Saturday, September 04, 2010

This Writing Thing, Part 3: The Avalanche

So I signed up for National Novel Writing Month.

On Halloween, I dressed up in a long, ugly dress, put on a scaggy witch hat and wig, and painted my face in horrible patterns. And since I was wearing some funky high heels, I wore pantyhose. Alex and John came by to hand out candy. In the giddiness of the holiday, the visit, and the impending writing glut-to-come, I scampered through the family room, making my 7-month-old puppy Howie chase me. I stopped in the hallway, but Howie didn't. He crashed right into the back of my legs, knocking my feet out from under me, and sending me skidding on the slick pantyhose and carpet, right into a broken doorstop on the closet door. The rough metal end tore a hole in my right palm.

I didn't need stitches (though John thought I did and wanted to drag me to the Emergency Room), but by the next day, that was one sore hand. What a perfect excuse to not follow through with NaNoWriMo!

Instead, when I got ready to start writing, I just changed the bandage. The prospect of writing was overwhelming.

I don't remember how much I wrote that first evening. I do remember that letting the words begin to pour out onto the screen of my computer gave me a sensation very much like the one I got back when I would dive from a high diving board -- a sense of air, of stretching my arms out, of daring life to take me, and the glowing kernel of faith, that I knew I had the skills. I just wrote, drawing from a recent incident in my life, and one of the remembered dreams.

The following morning, I read what I had written, cleaning up typos as I went. It was all right. In fact it was more than all right -- it was part of Me there on the pages. As soon as I was alone, I set in to write again, thrilled to indulge my memory and my vocabulary. And then I began to lie.

I think that was when I really began to enjoy myself; the words were fun to build with, and the imagery delightful to paint, but when you write fiction, none of it has to be true. I was writing in the first person (which many literary snobs sneer at, but a point of view I have always loved in books) and allowed myself to peer at life through the eyes of my main character.

The most amazing part of this first writing experience was the deadline: if you're going to gush out fifty thousand words in thirty days, you can't stop and second guess yourself. You have to keep a-hammering. And to do that, I needed to hone a skill my father taught me when I was nine -- which fingers to use to type correctly, which I had always tried to do, but never had the motivation to do so without looking at the keys. That November, I didn't have time to keep looking down, I had to follow where I was in my paragraphs. One more thing was thrown into the mix at that time: Alex and I began to use an instant messaging program. Before the month was halfway through, I finally learned to touch-type.

No one read a paragraph of my story, not until the very end. I didn't "share" with others; writing was a wholly personal and private act for me. That's the only thing that got me through, I believe, because there were some parts of the writing that were damn good, and had someone told me that, I probably wouldn't have had the guts to try to finish it, for fear of spoiling it.

The timing was strangely right: only a day or so before the last day of November, the last paragraph was ready to pour out, and I was overwhelmed by emotion. Wondering at my sobs as I typed "The End," Bernie read over my shoulder what I had just written. "Wow," he said.

Now, was that month's writing a good and finished story? Hell, no. It wasn't supposed to be about good and finished. It was all about the writing, the doing, the writing, the thinking, just the writing, that's all.

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