Friends, family, and acquaintances: Maybe you have noticed that I haven't been around as much this month? Also, when you have asked me what I was up to, maybe I seemed evasive? Even snappish? Well, it's time to come clean. I have been keeping something from you. This month is National Novel Writing Month and I spent most of every spare moment in November writing a 50,000 word (50,820 to be exact) manuscript. NaNoWriMo, as it's known, is an experiment where thousands of people around the world try to write a 50,000 word manuscript in 30 days. I tried it once before a few years ago, and I told everyone I knew that I was going to try and then I got to about 3043 words and stopped. It took me just those many words to realize that I was never going to write a novel and it was ridiculous to even entertain the idea and that stopping then was definitely the most prudent thing to do. But it gnawed at me. Every time I read a book the last few years it gnawed at me. That feeling that I really, really, really want to do this. I want to at least get these stories out of me and see what I can make of them. November rolled around again, as it does, and I thought, I'll try it one more time. This time I didn't tell anybody because it was embarrassing enough to fail the first time (to me, nobody else cared at all because the whole idea of writing a novel in a month is completely absurd). This time, this November, I did it. I did it and I am so fucking proud of myself I can't stand it.
I am a poet by inclination and by the fact that the only creative writing that I have ever done seriously is poetry. (If you can call a BA in CW and one chapbook serious. No comment.) I love poetry and I love writing poetry, but I was always a little disappointed by not being able to write fiction. Every time I tried I gave up and went back to poetry because writing fiction was so hard for me. I was convinced I couldn't do it. And honestly, it didn't really matter that much because I loved writing poetry and it felt like it was enough for me. Except when I would read fiction that I really loved. That always made me want to do it so badly. And I had so many stories that just couldn't be contained in a poem. I have tried and they won't abide.
What I have realized from this exercise, which was well worth the pain and suffering, was that I can write fiction. I just can't write perfect fiction from the start. I have known this intellectually all along; you can't take a fiction workshop without learning the gospel of what Anne Lamott calls the "Shitty First Draft." But I have never been able to do it. Poetry (especially the kind of poetry I write, very short, precise poems) is really wonderful for a perfectionist. I could stand to write an insufficient first draft of a poem because the editing was instant. I didn't have to write pages and pages of dreck, I could write a few lines of dreck and then I could start tinkering right away. Having to write and write and write just to keep up with a decent word count this month forced me to finally write that elusive shitty first draft. And believe me, it is shitty. But it's mine. It's 50,820 words of stories I've been dying to tell. Now comes the hard part. I know that for sure. But to get this far has been a transformative experience. I am indebted both to the crazies that came up with this idea and to Matthew. He was the only one who knew I was doing this all along and he really propped me up when the, ahem, going got rough (we'll just put it that way). Now, I am going to go pop open some prosecco and sleep for a week.