National Novel Writing Month, or Nanowrimo, begins November 1st. The official Nano site is nanowrimo.org. If you wish to participate, you can sign up anytime, but to play fair, you should not start the actual writing of your novel until kick-off on November 1st. The main requirement is that you write a 50,000-word book in 30 days. And you have to be crazy to embark on this project. Absolutely crazy.
I do, however, plan to outline my novel first. This is an okay thing to do. I plan to spend a fair chunk of October doing this. Making an outline will speed up the actual writing, and make the November part of the project a heck of a lot easier.
In order to keep up with eating, my budding social life, and general sane living, I plan to be sane about Nano as well. Last year, I wrote for six or seven hours a day at least and produced an 86,000 word book in 21 days. Now, that’s insane. This year, I will strive toward moderation, and my goal will be closer to 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s 1,667 words a day. Not difficult at all. Not really.
Last year, I wrote Summer in November, a memoir about my hitch-hiking journey across the country with my dog, Hoofy. Parallel to this was my concurring journey with anorexia that was going on while I wrote the book. I reported everything in real time as it happened. I was going downhill. Summer in November is a record of decline. It is also about how I fell into my eating disorder at the age of 22, right after my hitch-hiking trip. Yet I found God on that trip. It is not a tragic book. I believe it is in fact full of joy. Ironic.
This year, I plan to write a novel, that is, it won’t be a true story at all. It will be about an anorexic woman who isn’t me, yet she will be like me. She will be in her 40’s or 50’s (I am 52). She will live with no one else except a dog. I have only Puzzle. Beyond that, I don’t know what the similarities and differences will be. I haven’t planned them out yet. The nano site suggests that to save time, we should write about someone like ourselves. For instance, how could I write about a male pilot with a missing arm if first of all I have no idea what it’s like to be male, secondly I have no idea what it’s like to be an airline pilot, and thirdly, I have no idea what it’s like to have only one arm? I’d spend the whole month interviewing pilots with physical disabilities to gather information, and no time writing.
So my character will be like me. She will have a life like mine. She will face challenges like mine. She will go through experiences, some of them, that I have gone through, and some that I haven’t gone through, of course. I may put her through tortures. I may allow her some joys. This is the “power of the pen.” I can control her. I can do anything to her. I may even love her and care about her–hopefully, I will.
But the ending will not be a happy one. Why? There are too many “recovery stories” out there. Stories about people who overcome adversity. Stories about people who get well despite all odds. People who almost drown and then pull out of the water. Maybe they find God. Maybe they find the right doctor or the right treatment. Or maybe they get well in the hospital. The latter is a very common theme. That and finding God. There are a fair amount of “Christian” publishers out there that publish books about people finding Jesus Christ and suddenly getting well. I do not want to write a story about someone who recovers and gains weight and lives happily ever after. There are too many books out there (and websites) like this.
I want to write a book that does not end happily. I am not saying I want a tragic ending, though it may come to that. I simply want to avoid sugar-coating. This is a fatal illness that has devastating effects on the body and also effects on family, friends, and oneself. Anorexia breaks the heart and soul of everyone involved, especially the sufferer. I know this.
People I know who know I am going to write a book with a not-so-happy ending are disturbed that I am not writing a “recovery story.” They are disturbed that I have been talking about possibly even “killing off” my character, that is, letting her die in the end. Let me tell you that my character is not me. This is a common misunderstanding that readers have. When a novelist writes, she is not writing about herself. No way. She may be like me in more ways than not, but she is not me.
But deep down inside, do I see a “happy ending” for myself? Of course not. Who with this illness has a happy ending? What is an ending, anyway? Life goes on. You live, you die. If I die it could be for any reason. I may die of anorexia or I may die in a plane crash–who knows? I may die while writing to YOU. I do hope that I die happy, though. I very likely will.
My wonderful new book, This Hunger Is Secret: My Journeys Through Mental Illness and Wellness is now available from Chipmunkapublishing–click here to access. To read more about it at my home site, click here.