Saturday, July 18, 2009

Novel Writing

Last November I joined National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and successfully entered over 50,000 words of a novel into my computer. It took discipline, especially as I started late (as in after the election) and had severe computer problems that absorbed much of my time and energy. But success in NaNoWriMo terms is getting to that magic 50,000 word count, no matter whether those 50,000 words are complete rubbish -- or (one hopes) not.

The perfectionist, left-brained, Type A personality that I am is not one to let go and just freewrite -- especially freewrite a novel of all things. The Organized Person that I am usually maps out every miniscule step in extensive lists and outlines. But I did not allow myself to bog down in planning this time. At all. I spent approximately 30 minutes jotting down a few items about my main character: her teaching schedule, where she lived, where she was born, where she went to church, where her office was on campus. In my head I quickly put her on the campus of Point Loma Nazarene University where I myself taught, moved her into our old house in Golden Hill but shifted its location to near downtown La Mesa, and compiled her personality from about five people I knew.

She is the "me" I imagine myself to be if I never married, if I were a spinster in my mid-50's. She is also made up of the late Dr. JoAnne Dempsey, my Milton professor who died at age 44 during Thanksgiving Break my last year in grad school. Also she possesses quite a few quirks of Dr. Maxine Walker from PLNU in her sense of humor, in her scholarly bent, and in a couple of other areas. Attending a church quite like mine, my main character will be experiencing via fiction what I had planned to write in a non-fiction format: the effect of a liturgical church on a lifelong evangelical. The issues she has to face are ones I have dealt with, or am or will be confronting.

The ideas for the novel came to my head quickly and completely, the very way the Holy Spirit often works. Later when I attended PLNU's Writers' Symposium by the Sea, I discovered that Brain McLaren did the same type of shift from nonfiction to fiction when he wrote A New Kind of Christian -- not that my little book will have anything like the impact his has! So with my one scribbled page of notes, I sat down at the computer throughout the month of November last year, entering those roughly 2,000 words per day with very little self-editing -- a major accomplishment for my editor-like mind. And I succeeded: 50,000+ words before November 30.

And I haven't so much as glanced at the novel since besides reading a few of the first pages to my writing group. It's far from finished -- I'm not sure exactly where it is going and how it will end. Vague ideas lurk in the corners of my mind, and I'll pull them forward and see what may work or what may not. I read a little of the novel last weekend and as I let myself back into Rebecca Philips' world, I still liked what I saw. So my plan is to reread what I've written -- 86 pages thus far -- and then I hope to pick up where I left off and continue the tale. Perhaps I'll simply consider it rubbish and leave well enough alone. Perhaps I'll leave it for now and pick it back up for next November's NaNoWriMo. Or maybe I'll work on it this summer -- my plan and hope ever since setting down my (figurative) pen in November at the close of NaNoWriMo. Hmmmm. We shall see.

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