brave down the open road
“You never know what's around the corner. It could be everything. Or it could be nothing. You keep putting one foot in front of the other, and then one day you look back and you've climbed a mountain.”
― Tom Hiddleston
It’s the first of November. I stand at the edge of an ink-stained road, right about to take my first step into something unimaginable. The toes of my black Converse are halfway-dipped into the pool of ink in front of me, and halfway firmly anchored on the ground. I’m pretty sure my head is in the clouds, though that’s a subject for another time. As for the rest of me, I’m hanging back with butterflies in my stomach. It’s November, and the month ahead of me promises late nights, laughter, an abundance of typos, and inspiration flowing through my veins.
But I hang back, because I am scared. Scared to write. Scared to fail. Scared to write something that’s less than perfect.
The clouds above me are dark shades of gray, and suddenly they open—dumping black ink onto my head, on my face, my clothes, my Converse. It has begun—the deluge, the storm. November has come. People around me are writing, accepting the ink, letting it come, but I’m scared to begin. The ink road ahead of me has turned into a blank white page, and I stare at it. I hesitate for hours before I write one word.
And that one word turns into many. A sentence.
That sentence plunges me into a novel.
The greatest adventure of all time.
The day I took Georgie back to the airport, a novel idea occurred to me. No, literally. A novel idea. In Silver Tears, there was a place I invented that was a slight detour on my characters’ journey. It was Ryll, the place of outcasts, the place where people go when they are rejected by normal society. The place itself and its inhabitants were intriguing. But I didn’t think I could explore it fully in Silver Tears, and in actuality, I thought it needed its own novel.
So, this year’s novel is a prequel to Silver Tears. Its working title is Broken Wings. I had some thoughts on where I wanted to go with it. It’s Lynx’s story, the story of how she was pushed to the ground, rejected because she wasn’t normal. It’s also the story of how she finds a home: Ryll. It’s the story of how she rises again.
The only problem was, I didn’t know how to accomplish that. I still don’t. Not only that, but I kept comparing this year to the last. Last year’s NaNo was positively amazing, in contrast to the two years I’d done before that. Silver Tears is one of my favorite books. It needs work, yes, but it wasn’t an absolute mess like the other novels I’d written were. I wanted this NaNo experience to be the same, but it wasn’t turning out that way! I had no outline and this year’s plot seemed doomed to failure.
And so it was that I woke up on November 1st, absolutely terrified.
What on earth was I thinking?
Once I’d gotten up, instead of starting my novel immediately like I did last year, I logged onto Facebook. Chatted with some friends. Perused my list of writing buddies on the NaNo site and saw all the grand word counts people had acquired.
And I felt absolutely daunted.
I had to finish a writing assignment before I could begin NaNo. The whole time, I was getting more and more stressed. Finally, I just sent the writing assignment off and decided it was time to start Broken Wings.
I put the first words onto the page that came into my head and then I just kept going. I wrote some parts that gave me chills, and I introduced Rane and his pet wolf, whom I absolutely loved. By the end of the day I had a pretty good start to the month.
Even so, the first day was like pulling teeth. It felt like I was slogging through miles and miles of acorn butter. And I didn’t like that feeling. At all.
I woke up on the second day, absolutely discouraged. I didn’t feel like I could or even should go on with this. Why was it so hard? Maybe I wasn’t meant to do this. I was wondering if I should give up, if this year just wasn’t my year. But then something happened that was amazing. As I wrote to a handful of friends,
Oh my gosh, guys.
I'm writing. It's clicking. I think I know where I'm going with this, I think I understand my MC Lynx. I think I get her now. To some degree, anyway.
See, normally I need to have a period of time to get into my character's head and figure out what they feel and think. But because of all the learning I've been doing on the craft of writing, I figured you should show your character's life externally rather than have long monologues about how they're feeling. So the way I was writing was really impersonal, barely taking the time to delve into my character's thoughts. I was merely guessing at what she was feeling. Shooting in the dark.
I actually took some time just now to write a scene exploring how she feels. Once this novel is finished, I can go through and figure out how to show her emotions externally, without having to have an internal monologue. But unless I have the internal monologue exploring how she feels, I won't even know how to show how she feels because I'm just guessing. I'm realizing, this first draft is for ME. It's for me to figure out how to write this story. Then, when I'm done, I can focus on making it better. You can't edit unless you have something written, something to go on.
Yeah, I know this is the basic focus of NaNo, and it's really not all that brilliant and you may already know all this. But it was kind of a light bulb moment for me just now. I think maybe this NaNo could get a lot easier if I remember that this first draft is for me to explore the story and it doesn't have to be perfect yet.
After that, the words came much more easily. Surprise, surprise.
On the third day, I had barely slept the night before and was feeling awful physically, so I didn’t get a lot done. I’m learning that even though I have a chronic illness, that doesn’t mean doing things like NaNo are impossible. However, they can be really hard. I just have to learn how to make it manageable for me.
Day four, I generally wasn’t feeling well either, even though I’d slept. I ended up writing 2k, though. Slowly. Steadily. (Even if half the words were written when I was supposed to be off the computer. :P) And like the first day, I wrote parts that took my breath away and shocked even me. I still wonder, Did I even write this?
It’s day five now, and I have a headache, so I haven’t written much. I absolutely love my characters (especially Rane! ♥) and I’m a little more willing to let them take the reins now. Their stories are becoming apparent, layer by layer. The absolutely terrified feeling has dissipated a little, but it’s still there, lurking beneath the surface. I’m a bit more confident in myself, but not much, and I’m still afraid that what I write will be total junk. I’m just a little bit more willing to let the junk come out than I was at the start.
And so here I am, relearning many lessons. I can’t believe that I’m still here, still completely unsure of myself, after three years of NaNoWriMo under my belt. And if I’m completely honest, it baffles me that I nearly always stress out with every novel I begin. It makes me wonder if I will ever truly feel like a real writer. This morning, though, I read this post by Dandi Daley Mackall which was greatly encouraging to me. She has written over 450 books and yet she still doesn’t feel like a real writer. And that makes me wonder, will we ever?
I don't think we will, sadly. I think it’s funny (and slightly ridiculous) how we never really arrive in our writing. Unfortunately, even when we are published, we will always have doubts. We will always be scared to death to tell the stories trapped in our bones. Each time I finish a novel I think, maybe this is it. Maybe I'll feel like a real writer now. And then I start the next story, and I’m quaking in my leather boots, feeling my inner editor screaming at me every step of the way. I wonder, is this the story that will make me famous? Or will it ruin me?
But we keep trudging on through the acorn butter anyway, because our stories matter to us, and they need to be told. And we keep relearning lessons, even the ones we thought we understood.
And this lesson is one I just have to keep learning over and over and over…
The rest will come.
And one day you’ll look back… and you’ll have a novel.