The folks at nanowrimo.org wanted some feedback on our experiences with National Novel Writing Month. Here is what I sent them:
I am 52 years old. Last year, I was a Nano rebel. I wrote a memoir about my hitch-hiking trip across the country in 1979 with my dog Hoofy. While I was writing this book, I starved myself. You see, I have anorexia nervosa. The January following last year’s Nano I was finally hospitalized for my anorexia, and again in March. It did no good. By August, I was starving myself to death and no longer wanted to live. Then, I met Frank. Frank also has anorexia, and he turned my life around. I told him about how I really wanted to do Nano again, but that I felt hopeless that I’d ever be able to do it. Frank and I began eating together. Bite by bite, I found that I no longer wanted to die. Whereas in August I was staggering around the house, barely able to stand up, by October I was walking my dog, Puzzle, longer and longer distances, sometimes for miles. So I planned out my Nano book, and wrote it. I am So Cold, and Hungry in My Soul is about a woman with anorexia nervosa. It is the saddest book I have ever written or even read. Writing this book brought back memories of last year’s Nano book, of sitting in the library, writing about hitch-hiking with Hoofy, writing while weak and starving, word after word, and then feeling so weak that I could barely walk home. It is memories like these that fueled the writing of I am So Cold, and Hungry in My Soul. But there are bits of humor in the book, too, and joy as well. Some days–not many–I just cried. I finished the book, just over 50,000 words, on November 17th. Meanwhile, Puzzle’s long walks had inspired me to try running, and with Frank’s encouragement and wisdom, I began running daily, increasing my mileage. See what my strong body can do! I am proud to say that yesterday I ran my first 5k race–ever. I am So Cold, and Hungry in My Soul is about a woman who loses everything. I wrote the book because I have gained everything.
This we foresaw but didn’t know was definite. Now, it is almost a certainty. My T is not going to be able to continue working with me after the end of the month because the clinic is closing, and she’s been unable to find another clinic position.
This is turning out to be a sad month.
My Nano book is sad. I am sad that Nano is over. I am sad that Frank isn’t right here right now, that I have to rely on the computer all the time instead of being able to touch him for real. I am sad that winter is coming.
I am sad because throughout Nano, I was reminded of last year’s Nano, when I starved myself, and went deeper and deeper into Anorexia Hell. This is what Summer in November is about.
Summer in November is also about the body. I am sad because still, after all these years, I feel such hatred toward my body. I feel sad because of the way I have been treated by men in the past, bad, bad men. I feel sad that my feelings of hatred toward the men that have hurt me in the past sometimes poke at the deep love I have for Frank.
I am sad because without my starvation, a big part of me is gone. I am sad because I have to say goodbye to being ridiculously thin. I am sad to give up one helluva lot of “stuff” to do with all that.
I am sad that at one point I was about to turn my back on Puzzle and everyone who knew me.
I am sad because not long ago I believed deep in my heart that there was nothing before me, just darkness, and now there is light and life–everything!–and I have to deal with all this time before me–what do I do with this new life I suddenly have?
What DO I do with it? When I turned 40 and the Evil Being called The Thing left me, I immediately wrote a dumb novel (at least I wrote it) and then went back to school and finished my degree.
Well, what have I done? I wrote the novel. Probably one that isn’t as dumb as the one I wrote when I was 40. Now….well, I have written a number of books now. My first novel isn’t even listed in the sidebar. It was called, Tilting The Thing. Yeah, I wrote about The Thing. Couldn’t resist. It took me eight months to write. I wrote for about seven hours a day. For godsakes, what was I doing those seven hours? I wasn’t working nearly that much on I am So Cold, and Hungry in My Soul. I guess the combination of eating and having an MFA pays off. And the “deadline” factor of National Novel Writing Month. But what next? What goals can I set for myself?
And I don’t mean “mental health” goals, either. I mean real life goals like running this 5k race (it’s the “Winter Classic 5k” in Cambridge, MA on December 19th). I mean like revising manuscripts, getting more stuff published, getting This Hunger Is Secret out there (once it comes out in paperback), maybe getting back into stand-up a bit, too.
Let’s keep the mental health goals in therapy and let them stay in therapy. I am a real-life person, and life isn’t therapy. I do not center my life around my therapy or what happens in my T’s office. I try not to depend too much on my T. But to tell you the truth, it is going to be really, really tough to say goodbye to her.
This month is like a chapter ended for me, saying goodbye to so many things. It is fitting that the month should end with Thanksgiving. My mother invited me over for the holiday. I refused. I’d rather spend it skyping with Frank. I don’t know what we’ll eat, but I’m sure it’ll be halfway decent, and I’ll be thankful enough.
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.
It occurs to me that I have never mentioned on here what Summer in November is about. It is about my hitch-hiking trip across the country in the summer of 1979. I did it with my dog, Hoofy. We traveled through 20 states and two Canadian provinces. It was quite something.
On four occasions during the writing of this book, I have wept while writing certain chapters. I don’t know if that’s a sign that the writing is particularly poignant or that I’ve reached a point of utter exhaustion. Let us hope that it is the former.
I am going to rest now.
I have more or less completed Summer in November as of today, November 21. I got to around 87,000 words and suddenly, it seemed done. The story is finished. I got to a chapter that seemed like the end and I told myself I was done. I have put in most of the flashbacks that I want in there. So basically, I’ve just about got a first draft.
I called my brother to tell him the good news. I reached my sister-in-law and told her. It felt good.
If, after adding the additional text I want to add, it comes to 100,000 words, so be it. If not (it probably won’t) so be it. Art doesn’t depend on word count. Quantity is not quality.
Still, I have met the NaNoWriMo requirement of 50,000 words. And I’m damn proud of that.
I plan to “upload” my book in a couple of days to get my “reward certificate” stating that I am a Nano winner. It has been quite a ride.
And it’s not over yet. Over the next week I plan to tweak the manuscript and add bits to it. I will stop on November 30th and let it rest.
Chris Baty, in his book No Plot? No Problem! states that after NaNoWriMo is over, one tends to feel a big letdown, kind of a post-nano depression. My therapist says she’s worried that I’ll come down with a serious case of post-nano blues.
I’m bracing myself. I’ve got laundry piled up that I’ve got to do, and various knitting projects to tackle. Then, after a couple of weeks, I’m going to sit down with Summer in November and take a serious look at it.
I hope I like what I see. I hope that this project has been worthwhile. I hope that this project turns out to be as exciting to read as it has been to write. I know that the learning experience of this month has certainly made it all worthwhile. And I’ll do it again. Promise.
I wrote a passage and actually started crying over it. I am either exhausted or it was a darned touching chapter.
I think this chapter needs to be near the end. Like at the climax. This can be done with a simple cut and paste. Later. Not now.
I have never had the experience of having my own writing send me into tears. I must be deluded.
I am actually wondering if my book might be decent after all.
Could it be? Could it have merit at all?
Chris Baty, in his book No Plot? No Problem! states that one should go back and look at one’s masterpiece after a certain amount of time has passed, say, a couple of weeks (I don’t happen to recall what he said) and just read it, and then decide if it’s worth saving and working on. He said a couple of his books he ended up scrapping.
I am hereby forewarned.
I’ve now reached 30,000 words in my quest to complete Summer in November. The book will be about 100,000 words long. That is my estimate as of now. The NaNoWriMo goal is 50,000 words. I am well on my way.
I am holding up pretty well. I got weighed today. I didn’t let that discourage me too much. It was uneventful.
I saw a skinny girl at the gym the other day. Our eyes met. She knew. I knew. And that was all.
It’s Day 7 and I’ve reached the halfway point of the goal to reach 50,000 words. But I am only 1/4 of the way through my story. I am pacing myself in the story but letting myself go up in word count as much as I need or desire. I do spend time “fleshing out” the story, and not just telling the barebones of what happened. This adds to my word count. Of course, I will have a huge editing job to do, should I decide that this book isn’t all crap when I’m done with it.
Of course, if I keep up at this pace, I’ll reach 100,000 words at the end of the month. I hope it doesn’t come to that, because if it does, I’ll be putting an incredible demand on myself.
Chris Baty, in his book, No Plot? No Problem! which is the official guidebook to writing for NaNo…see, now I’ve forgotten what I was going to say. I’m so burnt out that I can’t remember anything.
PS: if you are doing NaNo, I strongly recommend getting some exercise in. I went to the gym today and it was an incredible stress-reliever. Okay, back to sleep.
I have over 19,000 words today. I am calling it quits right now for the day, and getting ready for knitting class, which is tonight.
I have had tremendous trouble sleeping, so I put in a call to Dr. P, who recommended a temporary increase in one of my medications. This I welcome. I don’t enjoy a sleepless night.
I haven’t worked this hard since I was revising my thesis during my last semester at Goddard. Of course, I revised for longer than a month. At Goddard we have about eight weeks to revise. But I worked the hardest during the first three weeks of revision period. I am having deja vu.
I am not eating very much, and running out of food at home. I have lost two pounds. I get weighed on Monday. I will make sure that the loss isn’t reflected on Dr. K’s scale. If it is, I am in serious deep water.