Thank You #NaNoWriMo 2018

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Every November, writers across the globe shoot to get 50,000 words of a new novel down before 11:59pm, November 30th.

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I first heard about it in 2015. That year I wrote the first draft of a middle-grade novel called Land of the Golden Raindrops. In 2017, I wrote the first draft of a YA novel His Brother’s Keeper. This year I took some old notes I’d written back in High School and decided I’d rework them into an adult fantasy novel.

I knew November would be busy, so I tried to plan ahead. I started my outline and made some character notes. I felt confident that I had a vision of where the story would go, at least, enough of one to be getting on with.

About a week in, I was stumped. The characters weren’t speaking to me, and even with all my old notes, I was beginning to realize that the story just had no point.

I spent a few days trying to digest what this meant. I recalled reading about bestselling authors who gave up on projects, things they’d started then realized just weren’t going anywhere. Or an early novel they’d tried desperately to publish, then put aside to write something new, only to discover it was their subsequent novels that people wanted to read.

I shrugged and said to myself, maybe this is just one of the projects I’m going to have to walk away from.

Since pregnancy, my writing time has been minimal. I decided to do NaNoWriMo 2018 because I thought it might help me work writing time back into my schedule. Now I was staring at a novel that I thought I needed to trash.

I didn’t want to quit. I wanted my 50,000 words.

I toyed with switching to another project, but I’d squeezed out a meandering 18k, and I was losing days. If I started over I might never finish.

I’d read before about the work part of writing. The “just get it on the page” days. I’d read a million quotes about how you can edit a crappy sentence but you can’t edit a blank page.

So, I sat myself down and turned my narrowed eyed stare into the heat of my glowing laptop screen. Get it on the page, I told myself. Just get something on the page.

I rambled for an hour. Asking myself questions about the setting and my characters and what the story was about. After two hours of writing, I had my first real scene. Not just a jumble of conversation or an explanation of setting, a whole scene with characters interacting and purpose and movement forward towards a potential plot.

The next night, I put the baby to bed, booted up my laptop, and did it again. Night after night I plugged away. I’d start by typing jibberish and end with full scenes. My characters woke up. My plot and story arch came into focus.

I realized what I was writing about.

I’ve heard some writers make fun of NaNoWriMo as a silly sort of exercise. That you could just be working on your novel at your own speed and don’t need to drop everything for a brand new project every November.

Personally, I love NaNoWriMo, because every time I do it, I find myself learning something new about writing. And even if this year’s novel does end up as an unused file on my hard drive, I can’t wait to see what I’ll learn from NaNoWriMo 2019.

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Guess What? I’m #WPAccepted!

I am going back to school in the fall.

Typing those words made my brain explode. So while I use one hand to clean up the viscera and such, I’ll tell you how it all went down.

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My schooling was random, perhaps a bit ill guided, so I now currently have a cosmetology license, an associate degree in music, and a certification in medical assisting. To one extent or another, all have been useful, the last two especially, as they allowed me to meet and marry my husband. The problem was that none of them suited my personality. Over the past three years, I learned so much about myself, what I love, what I hate, what I want to do for the rest of my life.

I want to write. I need to write. I love to write.

Now, I have been writing for the past three years. I have completed three novels, one of them I’m sending query letters for, so it isn’t as though I’m not writing, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if I had actually pursued a degree in English, I could solidify literature and writing as my career even if my novels should never be published. Without a degree, the doors to any career path I would choose in this arena are locked tightly closed. Add to this, I’ve always regretted stopping my education at an associates. I found my feet turning once again in the direction of higher education.

The trees of campus were all blossoming.
The institution of choice is William Paterson University. I got accepted in April, and am now working hard to find scholarships and other cost saving measures for my classes starting in the fall. Right now, the plan is for me to go full-time with a heavy course load, since I have the time and space to do it.

My husband and I took a guided tour of campus. He’ll be riding with me as the drive is currently beyond my abilities. As soon as we stepped into their library and I smelled the bookish smell, I could see us both in there, him doing his online seminary classes, me pouring over books, looking up articles and writing essay after essay after essay. I laced my fingers through his and whispered, “Chewie, we’re home.”

I wish I could capture for you in a word or analogy, all this means for me. To be able to make my own choice of school and degree path, and to know with absolute certainty that this will be education I will want to use, not just something I’ll use out of necessity. I’m going to meet professors who will tear apart my writing and show me how to make it better. I’m going to be sitting in classes with other people who are just as madly in love with books and the written word as I am.

I am going to learn. I am going to grow. I am going to William Paterson.FullSizeRender

A Love Letter to “Beloved”

I recently read Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” for the first time. I expected to be made uncomfortable, because facing the real life horrors of American slavery should make everyone uncomfortable. What I didn’t expect was a tangible reminder of why I love reading and writing as an art form.

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I had previously read about the horrific treatment of black slaves and been sickened by it. I had read before about the desperation of runaways on the underground railroad. I have read about segregation, seen its modern day equivalents, and lamented how long it is taking us to truly love and treat one another as equals. But as far as the past goes, I always kept those things separate. There was slavery in the South and freedom in the North. “Beloved” opened my eyes.

The quote below comes directly from Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece. The character speaking is Baby Suggs, a freed slave living among other free blacks in the free state of Ohio. In the face of all that “freedom”, she still says this:

“Here,” she said, “in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in the grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ‘cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream out of it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver — love it, love it, and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.”

I read this passage twice before I had to take a break and absorb the meaning of what I had just read. Most of the book took place in Ohio, and still the blacks were only given low level jobs, denied education, made to wait outside the store until the white customers left and forced to walk on the opposite side of the street when white pedestrians passed. This was their reality. They escaped slavery but the self-righteous-anti-slavery northerners still treated them like lesser beings. Essentially, they left worse for bad. I closed this book with my eyes and heart opened a little wider.

This is why I love to read. This is why I love to write. This art form, like many others, is not just about entertainment, it’s about pulling back the curtain to show truth, making people stop to consider their beliefs or actions, leaving behind people with eyes, minds, and hearts opened a little wider.

Thank you Toni Morrison, and not just for prose that smelled like poetry, but for writing something that made me uncomfortable, that made me think, and, ultimately, changed me forever.

Quote from Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” published by Alfred Knopf Publishing in 1987

© Rachel Svendsen 2015