Monday, November 01, 2004


"It was a dark and stormy night"....those very words strike terror in the heart and make you want to go on to the next sentence. We have all had our experiences with dark and stormy nights, the pounding rain, the darkness, the fury of Mother Nature. But not all of us have had to sit and write those words, pounding out a novel in exactly one month's time.

When my grandson sang the praises of NaNoWriMo, I thought he was talking about an ancient Choctaw burial ceremony or perhaps chanting about a Tibetan ritual. When he explained that he was writing a novel in exactly one month's time, along with thousands of other people, I thought of a market flooded with books, all starting with "It was a dark and stormy night".

Then he explained that a majority of these novels are never published, that they are written for the express purpose of completing them in a month, that writers, always beset with prose and grammar, can just go hogwild with their imaginations, allowing the characters to lead them in any direction, ignoring the task of revising and editing, just writing for the love of writing....I knew I had to do it! It was a challenge.

NaNoWriMo, from what I understand, was begun by a fellow named Chris Baty who just had an idea that grew to a movement. Yep, across the world, there are thousands of writers doing what some people might call wasting their time, accepting this challenge, writing a novel that probably will never see the shelf of a bookstore, inventing plots that defy the imagination and plunder the inventive talents, spending the entire month of November compiling this phantom exercise in what some might call futility.

My grandson, Shannon, first told me about NaNoWriMo, and my first reaction was to laugh. Then, after I thought about it, I asked myself "Why not?" Why not spend the month of November writing a book? With due respect to those who love Thanksgiving, November has never been my favorite month. Gray is not my favorite color, and Michigan Novembers are almost inevitably gray. The beautiful leaves of October have turned crisp and dead and fall on the ground in despair. One has to rake and bundle and fill up bags with their crumbling remains.

In November, one knows that winter is approaching. Its chill is in the air, and a snow may even appear to give one a taste of what is to come. Yet November usually does not have the breathtaking beauty of a snow-covered land. It is a bridge between autumn and winter, a transitional month, a waiting period. Using November to write a novel is the perfect way to jump that gap and plunge from raking leaves to buying Christmas gifts.

So here I am, making sure I write so many words a day, inventing a daffy plot, going to the NaNoWriMo website to gain comfort, receiving a weekly bulletin to cheer me on. It's fun. It's ridiculous. It's something to laugh about, and we have so little laughter in the world today. I think that's why the late-night comedians are so popular, one can go to bed laughing.

This decision led to an interview with Detroit Free Press reporter, Marta Salij, and a sojourn with a talented young photographer, Regina Boone, who had come all the way from a Bush Rally in Saginaw to snap pictures of me and my PAWS dog, Jedi.

"Why?" they asked. "Why?" Well, my only answer could be another question..."Why climb Mt. Everest?" The famouse reply was "Because it is there." I guess that is the only reason for writing in NaNoWriMo. It is there.

The most wonderful gift, I believe, is to have a love of the ridiculous. Life is full of prattfalls and, if one doesn't laugh about them, one might scream like a demented banshee, protesting the inequities of fate. Laughter is the cure for many conditions brought on by daily living. It can lift one up from the pits and carry one to the mountaintops.

So, I am furiously writing, allowing this regulated nonsense to fill the empty hours. "It was a dark and stormy night"...well, so what? What happens next? Who cares? So, I invent characters and backgrounds and lead them from that stormy night to an exciting existence. They are my creations. I feel quite Godlike. I can give them adventure, romance, deadly diseases, despair, death....I am omnipotent with these characters. They depend upon me. I can take revenge upon imagined insults. I can pour out my own frustrations. I can select a happy ending or kill everyone off in a volcanic explosion. The choices are endless.

So, NaNoWriMo, thank you so much for an exciting November. Let the dead leaves rest on the cold ground, let the Christmas season approach with not one gift yet hidden away, let the cold winds blow the cold breath of winter in my direction. None of this can deter my course. I am writing the Great American Novel that I know is there inside me somewhere, if I can just find it.