I’m thrilled to present you with my first guest blogger, Janet Berry. If you want to share something from your writing journey on my blog, just comment on here or contact me on FB and I’d love to get something posted! And thank you, Jan, for sharing the ups and downs of writing a book in a month!
JB–When I graduated high school, my mother handed me a small, spiral bound journal in which she had kept records from each year of my schooling up until junior high. Jumbled amongst the scatterings of unflattering school photos, less than stellar report cards, and crumpled award ribbons were her neatly scripted notations of the various occupations I wanted to pursue when I grew up. Ballerina made the list often, along with mommy and teacher. Once, her records show I wanted to be a football player; I can only assume that was at the height of my sarcasm stage. One career topped the list, every year without fail, and that was my dream, my goal, of becoming a writer.
That all changed once I reached high school and was told in no uncertain terms by my English teacher that I had been placed in her honors class by mistake. She was very clear that I had no talent and was not worthy of her time and attention, so I abandoned the long held dream and rarely showed another person my writing from that day forth.
Fast forward almost two decades, to a few years ago. My friend, Sara, invited me to try out this crazy sounding idea with her. It was called National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo for short. In essence, the idea is to sit down and just write every day, no editing or backtracking, and in one month, you will have produced a 50,000 word book.
Initially, I was hesitant; I hadn’t written anything other than grocery lists and checks to the electric company for a very long time. However, and I share this with you at the risk of sounding mentally unstable, I almost constantly keep some type of running story line in my head, so figured I could just jot down some of the happenings of those characters and see what happened.
On day one, I was pumped up, excited, ready to go! I sat down and quickly got a few paragraphs punched out. Then, I made the mistake of stopping and rereading what I had just written. It was rubbish! I backspaced the entire thing and sat staring at the blank screen for many minutes. It was frustrating; the scenes in my head were so vivid, but once I put them on paper, they became wooden and colorless.
I realize now, that I made a grave error from the start. The stories I think up are innocent and sweet and suitable for children to read. Instead of going with my natural inclinations, I wanted to impress and produce something edgier and hip, two things I should never pretend to be. I had settled on revolving the story around two siblings, bent on finding out who was responsible for their father’s death. The culprit, unbeknownst to them, had assumed a new identity as the minister of a small church. So yes, just that synopsis can probably clue you in as to why I stick to reading instead of writing! Nonetheless, this insight did not occur to me, and I labored on with the story, in spite of being uncomfortably out of my element.
I confided in another friend, and to my happy surprise, he joined in the project, sharing a few small samples of his work along the way. He had an astounding story in the works whereas I was growing increasingly dissatisfied with mine. The characters had gotten completely out of hand. The main female protagonist had entered into an illicit tryst with the guilt-riddled minister, who happened to be her mother’s ex-lover, so now I was dealing with affairs, church corruption, extortion and all sorts of things completely foreign to my normally peaceful way of thinking. I don’t read mysteries or watch scary movies or daytime television yet here I was attempting to write a soapy psychological thriller and googling types of handguns on the internet. It was madness! I can find the humor in it now, but at the time, I was existing on only a handful of hours of sleep each night. I lived and breathed this story. My children got shorted on attention and we had far too many fast food meals. My friend received many an angsty email bemoaning how I couldn’t do it, I was going to quit, my story was horrible and so on. Somehow, he managed to get me back to writing, mainly because we had a word count competition going on, but also because it helped just to vent the frustration and have someone to talk to about it.
At the very end, just when I wanted to quit, I got a sudden surge of energy and finished up the story, one day early. I amazed even myself by doing that. The end product was horrible, so choppy and ugly that I couldn’t even bear to reread the entire thing myself, much less share with anyone. It met its demise in the recycle bin of my computer about a year later. The main thing though, was that I did it! I finished something that I started. As a chronic procrastinator, this was a rare accomplishment indeed. I was proud of myself, if not my story.
In summary, I would have to say that NaNoWriMo was a good experience, albeit similar in the way cod liver oil is good for you. I was finally able to fully accept that my English teacher’s truthful, if tactless, assessment of my skills was accurate and that for every writer, there needs to be a proportionately larger audience. I happily count myself among the latter these days, with perhaps a bit more appreciation for the blood, sweat and tears that go into the making of a great book.