To Hatch More Words: NaNoWriMo

Chicken Little: our tiny henhouse in the shelter of Mother Barn
Chicken Little: our tiny henhouse in the shelter of Mother Barn

To borrow from the worn phrases of our day that speak to procrastination, it’s time to fish or cut bait; it’s time to write or get off the ergonomic office chair. It’s time to find out if both elements of this contention are indeed true: “Every journalist has a novel in him, which is an excellent place for it.”

For the first time since “becoming” a writer (being overtaken by the compelling need to inflict my “hydrovehicular” stories I used to only tell to myself–in the shower and when driving alone in the car–to the public eye) I’m very tempted to join thousands of other desperate word-impacted souls in National Novel Writing Month: NaNoWriMo. The notion keeps coming back to me after I reject it and move on.

Nah. I won’t do it. I have a long list of excuses why not.

First, I don’t do fiction. I have no concept of plot development if not from my own experience. I have no story in mind, though I can come up with quite a few just by scanning the morning’s headlines. It would take every spare minute in-between things to which I am already committed. And I would fail. But who besides me would know or care?

On the other hand, if I’m ever to do something like this and break away from my current limit of 800 word chunks of thought on the page, it will require some kind of external accountability like NaNoWriMo to make me cross the threshold from non-fiction into fiction. If I’m ever going to do it any place but in my head in the shower or the car while my hands, eyes and brain still grudgingly cooperate in the process, it should be NOW.

After all, I have no plans otherwise. My work as a physical therapist is over; I don’t think I’ll attempt to renew my license. We talked last night about my drawing on Social Security starting in six months So this is where I came in, back in 2002, when my career vanished like frost on the barn roof at sunrise and I didn’t know what I was going to do with the rest of my life. Now I don’t know what I’m going to do with the rest of my life. Pass the popcorn.

I write every day–not obsessively but from some inner drive to dig amongst the ruins of memory convinced there might be treasures there; I rummage the past and present  for things lost or invisible in front of my eyes;  I excavate the small details of daily life to find patterns of meaning and fragments of some larger whole. I have drawers full of pieces.

I find words in every image I take and all the ones I only see. I am full of stories. But they by themselves do not make a novel. What is my narrative thread? Is there a WHY other than the empty hole in my raison d’etre?

I, of course, magnify the depth of my emptiness. I have, even without my two-day-a-week professional existence, some structure and focus and projects in mid-stream. I would not be bored without giving birth to a premature  novel. Still, I wonder if I’ve done everything I’m going to do with words.

Could this be a turning point–similar to the 2002 epiphany when I first read the words “creative non-fiction” and found to my surprise that I was full of it (take that any way you want)?

A 50,000 word novel might come from one man’s life alone on the land–which is pretty much what the heart of this blog has centered around–sprinkled with some dialogue, soliloquy, context of place with particular details to the landform and nature. The story could be complicated by larger environmental issues that overtake his life and the societal changes that brings to his small community. There could be a dog. He might be a photographer and a writer, with intakes that include a few of his columns or journal entries. Maybe he’d struggle to live off the land–eat mice like Farley Mowat– and take in strangers, and grow wise.

Nah. MeNoWriMo. However, Ann is working Saturday. And I ain’t dead yet.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I’m with you, Fred. I’m no good at making stuff up. The real world is compelling enough and keeps me busy enough trying to translate it into words.

  2. There are novels happening all around us. You seem like an observant fella. You definitely are good at telling stories. Once you get in the habit of recognizing those novels and/or bits and pieces of novels, you’ll be inspired just as you have been, but along a different track. You’ll surprise yourself. I’m sure you can do it! One thing for sure, you have got to keep writing. You just can’t turn your back on your gift.

  3. I don’t quite understand this compulsion, but there is something similar to the sense I had when I was determined, despite my wife’s misgivings and discouragement, that the blog would lead somewhere worth going as a budding writer. I’m still budding, the blog has certainly given me the habit of writing and there is something beyond the sound-bytes of blog posts and even the 800 word essays that have come by the hundreds now. I am unsure. I lack confidence or clarity of exactly why. And yet, I am pulled towards trying to create versus simply record. We’ll see where it goes.

  4. Great, Miriam, misery loves company. Just with the idea of fiction rolling around in my brain, my dreams have stepped far outside their normal constraints since I am now IN CONTROL of reality! Freaky!

  5. Yes, that’s what I imagine, a man in the woods during the Great Decline telling his story through a full year. Some characters from non-fiction, other amalgams of same, places also, names changed.

    Fletch, youd appreciate this, contrasting their old dog Tsuga with the dog the main character has (in the story) in 2020. Wife in the story is one year deceased…

    “Bokeh had a similar hard and unfamiliar sound that made people take notice. It could be hollered convincingly from the back porch with a certain force and malice, he argued, while few would know its meaning. She didn’t, even after he explained that it was, in photography, the quality of the out-of-focus parts of the image–a foreign sounding term for an ambiguous portion of an otherwise straightforward image.

    In life, there was always a certain amount of bokeh, he reasoned poetically–a common ground of language he and Mona never shared–a precious uncertainty that made the mind’s eye dwell in place to figure things out. What a great name for a dog. She never agreed but grew used to the name and whoosified it during his first year to Boo-kie.”

  6. Blog posts do not equal chapters, but my interest has been wet by the snippets of thought contained therein.
    Use the blogettes (new word) as the basis for a larger story.
    Unless a person is prescient, our story serves as entertainment, the deeper sense comes in retrospect. Let the story out, and feel free to reflect on the meaning.

  7. It seems, having no outline or story line to start with, one has emerged–a framework of descriptive narrative on which I can place commentary, reflection, journal entries, character development and societal issues in a way not possible in a non-fiction blog post or newspaper column. I read the first 4k words this morning to my wife, and she (to my amazement) is very supportive. I’ll not feel compelled to finish during NaNoWriMo in November, but it has given me the external accountability to overcome inertia. We’ll see if a completed something emerges from the other side, whenever that turns out to be.