On stories and writing

In mid-October, I was preparing for a trip to Austin, Texas. I was anxious. I was anxious about leaving The Campground Kid for the first time, anxious about the logistics of a week-long international trip, anxious about meeting a group of people who I had been chatting to online for the last two years but had never actually met.

And as I prepared and packed and worried, I had a sudden flash. The flash said “this is a valuable story, and I want to tell it!” And that little flash quickly turned into “I am going to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and I am going to write the story of this amazing group.”

This lightning bolt of an idea surprised me, because I have never really seen myself as much of a writer. Sure, I’ve had blogs on and off for all my adult years. I’ve kept journals. Whenever I’ve needed to process something, I’ve written it. But in my mind, these things didn’t make me a writer. My older sister was the “writing one”, which meant I couldn’t be. At least that’s how I subconsciously saw it.

Then, a little over four years ago, when I found myself in Brunei with no job, desperate for a baby, depressed, that smart older sister suggest I write my story. Not for publishing, not for any purpose, just for me. So I did.

Well, I started.

I plotted a story out with post its on the wall. I wrote scenes. I set up my office. I very briefly joined a writing group (which never really got off the ground). I wrote every few days, until I ended up with 30,000 words.

And then, my computer was stolen. I hadn’t backed my writing up anywhere online. I cried.

And then, I got pregnant.

And then, although I salvaged about 10,000 words from various places, the infertility story no longer felt alive in my mind. My writing fire fizzled down to a little ember which occasionally whispered “you should write”, but never grew to a flame.

When this story idea appeared, I tried to talk myself out of writing again. “I have a job now, there’s not enough time!” “It’s not like you’ll finish, what’s the point?” “But people will feel weird about it!” “You can’t finish. So there’s no point starting.”

But the story kept on pushing through the doubts, so I opened a template and started to plan.

And then I told the group, and they mostly thought it was more great than weird.

And the characters developed and grew and came alive.

And my mind just kept coming back to the story.

I went on the trip that I had been preparing for, the trip that had sparked the idea, and it was more wonderful than I could ever have imagined.  I was overwhelmed and amazed at the love that brought 70 mamas from all over the world to celebrate and love one of our own. I was tired and excited and jetlagged and thoughtful.

So when I arrived home on 1 November, physically and emotionally exhausted, I started to write.

I signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), but to be honest I wasn’t too hopeful. I have a busy job and a busy 3 year old and 50,000 is a lot of words.

I tried to write every day. Campground Papa made it easy to carve out the time by being exceptionally helpful and onto it. The story and the characters made it (mostly) not too hard to find the words. The broken quote mark key on my computer made it pretty annoying at times, but it seemed to go okay. I wasn’t tracking along to make the target, but I figured that any words were better than no words, and even though I wouldn’t make it, I’d have a good start.

On 27 November, I had 37,000 words written.

On 28 November, Campground Papa took The Campground Kid to her swimming lesson, cooked dinner, and let me write. I put my headphones on and wrote 6,000 words.

On 29 November, I wrote in the car to and from Hamilton. And in the evening, I put my headphones on again and listened to Christmas carols and Carole King. A prompt from a wonderful friend kept me going, and I wrote 6,000 more.

With 49,000 words, there was no way I wasn’t finishing. So, on the final day, I wrote the final scene. And, with a few hours to spare:

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It’s a funny thing, because it was both harder and easier than I expected. It seemed easy enough to find time and words, but I also felt pretty exhausted for most of the month.  With my inner editor firmly turned off (as in, so turned off that on one day I wrote “disbelievement” and didn’t even catch it until a few days later), it was easy to get words on the page. But turning it off also meant I didn’t do a lot of the nitty-gritty scene connection and checking for consistency that will be needed to make these words into a story.

But, at the end of the day (well, the end of the month), with the support of a great partner and the help of a great pair of head phones, I wrote 50,000 words of a novel in 30 iced-coffee-fuelled days, and I’m proud of that.