what I'm doing this month (and it's not technically NaNoWriMo)

So, technically I can’t say that I am participating in NaNoWriMo, but I can’t say that I am not participating either. 

I guess you can say I am using NaNoWriMo as an excuse to work on something that I am not yet calling a novel. 

Here’s the problem: I am allergic to plot. 

I ask my daughter on the drive into school: “Summarize the plot of a book you have just read.”

She’s in 11th grade English Lit. They are always reading novels and I figure that she must have to do that all the time. 

“What do you mean? Wait, what?” she asks. 

“I mean, summarize the plot of a novel you’ve read lately.”

Well, it turns out they read poetry in 11th grade English lit. But she offers: “I can summarize the plot of Into the Wild, if it’s ok that I do it in a very snarky way.”

“Go for it,” I tell her.

“How many sentences?” she asks.


She gives me this:

  1. Chris is a sort-of average American kid who hates his parents because he thinks they are too caught up with American capitalist ideals.
  2. So after he graduates from college, he takes off on a soul-searching adventure to Alaska. 
  3. He meets some people and makes friends but he doesn’t keep in touch with them because he doesn’t want to hurt them.
  4. Eventually, his own lack of planning and stubbornness catches up with him.
  5. He dies alone on a bus. 

"That’s not my best work,” she assures me. 

I think it’s pretty good though. I have been reading all sorts of articles in preparation for this and she’s hit all the major points - the status (kid who thinks his parents are lame); the trigger (graduation, promise of new adventure); the journey (journey); conflict (he is ill-prepared, isolated for the rigors of wilderness); resolution (dies alone on bus). You might quibble with my analysis. I can accept that. 

Over the last year and a half or so, I’ve written daily or nearly so - fragments mostly, a few scenes. I felt as though I needed to get it all down, all the things that I have been carrying around all these years. Put them down without too much internal editing, without feeling as though the stakes were terribly high. And there was a point at which stopping, changing course, felt natural. At that point, I had the equivalent of about 400 pages of text. It turns out that just showing up with regularity works. 

Well, at least in that I have something - a pile of pages - to show for the time. 

I have never taken on a novel. I don’t like plot. I don’t like to think about it probably because I find it so difficult. I don’t like to commit to decisions for my characters. (There is likely a life lesson to be learned there, but for now, I will leave it alone.)

In any case, I figure that I can use the month (and the constant social media reminders that I am anticipating) as an experiment. Here’s what I am planning to do: 

Commit to a plot. Commit to the time - every day - to work with the material. Be willing to fail gloriously. Be willing to throw most (all?) of the early pages away. 

And at the end of the month, see where I’m at. Is that participating? Maybe it is.

If I have learned anything in the last year and a half or so of returning to the writing (after more than a decade of not writing at all), it’s that I have to keep moving. 

Well, maybe there were two things I’ve learned.

The first is: This is the work that I want to spend the rest of my life doing. The daily practice of writing. Of trying to organize the real experience of living - the beauty of it, the struggle of it - through language, in a way that conveys something real and something true. In a way (as Mary Ruefle reminds us) that “organizes the disappointment." 

And the second: Keep moving. Don’t dwell on something if it doesn’t work. Move on to the next thing. There is not enough time for too much doubt. Show up, keep moving, move on.

See you tomorrow.