I brought my wonderful Alphasmart Neo to Australia so I could write blog posts on the fly, work on the three talks I had to give, and let the kids amuse themselves by writing their own blog entries and stories. What I didn’t plan was to do any creative writing myself.
I have actually had a bit of cap on new writing projects for some time; I chose not to do NaNoWriMo this past November, as I usually do, because with so many unpublished and in some cases unedited manuscripts around needing tending, I thought the last thing I needed to do was produce another manuscript. After finishing the first draft of Philippi early in the fall, I promised myself that this would be a year of editing my existing projects and (with any luck) finding homes for them. And indeed I have dutifully worked on this all through the fall and winter, along with doing several freelance projects. I have resisted the urge to begin any new stories, even though in mid-November an image of three unlikely friends on a road trip popped into my head and I thought, “If I were doing NaNo, this would be my NaNovel!”
I have another book on the back burner, a novel about a graduate student who finds a time-travelling medieval monk in her closet. I’ve written two chapters of that and then laid it aside because it’s the sort of story that’s going to require a lot of research and development. But the road trip story — that’s one I could pretty much throw together off the top of my head, with no more work than researching the various places my characters stop along the way.
Except that I had promised myself I wouldn’t write anything new.
Well, let that be a lesson to all you writers who try to plan your careers and plot out what your next project is going to be. The Muse, she will not be denied. If you bottle her up (say, by not writing 50,000 words in November like you normally do), she will fly screaming out and hit you in the face when you least expect it. Like on an overnight train from Melbourne to Sydney, when you realize that the three people living inside your head are getting so loud and unruly that they simply have to get out onto the Neo keyboard.
I found myself writing frantically, nonstop, in every spare minute I could find, all through the last ten days of the trip. No matter what else I was busy with, the story simply had to get written. By the time I got home I had over 50,000 words (the thirty hours on a plane or in an airport on the way home helped) and the story was near an end. Short, but complete.
Since then I’ve tied up the loose ends and thrown together a conclusion. It’s only about 60,000 words, but the edits I have in mind are more along the lines of adding rather than cutting, so it will probably end up as a short novel of about 70K – 80K words.
I’m very much afraid that what I have here now is not only an unpublished, but possibly an unpublishable manuscript. It starts off a little like chicklit, turns picaresque, and then … I’m not sure what happens to it, but I’m pretty sure it’s too serious to be chicklit. It’s also much too secular (and raunchy) for any Christian publisher, but possibly too religious for any secular publisher. I think it’s thought-provoking and lots of fun, but I don’t know whether anyone will ever read it.
The working title is “What You Want” and my heroine, Megan, is one of those young women who doesn’t really know what she wants in life. She is a people-pleaser, polite and compliant, who has never really learned to know or voice her own desires. In other words, I’m writing about a character strikingly unlike myself, since there has never been a minute since I was born when I couldn’t tell you exactly what I wanted, usually in what colour and size.
In order to try to figure out what she wants, Megan goes on a journey to “find herself.” She takes a summer road trip from Nova Scotia to California with her two best male friends — one of whom is an alcoholic and the other of whom weighs 500 pounds; one of whom she is in love with and one of whom is in love with her. Along the way, as characters in a good road trip novel should, they meet a series of unlikely guides who help Megan discover her own desires: an almost eerily insightful bookstore employee who has just survived a quarter-life crisis, a desperate young mother fleeing her abusve husband, and a middle-aged potter who believes in “zazen, yoga, crystals, Jesus, and whatever works.” Throw in a few car breakdowns, a cockroach-laden motel, a side trip to Graceland and a brush with death, and that’s pretty much the story that kept me engrossed throughout Australia and all the way back.
Now, what the heck do I do with it?