Monday, December 1, 2008
So yesterday was the official end date for this year's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month for you non-initiates) novel contest. I did not win. I did not even get close to winning, as you have to reach the 50,000-word mark to be declared a winner, and I only got to 17,879. But I started a week late, did not put in the suggested 1,667 words per day, and on some days, didn't write at all, so I knew from the get-go that I was not going to be among the winners this year. And yet, I started a novel anyway. Or rather, I started to flesh out an idea that I saw while under acupuncture needles one Wednesday morning, as each of the characters presented herself to me in fully-fleshed-out form, with a name, a backstory, a boyfriend or girlfriend, a situation. And I knew that even though there was little chance in hell that I would reach 50K words, I wanted to see what would happen if I did sit at the computer whenever I could and try to listen to those characters' stories echoing off the inside of my skull. The last time I tried the NaNoWriMo approach was in 2005, and I was able to finish the last half of my historical novel, Calligraphy of the Witch (2007), though it was February rather than November, and the only other wacko person doing it was my buddy, la Emma Pérez (of Gulf Dreams and The Decolonial Imaginary fame). So I knew the approach could work, if only because of the constancy of daily writing and the clarity you get from being in your imaginary world with your imaginary peeps day in and day out for 30 days. What I love about the NaNoWriMo approach is the freedom it gives you to write crap, to play with technique, to do whatever it takes to increase your word count and in the process to free yourself of any rigid thinking about plot or the logistics of novel-writing. Because of this, I now have 67 pages of new work that I actually really like, and that I can feed into work that I've had on the back-burner for years, like a bunch of ingredients needing a recipe to become something solid and whole. Those 67 pages are not crap--I still haven't learned to free myself that much--but they do have a lot of breathing space around them, and the truth is, I love these new characters, the time-weaving that I'm doing between a meta-story set in the second century AD (or is that now CE?) and the contemporary story set in 2005, and the way I get to summon up characters and situations of my previous novel, Desert Blood: The Juárez Murders. Right now, the new work is called "The Nine Sisters," and even though I'm not on a crazy deadline anymore, I'm still going to write every day and follow these girls and women until they lead me wherever it is that they want me to go. I started out not knowing anything about this book, and I still know very little, except that these characters have become three-dimensional for me, and I like being in their company. Plus, I'm good at tracking, eavesdropping, taking dictation, and then spinning everything off in a new direction. And so, you see, I am a winner after all.