So today is November 1st. Which marks the official start of National Novel Writing Month, that zany and wonderful event these folks put on every year. NaNoWriMo embodies everything (or, well, a lot of things, at least) I hold dear about creativity and writing and art, to wit: just…try. Just give it a shot. Who cares if it’s not perfect the first time around, who cares if you think it’s crap, just do it, just have fun with it, just try. There’s a time and a place for detailed, fine craftsmanship and fussing over the placement of every comma, and then there’s a time and a place for grabbing a big ol’ metaphorical brush, saying “Welp, it ain’t gonna paint itself,” then slapping some color down on that page, because guys, this stuff should be fun. Who knows, it might even turn into something amazing when you’re not looking. And doing it alongside a global community of other similarly-crazy folks is even better, because company always helps, particularly when you’re three weeks in and can’t seem to break that 30,000-word mark and need to outsource a bit of plot generation to some sympathetic stranger in Illinois who was having the same problem with her fledgling novel last week. NaNoWriMo’s great. Everyone should do it.

Except, well, I’m not doing it this year.

Heh. For all I proselytize about how awesome NaNoWriMo is, I’ve only ever actually attempted it once. School and work got in the way each year I thought about giving it a shot; as much as I love the concept, it’s kind of hard to swing 1,667 words a day when you’re in the middle of finals season. But I did finally give it a shot during that (apparently requisite) period of underemployment after undergrad, and I didn’t even finish. Got to just shy of 29,000 words, hated my characters, hated my “plot,” hated every word I’d written thus far, threw up my hands in despair and walked away. Several friends (and my dad) have finished NaNovels over the years–my friend Beemer was my NaNoWriMo buddy that year, and she actually finished hers–but I just couldn’t cut it.

And you know, even then? I loved it. I hated the result, sure, but I loooved the process. I loved hauling my laptop over to St. Mark’s Coffee (in Denver), setting myself up in a corner with a coffee and a big chocolate chip cookie, and spending a happy afternoon jamming to the weird mix of music they’d always have playing and trying to figure out how the hell character development is supposed to work when your sorry attempt at a novel is the most thinly-veiled of thinly-veiled roman a clef EVER and nobody cares in the second place. Love! Even though I didn’t get a spiffy winner’s certificate (or a finished novel) out of it, I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

But this year, hoo boy. Grad school, first semester, ’nuff said. No NaNoWriMo for me, since it’s going to be my very own personal National Final Paper Writing Life Oh My God Someone Help Me over here. Luckily, the lovely Mags has thrown her pen in the ring this year, and is documenting the process on her blog, so I can live vicariously through her triumphs (and I have no doubt she’ll cross that 50,000-word line in, like, two weeks; girl’s a pro). I kind of love her novel already, from the tiny excerpt she’s posted on her author page (I hope you don’t mind me linking to it here, Mags; it’s not like anyone reads NPoR anymore) (…or ever did, hee), because oh lord can I identify with that online-dating first-meeting sinking feeling and the internal monologue of “okay, no offense, you seem like a nice person, but you just declared your unironic love for Ayn Rand, out loud, in public, and I have to go now.”

Anyway, I’m excited to cheer Mags on, and Beemer, and any other of my friends or relations who are launching themselves at those 50,000 words. Rock on. I want to read your novels when you finish them, because you will, because you’re awesome.

…Funnily enough, Mags had something of a cameo in my abortive attempt at a NaNovel–thinly-veiled roman a clef, remember?–as a badass college RA. Art imitating life, I guess. And you know, looking back through the fifty or so pages in this word document (titled “Five Beers and a Resume,” which really had nothing to do with the plot as it stood, but I think the phrase came up during an email exchange with my dad and I apparently found it hilarious enough to use as a title), there are at least a couple of paragraphs, or turns of phrase, that I don’t entirely hate. Not that the novel’s salvageable, by any means, or that I think I possess any great facility for creative writing beyond slapping self-consciously long run-ons on the page and thinking myself clever, but, you know, there are one or two sentences that aren’t the worst. Maybe? I don’t know. But most of it’s just sort of vaguely ridiculous.

Want proof? Heh. As a gesture of self-humiliation for the betterment of society, here’s a totally out-of-context excerpt from that ill-fated literary endeavor. (It’s actually one of the least roman a clef-y parts, and because of that, I think it actually ends up being a little more successful than the rest of the dreck I managed to produce. Who knew fiction worked better when it was fictional?) Schadenfreude awaits you after the jump.


That night, in some faceless hotel outside Chicago, Melanie wandered down the hall in pajama pants and a tanktop, clutching the ice bucket, toward the telltale blue glow of a Pepsi machine. A piece of paper was taped to the ice machine: out of order, sorry. “Of course,” Mel sighed, and leaned into the stairwell door to give another floor a try. She was halfway up the first flight when her phone chirped. Pulling it from her pocket, she glanced at the screen and flipped the phone open, grinning.

“Kate! Hi!”

“Mel? You’re all…echo-y.”

“Stairwell. It’s the ice machine’s fault.”


“Never mind,” Mel laughed. “How are you?”

“Oh, you know. I’m still packing, so.”

“So you want to die, pretty much.”

“Pretty much.”

“Anything I can do to help?”

“Well, I’d normally suggest you come over here and help me sort through my shoes and decide what I’m taking, because for some reason that’s become, like, the biggest problem of my life, but since you can’t really…do that, since you’re, you know, over there, I guess you’ll just have to distract me for a little while instead.”

“Yeah. Sorry about that.”

“Heh. It’s cool.”

“Okay, but the shoes. I can still help, maybe? Talk to me.” Mel stopped climbing and sat down on a stair tread, cradling the ice bucket in her lap, forgetting where she was and what she’d been doing. “What seems to be the beeg eessue?”

“Well. The biggest issue is that my shoe wardrobe—my shoedrobe? I don’t know—is perfectly suited to, you know, the Midwest. Snowy winter, hot summer, no hills. Lots of heels, you know?”

“Yeah, I know. You wear more heels in a week than I have in my entire life.”

“Well, you’re tall.”

“Not that that’s news. So the issue is really—”

“That I need to go shopping, like, pronto, because San Francisco has its own weird subclimate, so all my boots are overkill and my summer shoes won’t cut it, and also I am totally unprepared for all those hills.”


“But I’m poor and I’m running out of time.”

“Yeah. And not to compound your problems or anything, but there’s also the issue of, like, aesthetic flexibility. You know? Because there’s going to class, but then there’s going to a class with a cute boy in it, and then there’s going on a date, and then there’s going on a date when it’s raining, and if you throw a skirt into the equation—”

“And I only have so much room in the car, I know, exactly my point.” Kate huffed impatiently, the phone distorting the sound into crackly telecommunications fuzz. “I thought I was good at this stuff! When did I start sucking at it? I look at this pile of shoes and think, ‘I just don’t have the energy for this anymore.’”

“I think that’s just college. Like, goodbye everything you thought you knew about not failing at life, hello weird Proustian breakdown over your mom’s chocolate chip cookies at three in the morning.”

“Heh. Are you speaking from personal experience?”


Kate chuckled at that, then sighed. “I don’t know. This really isn’t that big of a deal. I have a few good pairs of all-purpose shoes that’ll get me where I need to go for now.”

“Pun intended?”

“Shut up. No. Hee.”

“And you can always go shopping there.”


The girls were silent for a moment, and Mel thought about how strange it was, the two of them connected across hundreds of miles by this invisible line. She had never quite understood how that worked, cell phones and satellites, no matter how many times she looked it up on Wikipedia, no matter how many times her father tried to explain it. How did their voices find each other, in all that tangle of radio waves and television signals?

“I can’t believe you’re going to San Francisco,” she said at last, quietly.

“I can’t believe you’re going to New York.”

“Yeah.” Silence again.


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