A Not-So-Novel Idea

Here it is almost another November and I am probably not going to write a novel for the National Novel Writing Month contest.This defeatist attitude is something I’m very good at and the only thing on which I don’t procrastinate. The contest hasn’t even started and I’m already saying, “I can’t do it.” Why put off to tomorrow what I can make excuses for today?

This will be the third year that I got caught up in NaNoWriMo, a contest that gets you to write a novel in exactly one month of crazy, keyboard-slapping creativity. In 2007 I actually wrote part of a novel but then something flew past the window in my study and I got distracted and made a picture frame out of shells instead. My partly written novel wasn’t very good anyway. I had eight chapters written and still hadn’t decided if I wanted it to be a James-Pattersony grisly murder thriller with a surprise ending or a Bridges-of-Madison-County-esque love story. (By Chapter 8 no one had died and no one was the least bit attractive or lovable, so I’m thinking pulp fiction or a western. Or the James Patterson thing with a really surprising ending:  This isn’t about a murder! Surprise!)

NaNoWriMo cheerleaders tell you in their weekly inspirational emails that you don’t have to know how to write a novel, you don’t have to know the rules, or know what a protagonist is, or where the hell you put the denouement, whatever that is. They urge us to just sit down and start writing. On Nov. 30, you’ll end up with either a novel or you’ll be irreparably alienated from your own children for not making Thanksgiving dinner.

“You’ve read books, you can write one!” one of the emails said. Yeah, no, not really. Writing a novel is hard, much harder than writing non-fiction. You would think the opposite, since with a novel you don’t have to worry about that pesky, nagging bitch The Truth. But it’s far more difficult than I realized. I used to be a huge critic of crappy fiction and not any more. If it’s on a shelf at Barnes and Noble, it must be worth something.

I wrote a non-fiction book a couple of years ago. It was a humorous account of moving, since I had relocated my family so many times. Trying to find something funny to say about ripping out your heart, wrapping it in paper, putting it in a box and shipping it to another state - seven times - was part of my self-therapy, the only kind of counseling I’ve ever sought.

The book was a huge success. With me and my family. All five of us loved it! My husband read it multiple times in all of its drafts. Not so much publishers and agents. I collected rejection letters that were a window into the weird, surreal world of book publishing. If you think the newspaper industry is being slowly tortured to death, you should see what those poor people in book publishing are going through. I think Publishing is having its teeth pulled out by a Nazi dentist. It got to the point that I started to feel sorry for them and wanted to send a note that said, “You know, on second thought, forget it. Throw out my manuscript. You have enough to worry about.”

Some of my rejection letters were a pre-printed sentence on a small slip of paper (crooked, like the secretary couldn’t even take the time to line up the paper when she made the copies) that said, “Manuscript doesn’t meet our criteria.” Others were hand scrawled notes that ended with a big line of pen going off the page (Did he drop dead? Fall asleep? OD? Jump out the window? My book wasn’t that bad, was it?)

A couple of them told me they thought my book was good, “well-written,” “funny” and one even said I reminded her of Nora Ephron. You don’t see my book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble, so you can deduce what came of that love fest.

I cling to the idea of NaNoWriMo because I think maybe I should try writing a novel, if for no other reason to compare the rejection letters and see if there’s a fiction vs non-fiction difference.

My friend Barbara has said she favors the approach of sitting down at her computer on the evening of Nov. 1 with a bottle of wine and do it  “Jack Kerouac style, without the drugs.”  I’m going to Key West for Thanksgiving. Maybe I’ll do it Hemingway style, with a half gallon of rum, some Cuban cigars, and get some fishing in while I’m at it.

And maybe I’ll luck out and it really will be a dark and stormy night.

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