Sunday, November 25, 2012

oh joyful words, balm to my heart

Way back in 2005 or 2006 I had this major crush on a work colleague. He was an artist and he was charming and sweet and funny. I was an overworked, generally unhappy, and creatively-empty head of a department. I was in a relationship on a downhill with someone else but I was too much of a coward to end it because it was just too much trouble. Besides, my artist crush was also in a relationship. Nah, too complicated and I didn't think my artist ever saw me in that light.

So that time I was so fascinated by that artist that I found myself writing little poems on the margins of my work notebook. Then I found myself contemplating the idea of a novel because it was the only way I could give free rein to the tumult of emotions that were harassing my flagellated spirit. Needless to say that artist also inspired my main character.

I started writing the novel and got as far as the first chapter. Then work took over my life again and the novel was shelved and I started to think I was not cut out for writing fiction.

It was a fantasy novel, with magic and dragons and a love story.

Two years ago I quit the job that sucked my spirit dry and it took me those two full years to heal my spirit back to health.

This year on All Hallow's week, I was visited by the ghost of an old professor, a writer, who had encouraged me to write. I found her letter as I was looking for something else, I think it was an account number or a receipt. As I read the letter I got goosebumps, and then quite teary-eyed. She had passed away years ago, you see. And to read her kind generous words at a time in my life when I am just aching for some magic to happen was just so timely.

The next day, I don't know how but a Facebook link led me to NaNoWriMo and I heard my old professor's voice repeating what she wrote. Then my mind went: You don't do fiction. You do poetry. You do essays and feature writing. You do blog posts. Never fiction. You won't be able to sustain it. You will just end up writing something so cliche and trite. And one of the loudest: You should not be wasting the month writing a novel that will most likely not be published. You should be Looking For A Job.

So I went for a walk, found myself in a bookstore, and my feet, by habit, brought me to the fantasy section. Jutting out incongruously among the young adult fantasy books was a hardbound book in black and red that first shouted "Neil Gaiman"(who wrote the foreword) to me, then followed immediately by "Diana Wynne Jones". Two of my most admired authors. It turned out to be a book by Diana entitled "Reflections On The Magic Of Writing".  I skimmed the contents and found pieces that would be helpful if I dared to write a novel.  I checked and found that it was the last copy on the shelf. I wasn't even sure if it was supposed to be there. Goosebumps again. Was it waiting for me? And here's the thing. She has also passed away so maybe she was recruited by my old professor to cheer me on.

When I got home I signed up for NaNoWriMo, read through the instructions, and waited for November.

When the time had come to start writing, I did. And everything I ever read about writing from Anne Lamott, Ann Patchett, Stephen King, Natalie Goldberg, Susan Wooldridge, and Julia Cameron came crashing back. I suddenly had these inspiring teachers looking over my shoulder urging me forward. Yes, just keep on writing. It's okay to have shitty first drafts. Listen, watch, the story will take you where you need to go.

I had decided to resurrect that old idea for a novel I had in 2005-2006, with some tweaks. Now it is a fantasy novel, with magic and dragons and three love stories on which the survival of a world depends. Something along those lines. One of the main characters was still inspired by that artist - I am still in touch with him and he is still charming and sweet and funny. Another main character was inspired by a person who continues the tradition of everyone else I have ever liked who never liked me back. Yes, now you see why I need to write. The happiness I feel when writing can easily make up for being ignored or passed over.

Last night I submitted my novel for validation, having completed a most-likely shitty first draft that exceeded the minimum requirement of 50,000 words. This morning I was confirmed a winner on my first attempt to write a novel.

I finished ahead of schedule, and I am now starting to work on the editing as well as filling in the plot holes and doing extra research for authenticity.

I had written a novel. After years of believing I never could or would.

The idea of getting it published is a nice thing but I want to edit and clean it up for myself more than anything else. I have a few friends who genuinely want to read it and I will let them. But the most important thing I learned as I was writing this novel was how much I do love writing and that I have been limiting myself by keeping away from fiction. Now I have a good list of ideas for a collection of short stories. I am also motivated to get all those poems in order and put them into a semblance of a book.

November is on its last week and I still don't have a job but I have the first draft of a novel. Instead of 50,000 cash, I have 50,000 words. Yet somehow I feel strangely very happy.

What beautiful thing has happened to you lately?


  1. YAYYYY!!!! I'm so happy and excited for you!! Congratulations - and hopefully these sources keep inspiring you. What beautiful thing has happened to me? I just had my 10th Annual Christmas party this year - singing around the piano with a bunch of high school friends never seems to get old. In fact, I would call it beautiful :)

    1. Thanks so much Chrystina! And that sounds like a lot of fun-- singing around the piano. The image it conjures in my head is so comforting and warm, and personally I think it's way cooler than karaoke :D