The November Novelist

National Novel Writing Month. If I’ve written about it once, I’ve written about it a hundred times (or at least annually since I began blogging). It’s the one time each year I allow my writing to take center stage (how’s that for mixing metaphors?)–often, though reluctantly, at the expense of my other obligations. So far, I’ve won NaNoWriMo every year.

And this year will make ten consecutive wins. If I manage to make it.

I came to NaNoWriMo in 2006 by way of the Neopian Times Writers Forum, which I’d been invited to after having a short story published on Neopets.com, a virtual pet website that became a starting point for my development as a writer. These forums were the birthplace of many friendships that persist today, and the feedback we gave and received each week is no doubt a primary cause for my growth into the writer I am today.

In 2006, after I’d learned about NaNo and decided to compete, I Googled the lengths of “real books” and came up with 150,000 words. This was three times the goal of NaNoWriMo–in which participants challenge themselves to write a single 50,000-word novel each November–but I wanted to be a real writer, so I had to write real books.

(Now I realize a more likely range is 80,000 – 100,000 words, but, eh, I was young.)

My story was perhaps the strangest I’ve ever written: I wasn’t confident in my ability to stretch one story out so long, so I came up with four and wove them together. My main character was a disinterested bestselling author struggling to write his latest novel, who plunges into reading one of his previous books (story two) while writing its sequel (story three), all while his dispossessed muse goes on her own adventure to find him.

But wait, there’s more!

Not satisfied with the measly challenge of writing 5000 words per day for an entire month, I decided to write the first story in the first person, the third story in the third person, and of course, the second story in the second person.

I don’t recommend doing that. I don’t recommend it at all.

At the end of the month, I had surpassed 160,000 words, and my story was a very large, very steamy, pile of slush. But I’d done it, and now I was hooked.

In the years since, I’ve written Judaism-themed short stories (that I read to my class while I taught Sunday school), alien invasions and drug-induced superhero sagas, high fantasy, urban fantasy, and a plethora of other varied and combustible characters.

And each year, no matter how dreadful the writing may at times be, it feels good to write.

But this year, not only do I have all the demands I’ve faced in previous years (if perhaps at higher stakes, because grad school), I also have the added challenge of overcoming mental health obstacles (namely depression and anxiety), while moving forward with a fiance visa so that my husband-to-be and I can hopefully be together by New Year’s.

It’s a lot to handle, and unlike other years, I can’t afford to ignore my other obligations.

I am not resigned to breaking my winning streak just yet; on the contrary, despite being a full day behind in word count, I’ve written every day this month (writing by the fireside tis a great way to pass the time on rainy afternoons), and my story is quickly growing.

This is, in fact, the same story I was mulling on as I wrote my last post a month ago before life swooped in, took me in its talons, and never let me go. In fact, it’s a story I’ve imagined for years–all inspired by randomly whispering the words Theris Nabile.

(And this TED Talk, but that came later.)

It was, for the longest time, about a boy, and his father, and his father’s father.

And now it’s about a girl, the woman she’s grown to be, and her life as it falls to pieces.

I realized within the last week that the story I wanted Theris Nabile to become is not the story it needs to be (thank you, Batman). Instead Evangeline has become the perfect witness–she is privy to the story I had hoped to tell, but brings so much more to it by narrating through the lenses of her many experiences, which I’m still discovering.

But just as I was back in 2006, I’m not satisfied stopping with a single story.

Instead this story is a study in moments, an experiment in tension.

Evangeline is at once a woman, a girl, and the person she’s yet to become. When she peers into the past, I write through her own eyes, as though reading from her journal found at some far distant point in the future. And as the story today develops, I take an objective angle, drawing upon my recent lessons in mindfulness to capture the full breadth of every moment–and to do so, these words I write in the present tense.

I have planned, though I’ve yet to, plunge into passages written in the future tense, exploring the possibilities that expound far past the margins of the page.

So when I say it’s an experiment in tension, I first mean grammatical tense, a much more malleable medium than person. But I also mean I’m foraging forward through my own tension, and in doing so, imbuing every moment with static stress.

Consider the following passages:

… Their eyes meet like passing headlights on a stormy interstate, and then Davis withdraws, pulling the door shut behind him. …

… Evangeline stops on a white leaf, but the leaf itself isn’t white: Instead it’s covered with little white spots, bits of mold or mildew that have made the smooth leaf leather look more like snowflakes on frozen lakes. She wonders, how does it happen? Where does it come from? Was the leaf infected by these white stains, or were they always on the inside, waiting for a chance to break free and consume it? …

To me at least, they hang suspended in the present, utterly haunting.

So I write, it’s all I can do. But my fiance and I are quickly heading toward the last stages of our immigration journey, faster than either of us could save all the money we need for it.

So I come with a request: I will place a piece of you into this story if you make a small contribution to our fundraiser. The money we raise won’t cover everything we need, but it will lessen the burden, helping us pay processing fees and secure necessary travel. More importantly, it gives me the chance to say thank you in a way unlike any other.

And on top of that, every passage influenced by a donor’s dare (that’s what we call these petite prompts in the WriMo world) will be posted on my fiction blog, Silent Soliloquy, so you’ll be able to enjoy it (and follow along with the whole story if you’d like).

I hope you’ll make a donation and allow me the opportunity to show my gratitude through writing, which is, right now, the most I’m able to offer in return.

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