusive father. She runs off with a boy she barely knows (long story.) and as he falls for her more, he realizes she has no idea what it means to be loved; she only knows how it feels to be used. That story was important because it was my first novel idea. I got it when I was 11, which is crazy deep for a middle schooler and it still shocks me by how that came to me. Over time the story progressed; my character Megan went from being merely physically abused to sexually as well. That change impacted the entire message of my story. I was learning more and more about the scary reality of rape and sexual assault and just how it had affected people close to me. I got to explore exactly what love is and isn’t. I was able to push myself to write about really hard topics and really grow as a writer. I chose to write about deeper issues despite how people who knew me would react.
Now we have this year. The year I wasn’t sure I would have a novel idea. The year I swore this book would have nothing to do with my personal life at all because all I wanted was to have a funny novel about an improv group in a zombie apocalypse with no deep, insightful meaning at all. Clearly that was too much to ask. I can’t ever just be funny. But alas, this year I am delving into the genre I swore never to step a toe into. Freaking dystopian. My sworn enemy. But when the idea for this plot came to me, I couldn’t resist. Actually, I first tried to convince my sister to write it, because I figured she would do it better. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized this story was mine. Here I am going to solidify what I learned in 2014 by writing even clearer about what hurts. I’m going to write about all the scary things in the world. I want to talk about things that give me anxiety and keep me up at night. I want to talk about politics, the environment, diversity and race, sexuality, mental illness and everything in between. I want to write a book for my generation and for myself. I want it to be funny and stupid; there’s going to be language and they’re going to talk about sex and its not going to be something everyone wants to hear. I’m going to follow very heathenish characters around and record their stories. This year I’m taking an approach similar to that of the book of Esther. God is heavily implied but never explicitly stated. Maybe that turns most of my readers off to my idea, but its what I have felt is best.
Already I have seen this story shaping me, and how my experiences are shaping it. My circumstances have helped flesh out this idea immensely and I can’t wait to grow alongside it.
I sort of got way off track with this post. I didn’t want to make some bullet point version about how NaNoWriMo has helped me. I wanted to explain it fully, in detail. The truth of the matter is no one may ever read these stories I pour my heart into. They probably won’t ever get published. They might never mean anything to anyone but me. But that’s perfectly okay. I might sound super existentialist when I say that life is so circular and meaningless, but we can assign meaning to our art and our work. As I like to say, nothing matters but everything matters. Learning to press on and create was something I struggled with for a long time. It just seemed so futile and so stupid. I hated talking about my writing or my photography as if I was something special or different. And honestly it’s not. But that doesn’t mean its unimportant.
If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, I applaud you for being able to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. I applaud you for your courage. I also sincerely hope you find something in your endeavors. I hope it changes you. I hope that amidst the sleep deprivation and stomach aches and the carpal tunnel syndrome that you would discover purpose. So go overcome your fears. Slay your demons. Live through your worst nightmares. That’s what I’ll be doing this month, alongside my favorite zombie fighting comedians.
(Hey if you’re participating, I would love to hear a story synopsis from you! What have you learned from your noveling experience? Got any tips? Cool story ideas? Also, if you were in a zombieland improv troupe, what would your troupe name be?? I’m asking for
me a friend.)