Shaping Unreality With Intangibility: A NaNoWriMo Story

The end of NaNoWriMo is approaching. Seven days remain between thousands of writers and 50,000 words. At first it seemed such a daunting task, but at over 39,000 I now realize that fifty thousand words is achievable. When the word count in my document registered only 600, than 2000, then 8000, I was still consumed by panic that I would fail. I tried to ease my mind with complacencies, like I wanted to finish so I would, or the point is to make the attempt.

For 23 days I have walked in another world—a place where black lines stack upon black, up and up, taller and taller, forming a ladder towering into infinity above me. It’s a world littered with empty bottles of melatonin, scattered about my bathroom floor, in my fruitless attempts to soothe my worsening insomnia. It’s a world built on the bones of my ragged thesaurus, paper wearing thin where my fingers slip and slide over pages. It’s a world where I am consumed in another world outside the real world, but still encased within the real. It’s a world where I want to convey the meaning of a thing while the meaning itself is still coalescing.

The Christmas tree is up, snow blankets the ground, and the lights glitter along the porch railing. Yet my nights are consumed by a place where Christmas doesn’t exist, except in the remembered halls of the past. My children run around me like wild things, while I write about a place where parents don’t have children. I am immersed in an unreality shaped only with the intangibility of words.

I first heard about NaNoWriMo way way back, when I was 15. NaNo was in its infancy then, just entering its fourth year. In the depths of an online secret society, I was surrounded by ambitious creatives who told me about this strange thing called NaNo. People who I knew were striving to surmount an obstacle that seemed a million times more impossible than it does now. I perceived it as insanity, yet there were other people my age who were going to try to reach the lofty goal of 50,000 words. I think one, maybe two even did. It blew my mind to think what my peers could realize with only passion and persistence. Then they did it again the year after, and the year after that. And always, I knew November meant NaNoWriMo and I never tried to do the thing that always hung in the back of my mind.

A novel was something I read, not something I wrote, and at 15, at 16, at 21, I wasn’t a writer. I didn’t envision a future where I was a writer. I was a reader. Some people are writers their whole lives, from the first moment they can scribble letters on a page. I scribbled lines on a page, not letters, I splashed colour on canvas, not characters on blank screens. I have no idea when I became a writer, though I remember the first literary thing I ever wrote. I was just shy of 18-years-old in Grade 12 English. Mrs. Honsberger revealed what words can do. She was the first person who showed me how to wield them and take power from them. A mouse, scrabbling over bare wooden floors in a small-town grocery shop. That’s about all I can recall; I’m sure it was total crap but she gave me an A and encouraged me to write more. It was the description and detail that I enjoyed and that’s where it began, I suppose. Writing became a reality with a rural newspaper editor who saw potential in me, or perhaps was just in desperate need to fill an always vacant position.

When I interviewed for the magazine they wanted to know what my five year goal was. I told them I wanted to write a novel in the next five years. I mean, vaguely yes I had a desire to one day write a novel, but I wasn’t making hard and fast plans or doing anything concrete to bring that quiet aspiration about. That was less than three years ago. If I can finish NaNo I didn’t lie.

When I browse the forums on the NaNoWriMo website I see some people who are dead on track to win, some people who have surpassed 50,000 words and climbing, one person with over 100K written down on paper. But, what I see a lot of is 2516, 5833, 16999, and so on. People who have petered out, or given up, or lost their drive, or put NaNo on the back-burner for the insanity of life. It’s kind of sad to see all those hopes just sitting there forgotten. The first day of NaNo there were 12 people in my region’s chatroom. For the past two week there have been zero. Winning is hard.

I want to make it to 50,000. More than that, I want to finish the story. I have seven days.



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