Earlier this week, I had the extreme honor of chatting with a 4th grade class in Virginia (via Google Hangout from California) to discuss NaNoWriMo, and how they could write a novel in 30 days. The class will be trying their hand at this challenge, with an appropriate word goal for 9-year-olds, and had so many great questions about the experience, and about my own creative process.
One boy asked me, “Do you ever doubt yourself?”
“All the time,” I told him honestly.
And it’s more than the truth. At the time that we talked (it was Tuesday), I had 5 days left to figure out what I was going to be writing for NaNoWriMo, and nothing was coming to me. Usually by this time, I have my whole entire novel mapped out, and have been carrying on personal conversations with my characters. This year, my original plan was to write the sequel to Come Here, Cupcake. But last week, I chose to save that novel for a time when I can be more diligent and give it the detailed attention it deserves. I decided to, instead, write a novel that was more fun and carefree, not even worrying about whether I would publish it or not.
Problem was, nothing was coming to me.
So when that student asked me if I ever doubted myself, I couldn’t have been more honest by saying yes. I was currently doubting myself. I was starting to think I would never come up with a novel idea, and that I would enter NaNoWriMo on Nov. 1 already a loser.
And then, later that day, my novel idea barreled at me, tackled me, and wrapped itself around me so tight, I could barely breathe from excitement.
In her Ted talk, Elizabeth Gilbert relayed a conversation she had held with the late American poet, Ruth Stone. Ruth described how there were times when she’d be working the fields (ironically, in Virginia, where the students I talked to live!), and she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. She would actually feel the earth shake, and she knew she needed to get to a pen and a piece of paper as fast as she could before the poem thundered through her. She would, in her words, “run like hell” toward the house, the poem at her heels as she ran. Often, she’d make it, and was able to collect the words as they moved through her and write them on the page. But other times, the poem would barrel through her before she got to the paper, and then would continue over the landscape, looking for another poet. And sometimes, she would almost miss it, and feel it go through her just before she got to the paper, and at the very last second, she’d grab the pencil with one hand and the end of the poem with the other. She would then pull the poem back through her, transcribing as she did, so that the poem would be written from ending to beginning, completely backwards on the paper.
When I first heard this Ted talk, I thought it was utterly amazing. I also thought how poetic it sounded, but not very realistic. I mean, really? A poem chased you?
But on Tuesday, it happened. My next novel chased me as I drove into work that day. I felt it thunder down the hillside, and the air around me shake. And I was suddenly consumed with it, with no paper or pencil around to write it down. Ideas kept pouring through me, and I begged them to stay with me until I could get to my desk and write them all down. I tried to memorize each thought and idea, trying to retain everything. And while a few fragments dissipated on the walk from my car to the office, the majority of them stayed so that I could capture each lingering thought and place it on paper.
Since Tuesday, the ideas keep coming, thundering over the hillside and barreling through me. And I keep doing my part and writing them down. My notes are a mess of ideas. My soul is consumed with this new story. And last night, I finished mapping out the entire book.
I am now ready for Nov. 1.
Because we’re all friends, I’ll reveal what I’m writing here. I’ve decided to write fan fiction by retelling part of the story of Peter Pan from the eyes of Tiger Lily. Like all great literature, this has been done by a couple other authors. But I’m not worried about that. Like I said, this novel is for fun, and may never be published. Or maybe it will. For now, that’s not a decision I care about. I’m only concerned with enjoying the next 30 days as I fine tune my writing muscle with a piece of writing I couldn’t be more excited about writing.
To prepare, I’m re-reading Peter and Wendy, which has been a completely enjoyable experience. Man, I love this story! Of course, the parts about the Indians show a different sign of the times, so a few details will be changed (like the way they speak, and the name of their tribe).
During the next month, I will try to blog about my writing process as much as I can. I will be spending a lot of time writing my novel, you know. I’m also considering sharing the novel publicly as I write. The jury is still out on that one, however, as rough drafts are often terrible things. But wouldn’t it be fun to see the process of a novel as it’s being written?
Are you doing NaNo? Share what you’re writing in the comments!
P.S. Be my NaNo buddy at nanowrimo.org/participants/crissi.