So, I’m doing it. I’ve thought about it before, but this year, I’m committing to NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month.
I’ve written novels before. Well, before I was 23. I never wrote poetry or short stories or sketches or movie scripts as practice to build up to novel-writing. And I’ve never written anything resembling “fanfic” (other than the 90210 episodes); yes, despite being a Durannie (and currently being friends with some of the most prolific and talented fanficers in the fandom) I’ve never written stories or poems about the Durans. Instead, when I was in 7 th grade, I was annoyed with the latest Sweet Valley High installment (I think it was Book 5, All Night Long, featuring Jessica and her pornstache college boyfriend), groused to myself “Even I can write better than this!” and, sitting on a splintery bench at the adjacent high school baseball field, started scribbling down opening paragraphs for my first YA magnum opus, finished during the summer after 9 th grade. I started, then stopped, then re-started my second novel during high school, and by the time I was taking classes at the local community college and working, I was also writing full-time, at least 8 hours a day. I’d park myself under a tree on campus first thing in the morning and scribble. I had a notebook for extensive character analyses and questionnaires. And I had a scrapbook of things like pictures of people who looked like my characters, or clothes they’d wear, or their bedrooms, or houses they’d live in. I picked out potential pennames for myself. I finally learned how to use a computer and word processing program, invested in a couple floppy discs, and became familiar with the school’s computer lab. I was incredibly self-conscious and protective of my writing, and couldn’t explain what I was writing about without feeling like a total tard, but I did it anyway. I had this weird drive, nay, compulsion, to do it.
It was all crap, natch, but that’s part of the rite of passage, wasn’t it? As I’ve discovered with my Künstlerroman research, most young female authors – hell, most authors, period! – have to run the gauntlet of sentimental, bad, horrific fiction before they find their groove. There’re trite plots, flowery passages, idealized characters, and usually an on–banging wordy section describing a sunset, and oh yeah, I had ‘em all. And it’s also a rite of passage to consign said early novels and fragments to the fire, which I’ve done as well. Actually, one copy of the novel I wrote when I was 19-21ish and tentatively titled The Best Year of Our Lives, remains. And while it’s admittedly pretty bad, I was surprised upon rereading it a few years back that, despite the fact that there were all sorts of Beginning Writer problems with it, not to mention the fact that I liked to make up and smash together words in a really twee way… I could still find a few strengths in it. I was pretty good with dialogue, and with my interest in psychology at the time, I was okay with realistic character development, too. And I can assure you, at least semi–objectively, that surprisingly I didn’t Mary-Sue all over the place. When I first wrote Best Year, I even got up the stones to submit some chapters to a couple literary agents/publishers, and collected three or four rejections slips. (I was particularly proud of the one in which the agent wrote back personally, expressing support for my attempts, but advising me to focus things more.) Maybe one of these days I’ll pull a Bad Teen Novel, and post some of it here. Maybe.
But life happened. Once I was out of community college and heavy into my academic pursuits, I had no time or energy for the 6pm-2am writing sessions of my youth… unless it was a paper for a class. Eventually, my fictional outlets lapsed into a few really shitty short stories for a creative writing seminar back in ’93 or ’94… some ideas and outlines in my journal… then next to nothing. I toyed with the idea of writing a parody of the typical romance novel for a while, just for fun. And, as I had since childhood, I was always mentally “writing” epic novels in my head. But for the most part, I was stuck in a mindset that what I wrote had to be “real” or “serious,” and wouldn’t let myself write something unless I had a good plan of where it might be going and what I’d be doing with it.
As a literature student, too, I quickly saw that there was no way I’d be able to achieve anything of Hemingwayian or Fitzgeraldian heights. I tried outlining with a subsection of mythological elements that I might incorporate, and pondered how I might rework a classic plot and/or character in a contemporary frame. I pondered Greek drama and poetry, re-read The Iliad and The Odyssey, read a bunch of Hesiod, and just felt inferior. I made notes about a present–day rewriting of Little Women, in which Jo was a slash–writing dyke (and Laurie was her firmly closeted pre-Will and Grace chum), Beth was a hypochondriac attention-whore, Meg was an army-wife Mombie, and Amy was a sort of pre-American Idol brat with the misconception that she had more talent and beauty than she actually possessed. Marmie was abusively passive-aggressive and Father was a self-centered bully. (Not too far from the original, hey?) But I was well aware than anything I wrote would be so far from “great American novel!!!” that… well, why bother? I suck.
But by the mid-to-late-90s I had friends who wrote, really wrote, and I realized that I wasn’t the only one who’d done Character Scrapbooks or questionnaires. Or had Barbies (or currently, Sims) who were fictional characters that inspired something they were writing. Or took trips to cities partially with the idea of setting something fictional there and exploring the realities and possibilities of the locale. Moreover, the genre possibilities for writing opened up, strict borders became hazy, and yes, it was okay to maybe write something less–than–epic to publish online, to have fun with writing, say, a sci–fi erotic thriller with members of a boyband as main characters, rather than putting on the pressure to write that critically acclaimed bestseller.
So again, I made some tentative outlines, thought out possible plots and character sketches. I started a couple things. I went back to the early novel, and pulled out a couple pages that, with some work, might develop into a solid YA project. I tried reading a few of the inspirational “Living with Writing” and “Artist’s Way” type of things. But for me, something has always gotten in the way of fiction. It was an indulgence I just couldn’t afford. I wrote critical articles, letters, speeches, presentations, press releases, Blathers and Rants, tons of journal entries and memoir pieces. But I missed fiction. I discovered just how much when I did the 90210 Parody Episodes years ago. I missed writing fiction.
Of course, I still “write novels” all the time in my head. Dudes, I spent most of my cross–country drive to school this summer mentally writing one inspired by the turn–of–the–century school stories I’ve been reading, in which a girl bucks tradition and works her way across the country, including at a Harvey House, overcoming various social and financial obstacles, to attend college. Sounds dreck, doesn’t it? (Even though, no matter how bad it is, it can’t be as bad as this, can it?) But hours of hideous Oklahoma countryside slid by as I thought out plots, characters, historical research…. Ah, what’s the use of pursuing something like that?
Until now! Fuck that, kids! I’ve got a semester off, and I keep finding excuses to procrastinate, but no more. We’re living in a kick-ass little San Francisco apartment looking out on the bay, with my favorite coffeehouses mere blocks away, so I’m going to do it. I’m kind of cheating, because I’m going to go back to a project I sort-of started years ago, but if I beat myself up about that, I’ll use that as another excuse to not write. So lookit me go! WOOT!
Thus, I’ve been thinking about what I need to write creatively.