NaNoWriMo. Heard of it? No? Let me enlighten you. The month of November is designated National Novel Writing Month (though, in fact, it’s an international endeavor). There is an organization dedicated to NaNoWriMo. They recruit published authors, professors, publishing venues, text editing programs, et cetera, and employ them via their web site (NaNoWriMo.org) to encourage YOU, the average literature-loving human with a secret desire to write, in your quest to complete a novel. The goal is to complete 50,000 words of your novel during the month of November.
Last year was the first time I took an interest in the idea. I’d heard of it the previous year, I think, but dismissed it. A novel in a month? I thought. Insane. There’s no way I could do that.
By last year, I had shifted in my mindset. I now found the idea tantalizing. I probably had a book in me somewhere, I realized. After all, I’d been threatening to write a book for years; surely I could translate some of that energy into some sort of book. I tossed a few ideas around tentatively. But by the time I realized NaNoWriMo had rolled around again, the month was half gone and I had yet to even begin writing. I abandoned it before I had even started.
This year was different. I was plagued by the awareness that I hadn’t yet finished a photo story book I’ve been making for Niko, entitled Niko Picks Raspberries, starring (obviously) Niko himself. I had planned it for Christmas last year — didn’t finish it. Thought I’d do it in time for his birthday this year — didn’t get it done. As I tried to buckle down and finish this little story for Niko, I got to thinking — there is a wealth of story potential in that boy. What if I turned him into a book?
And then, the inciting moment. Mid-September or so, I was editing a paper for Aaron, who is working on his master’s degree. He is excellent at researching and analyzing and synthesizing the material for a paper, but he doesn’t have as strong a grammar sense as I do. Recognizing my delight in editing, he kindly allows me to take over once the paper is written, editing to my heart’s content. For those of you who don’t personally know me, let me assure you that I actually mean this with no snark or irony. Editing relaxes me the way running on a treadmill works for other people. It brings me to my happy place.
One evening, I was proofreading a paper, making small adjustments using Word’s “Track Changes” option. I rarely even look at the citations, since I was taught to cite sources generally using MLA, while Aaron’s courses require APA formatting, and there’s a good chance I wouldn’t recognize a citation error even if he were to make one. On this particular day, though, I noted that a citation credited “Cautionary Brown, et al.” Huh, I thought. I didn’t think APA used first names. And then, Seriously? Cautionary? Impossible. I scanned nearby lines. Above was a similar citation for “Brown, et al.” On a line below, a reference to a cautionary example of… something, I don’t remember now. Aha. A simple typo. I fixed it and moved on.
Still, the name stuck with me. Cautionary Brown. It was the perfect name for a mischievous child in days of yore. I could just picture him. In fact, I could picture him doing many of the things Niko has done. For example, running through a patch of burr-covered weeds until his clothes were completely full of them, in order to help the plants spread their seeds. It occurred to me that a boy in 1890 wouldn’t be that different from a boy in 2015.
So a spark of inspiration was lit, and when the month of November arrived, I realized I’d never be able to forgive myself if I didn’t sit down to write Cautionary’s story.
Mind you, the story didn’t turn out quite how I expected. It moved itself to 1933 or thereabouts. Cautionary’s name will have to change — charming as it is (as I think it is, anyway), it simply doesn’t work for that time period (quite possibly not for any time period). Still, there it is. A brand-new story, created by me, and inspired — very appropriately — by a typographical error. And it came to be thanks to NaNoWriMo, which created a necessary illusion of an impending deadline and periodic goals.
It’s not done. Not by a long shot. I have perhaps 2/3 of the story actually written; the rest is rough outlines and half-written story ideas. Once the entire thing is complete, it will need a complete overhaul. It will need to be smoothed, connected, expanded, inconsistencies fixed. There’s a good chance entire sections will need to be rewritten to make it readable for my target age group. After that, the book will be about the length of three young-reader novels for that age group, so I’ll then need to work in introductions and conclusions for each section, and then ensure that each can stand alone as its own book. In short, reaching my 50,000 word goal, as tremendously satisfying and exhilarating as it is, is just the beginning. I’m not even close to finished.
But. But. But, I have written 50,000 words of a novel. And I like what I’ve written. I’m as proud and excited as a first-time pregnant mother, full of anticipation to show the world my beautiful baby. Full of terror, too, at the thought of the work that awaits me, at the thought of the process of getting the book ready to be viewed by others, at the idea of actually presenting it to a publisher. Which leads, naturally, to absolute terror at the thought of having my beautiful baby be rejected.
Want to see the cover? Of course you do. Here it is.
I need hardly add that this is a working cover. I grabbed a free stock photo, added text using a phone app, and color-adjusted slightly. It’s not exactly a professionally-designed book cover. Still, it works for now.
So, there it is. This is what I’ve been doing all month. It’s occupied all my waking moments. When I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about writing. The story ran through my head as I strung Christmas lights, swept floors, washed dishes, supervised bath time. It pursued me through pulling weeds and planting fall bulbs. It kept me up late and occupied me when I should have been folding laundry. It has consumed me — and, I have no doubt, will continue to do so for some time. But at least now I can rest knowing I’ve met a pretty significant goal.