Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Finding something to write about each day is harder than it sounds… which is only to be expected. But the power’s in the writing, and the trying…

Writing last night’s post brought back memories of NaNo, and last November. I talk a lot on this blog about creating with the tools we have to hand—whether that’s words or sacraments or flowers [link]. And in November, perhaps more than any other time for me, I had to create something new.

One year ago tonight, I was wedged against the cold window of the airplane with a purple notebook and a pen, starting a novel. Probably flying over the Dakotas, or someplace equally as empty; it was too dark to see the ground. I was flying home to Boise, after five months at my dream internship in Minneapolis. And I was terrified.

I was leaving for a good reason: I was ready to create a life in California, closer to the man who would become (was becoming?) my partner. That life wasn’t scary; it was exhilarating. But it was still a couple of months away. Logistically it made sense to stop over at my parents’ house in Boise for a couple of months first. Even though I felt it might have been easier just to fly right over.

Minnesota was easy by now; I knew my way around. By November I finally felt at home in the maze of skyways crisscrossing the city. I knew how to get from the bus stop to the office, from the coffee shop to the grocery store if need be, without ever setting foot on the sidewalk. I even felt ready for the legendary Minnesota winter. I did not feel ready for the familiar Idaho fall, for neighborhoods I knew too well where most of my friends had moved away. I did not feel ready for a life without structure.

And then I remembered my friends talking about NaNo. And I decided: I might not have figured out what to do with my life, but in the meantime I was going to write a novel.

I made up my mind to do this, of course, about a week before NaNo started. There are Wrimos who plot their stories out months in advance, I’ve learned; they know pretty much where they’re going to end up before they get there. I, on the other hand, barely knew where I was beginning, let alone what was going to happen from day to day. If you look back at that purple notebook, most of the early pages are full of bracketed sections in large scrawled capitals: WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON HERE???

But I kept writing. A couple thousand words a day. Mostly written well after midnight when I was too tired to do anything but splatter indiscriminate words on the page—but still the novel kept growing longer.

And another crazy thing happened, as I wrote: I met people. Many of them were other writers, people crazy enough to bring their laptops to Old Chicago on a Friday night. Others were old acquaintances willing to sit in the Flying M coffee shop and drink pot after pot of tea with me as I scribbled—who slowly became good friends. I introduced and re-introduced myself not as “student” or “editor” but as “novelist,” and if it got me a few weird looks, it also always started a conversation. I hung on to that.

And on November 30, “novelist” became a title I could claim in earnest: I hit my goal with words to spare! Sure, my characters hadn’t finished their ragtag quests, but they also hadn’t disappeared. I’d finished the book, I was one month closer to California, and by sheer grace I had a life that made sense again.

This life in California, this life I love more than anything— with Drew’s help, I’ve had to create it from scratch. There’s not a school or internship script here either; there’s not a ready-made way for making friends like the student life committees used to work so hard to give us. I’m glad I didn’t fly over Boise, that I had the chance to write my cheesy messy novel. Because when I got here, I knew that unscripted life is possible.

Speaking of the novel: When I shut the notebook in the end of November, my characters had ended up in an enchanted city with tunnels of glass that hovered in the sky. Didn’t see that coming. But when they/we got there, it seemed familiar.

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