Yes, you read the title right. I’m not sure if it is insanity or inspiration that has prompted me to take on this challenge, but either way, I have decided I am doing it. I have wanted to do NaNoWriMo for years, but November would always roll around with a plethora of excuses for why I didn’t have time to write my first novel.
Firstly, it’s the month that kicks off the holiday season — time to start thinking about turkeys and Christmas presents, not a novel. Secondly, it was always during a crazy time at college (midterms, papers, presentations…). And last year, the first time I wasn’t in school, any free time I had was dedicated to job hunting. It would have been impossible to start a project like this when the first thing on my mind was finding full-time employment that I was excited about.
And honestly, this November, my life is no less busy than it was a year or two years ago. I am still juggling one thousand things and a schedule that keeps me on my toes. But the difference is in my frame of mind. When I was growing up (okay, admittedly, I still am) I always promised myself that I would write and publish a book before I got married.
I’m not saying marriage is anywhere on my radar right now, or that the work I create during NaNoWriMo will be remotely publishable. But I realized that art, true art, takes time — in the world of novels, it takes years. And I have never tackled a work of this capacity before. I want NaNoWriMo to get me out of my comfort zone: poetry, personal essays, 1500 words or less. I’m good at 1500 and less. I’m good at the honest, raw stuff that comes from morning cups of tea and random moments with my family. What I have not written since age 12 is fiction, and man, that was my thing. Fiction is what got me hooked on reading, and therefore on writing. I remember coming home from middle school and typing on the computer, saving my first “book” to a floppy disk. It was broken into chapters. It was about a fairy.
Fantasy is what kept me from sinking into a depression as a child, because I was too shy to make friends and had a horrible habit of blushing when strangers spoke to me. Alternate realities kept me alive. C.S. Lewis, Philip Pullman, and Mary Norton wrote color into my days and molded my imagination. The characters they created were my best friends.
Then I, tragically, grew up. I started having to write in-depth essays and analyze symbolism. Stories were suddenly required to have meaning in the classroom instead of simply meaning something to my heart. I became an expert at pulling apart the classics, able to see what the author “really” wanted to say. I was an advanced reader. A smart kid.
My literary skills translated to an English degree. It was four years of reading amazing, important work by amazing, important artists like Hemingway, Shakespeare, Zora Neale Hurston, Ang Lee, and many more. I took classes all over the map. I could give you a five-paragraph essay explaining what an orange meant throughout an entire novel in less than 2 hours. I got all A’s.
But what I wasn’t doing anymore was getting lost. I understood each sentence and analyzed it until the meaning was sucked dry; sentences didn’t have hope anymore, only explanations. I was purely studying, not reading — not dreaming.
What did this degree do for me? It left me with a sharp mind and invaluable skepticism. No sentence is as it appears. No author writes the obvious. In the realm of journalism, this keeps me fresh. But in the realm of imagination…I haven’t used mine, not really, not since the last time I picked up a book that was pure fantasy. (My God, was it really Twilight when I was in high school? If the last fantasy I read included Bella Swan as a protagonist, no wonder I have lost my touch.)
I remember the books that kept me awake at night as a kid. Narnia breathed vivacious air into my days. The Borrowers made me look under dressers for people. Lyra and Pantalaimon wrenched my heart apart as they crossed the river and broke. Aislinn in Wicked Lovely made me a little bit afraid of faeries.
Being afraid of something means you believe it exists.
I am not saying fairies exist.
I am saying that I need to start believing in the power of fantasy again.
I am hoping that writing a piece that is totally and completely impossible will bring me back to the place where fairy tales meant something. I want to take NaNoWriMo head on, sans a trained editor’s eye and journalistic skepticism. I don’t want my first novel to try speak the truth; I ask this of each and every one of my personal essays, articles, and poems. Fantasy doesn’t try to be honest, and in doing so, it says a lot of true things.
I’m not sure what my book will say. I’m not sure anyone other than myself will ever care that it exists.
But I don’t want this to be a book for the world.
I just want my book to be something ten-year-old me would have believed in.
“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” – C.S. Lewis