Back in my 20s, just a year or so out of school, I found that I already needed a break from my job as a science writer. While I didn’t have the option of taking a real break – as in, quitting my job – I was able to take a mental one by doing something creative. I enrolled in a novel-writing class. It was a stretch, as I hadn’t done any kind of creative writing since high school.
I honestly had no clue what I was doing, but I guess that was the point of taking a class. I had a vague idea of writing something about a young woman discovering her life’s path, guided by her recently deceased grandmother’s spiritual presence. It was hazy at best. But by the end of the course, I came out with some interesting scenes, and I felt good about it.
But I never finished the draft. Life happened instead – a wedding, a career, travel, and responsibilities. So I gathered my notes and drafts and tucked them away into a brown accordion binder. It sat in a banker’s box in the garage, with “Novel Draft” scrawled with a black Sharpie on one end.
Over the years, I periodically pulled out the binder to decide whether to keep it – if writing a novel was something I still wanted to do. I wasn’t able to part with it, so it remained stored away for more than two decades.
2020 marked 20 years since my grandmother’s passing. I thought about her life while looking through photos and remembering the times we shared. Last year, I pulled out the draft. I read the words I had written so long ago. What became clear was that two decades is a long time, and the story I sketched out then was no longer the story I felt connected to now. But this time, instead of putting the binder back, I placed it on my desk.
I discovered National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo, which was scheduled to begin in November. I thought, why not participate and have some structure? So I signed up in September and got to work planning what I wanted to write. It was exhilarating to begin a new project. But instead of revisiting my old draft, I decided to write about my grandmother’s life as a memoir or, more accurately, historical fiction. She hadn’t shared many of her life’s details, so I was left with a lot of holes to fill.
By the time NaNoWriMo started on November 1, I had several outlines and reams of research notes. But importantly, I also had the support of a writing group I found on NaNoWriMo – one that I still participate in today! – so I was ready to go. In one month, I managed to write 40,000 words. It was a bit short of the NaNoWriMo 50,000-word goal, but I am still proud of the accomplishment.
Since then, I’ve added, replaced, and second-guessed words. I’ve changed the opening, restructured the story, and still have outstanding scenes that are too difficult to write. It continues to be a slow process – hopefully one that won’t require another 20 years!
Featured image from here.