So. I write.
This year will be my third swing at Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month. Any writers out there? Any writers who don’t know what Nanowrimo is? Well, listen up. Nanowrimo (hereafter known as nano, ’cause I get sick of typing “Nanowrimo”) is one of the best things that’s happened in the world of writing since … I dunno, the dawn of time?
Hyperbole – it’s THE. BEST. THING. EVER!!!
Anyway, nano is awesome. The idea is simple: writers across the world commit to writing an entire 50,000-word novel between November 1 and 30. This has been happening since 1999. Some writers roll their eyes at the exercise, claiming a novel can’t be written in thirty days. I beg to differ. What those writers mean is that a good novel can’t be written in thirty days.
But that’s cool, man. Make it good later.
This is about forcing oneself to sit that hiney in a chair and tap-tap-tap away until your fingers hurt. In order to write a novel in a month, a writer needs to put down 1,667 words each day. Now, that’s easy to do once. Doing it thirty times in a row is another experience altogether. It’s a serious exercise of butt-in-chair, regardless of whether or not the writing feels “inspired” today. Edit the darn thing later. Learn focus now.
Personally, I’ve been involved since 2009. That’s when I gave it my first go, writing a “novel” I referred to more often as a “testimony,” but which is known in the biz as more of a “memoir.” I sort of dug up some of my old demons and made them cringe in the sunlight of my blank page. Don’t worry. I’m not gonna make you read it. But that year I “won!” Wooo! Cue confetti and dorky little celebration dance!
Then in May 2010 I had a baby. Which meant in November 2010, I had a six month old. Which meant I didn’t win nano’10. Sadface. I tried, though – really hard, in fact – and I blame my failure just as much on my still-pretty-brand-spankin’-new motherhood as on the fact that I was trying true fiction. Quite frankly, in the context of an exercise in slap-it-on-the-page-as-fast-as-possible, memoir is easier – I already knew what was going to happen! But in 2010 I tried to genuinely write a novel, and I did it with a screaming infant in my care, and I am not ashamed that I didn’t meet my goal.
So. Nano’11 is just a month away, now.
Over the summer, I sat down and wrote a character, who I knew nothing about. I built her from the ground up, sans story, and every once in a while, over the last several months, I’ve taken a seat and gotten to know her a little bit better. I intend to spend November getting to know her better – 1,667 words at a time. Do you think maybe there’s a story in there?
Her name is Stacie. Do you want to meet her? Here she is, remembering a day she spent with her in-and-out father, Vince, when she was eight years old.
“Let’s paint, Girlie,” Vince said – that was his favorite nickname for me, ‘Girlie,’ and my favorite, too. I was eight now, and he had been home for a few days.
I’d been dreading this, though. Last time Vince came home, he sat me down and taught me to paint. Just beginner’s stuff, of course, he’d said, but then he blew me away with all the tricks he knew. There were hundreds of strokes and techniques and methods and brushes. I didn’t understand how a person could keep them all straight, let alone master them. He was patient, though, as I fumbled with the paper, attempting to create something. Anything. I didn’t succeed, but I wrote down a few tips. I wanted to remember, so that I could practice after he left.
I did practice, too. A lot. And hard. It was invigorating: I’d take an utterly blank sheet of paper, perfect but boring, and splash it with one firm, beautiful streak of color. And that one streak, no matter what color or shape, would animate me as much as the paper. Confidence, eagerness, joy would shoot through me.
But something else followed, something that proved to be as inevitable as the initial rush: confusion. My barns were lopsided. My people’s eyes were the wrong size. My trees looked like they were made of plastic. I fought long and hard with the tools Vince had provided me, and I wanted to be a painter, so bad. I just didn’t have the gift.
One day I took a painting of a kitten to Mama. She oohed and ahhed over it like I was Rembrandt. But that was exactly the problem. She laid it on so thick because she didn’t think it was any good, and she didn’t want me to know.
I put my painting supplies in a box and left it in my closet behind my shoes. Soon enough Vince would come home and I’d have to return it all.
And that’s why, when he wanted to paint, I couldn’t bring myself to smile. I slipped off my chair without a word and followed him into the yard (“Landscape is inspiring,” he’d explained before), where he had set up two easels and two blank canvases.
“You bought real canvases?” I asked. “But aren’t those expensive?”
“Only the best for you, Girlie,” he said. “Have you been practicing?”
I nodded dumbly.
“Well, let’s paint something together, then.”
“I – but –”
His head crooked to one side.
“I practiced, Vince, I really did, and I really like it. But I’m just – I’m no good.”
“Oh, jeez,” he said, “you’re worried you’re not good enough for me? Me? Why, I’m just a silly old coot what dun’t know nuthin’.” He crossed his eyes and stuck out his tongue, and I giggled despite myself. “Really, Stace, not being sure of yourself is a dumb reason not to do something. Give it a shot.”
“I’ll ruin the canvas,” I muttered, “and it was expensive.”
“Baby Girl,” he said, leaning down in front of me. “If you stuck a wad of chocolate pudding in your mouth and then gave that canvas a good lick” – I laughed again – “and that was all the art you did, it’d still be worth it to me. I bought it because I want to see what you’ll do with it.”
I tried not to, but even so I smiled.
“What should I paint?”
He smirked with an idea. “Paint a picture of me. I’d love to see how you see me.”
So I did. The first stroke was exciting, as always, and when the insecurity hit, I ignored it the best I could. I forced myself to just keep painting, reminding myself what he’d said – it’d still be worth it.
I didn’t need him to model for me. I had his face memorized. And as I painted I found something else that was exciting: color. Vince had skin like leather, his eyes were as green as a jungle frog and his hair was three different shades of red. I painted these colors true – somehow, it was easy. At the end, his eyes were different heights and one side of his face was bigger than the other – but the colors were true. That was the first time I ever painted a picture worth keeping. And he did.
Are you doing nano? What kind of project do you have in mind?