Conquering the crazy challenge

Posted: Sunday, December 12, 2010

I did a crazy thing last month. I wrote a novel in a month. Somebody's gotta do it, right?

See, there's this online challenge where you write a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. It's called Nanowrimo - National Novel Writing Month. (No, not nanoo, nanoo - that's another story.) The theory is that you've got this novel inside you waiting to be written, but you'll never make time in your life to actually write it, so just drop everything for a month and write. It's the drop everything part that I found the hardest.

I'm not sure why they chose November for this crazy activity. For me, November is smack in the middle of the holiday season, with three family birthdays and Thanksgiving piled on for good measure. I wish they'd pick a quiet month, like ... Quintember, perhaps. What, there's no such month? There's no such thing as a quiet month, either.

So, 50,000 words. That's a lot of words. That's 1,667 words a day, every day for 30 days, if you're consistent. This column is 700 words. I'd have to write two columns a day and four on Sundays, for the entire month, and that wouldn't even get me there. I normally write one column a month. What was I thinking?

Sometimes you've just gotta do something completely crazy. Sometimes what you most need is an impossible challenge to give you something to strive for, something to be proud of when you accomplish it. Think of the song "Impossible" from Rogers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella," (which I regretfully missed - too many birthday parties). The fairy godmother sings, "Because these daft and dewy-eyed dopes keep building up impossible hopes, impossible things are happening every day." I'd love to put myself in the company of those "daft and dewy-eyed dopes" who strive for the impossible and sometimes bring it to fruition.

Another musical production gave me inspiration in the midst of my frenetic novel-writing last month. I totally related to the villagers in "King Island Christmas," as they carried the oomiak "Over the Mountain" to the call, "you gotta have hope." Step by step, they conquered their doubts and gained the mountaintop.

We live surrounded by mountains, and many of us know how hard it is to get to the top. My husband and I cherish a family story of toiling up a path in Glacier National Park in Montana. A boy, no older than nine, panted up the slope before us, separated a bit from his parents, red-faced in his exertion. When we reached the top, he turned to us and said earnestly, with an adorable lisp, "It was vewy hawd, but it was wowth it." It is hard, and it's always worth it.

I didn't actually make it to the top of my mountain. I got to 43,500 words by midnight on Nov. 30. Two more days, maybe three, and I would have made it, and I could have joined the proud company of Nanowrimo winners. But I certainly don't consider myself a loser. I've written more words on this project than I ever have in my life, and the story hasn't come to an end yet. I'm up to about 45,500 words by now - I may make it by Christmas. The sad thing is, 50,000 words makes for a really short novel, no more than 150 pages or so. "Harry Potter Four" it's not. So when I get to the magic number, I'll barely be halfway done.

But I don't have to stop now that it's December, right? Well, actually I do. Small things like paying the bills and cleaning the bathroom demand attention, not to mention the big looming things like Christmas.

So don't ask me if I'm ready for Christmas - I'm not. Don't ask me if my novel is finished - it's only just begun. But if you ask me how it's going, I'll tell you that I'm still toiling up the mountain, and I'm having a blast on the way up. A half-finished rough draft of a novel isn't half bad for one month's crazy work. It's been very hard; it's been crazy; it's been a blast. Yes, it's definitely worth it.

• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother and aspiring children's author who lives in Juneau. She likes to look at the bright side of life.

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