From Fifth Grade to NaNoWriMo

The first book I ever wrote was during my fifth grade year in Mrs. Young’s homeroom class. She asked us to write a How-To book and to consider ourselves author and artist.

I didn’t think I knew how to do anything well. I played softball every summer, but I did cartwheels in the outfield during most games. I made one attempt at soccer then quit when the ball hit me in the face. I was a skinny, asthmatic kid with low self-confidence and little willingness to take risks. Still, I liked Mrs. Young and I was a dedicated student. I sat on the assignment and observed my fellow fifth graders for a few days. A popular phrase flew around the halls of elementary school that week and sparked an idea for a story: gag me with a spoon!

I remember my excitement as the idea formed in my budding writer’s mind. My heart raced. I ran around the house with wide eyes and hair on end searching for any and all loose sheets of construction paper and a few crayons. The assignment was due the next day; time was my enemy. I sat down at the kitchen table and feverishly scratched out a first (and last) draft.

My idea was solid. Using my author’s creative license, I tweaked the phrase a bit and titled my book How to Gag Yourself with a Spatula. I dressed a quirky Mr. Duck in a black bow tie and gave him prestigious role of the main character.  Mr. Duck’s words flowed onto the paper with ease. He explained the equipment needed, the risks involved, and finally the crucial steps towards the climax of a spatula induced gag.

I finished the book with a bold “THE END” and shook my papers straight. I stapled them together and slid them carefully in my folder. The next day at school, I held a finished book in my hands and waited, for my turn, to read my story aloud. The book was a big hit. Mrs. Young leaned her head back and laughed. I stood at the front of the classroom enveloped in a cloud of joy, elation, success!

That experience, at ten years old, of leaning over sheets of construction paper and scattered crayons with wild eyes and quick hands, reminds me of my last few days of NaNoWriMo. Last week, the words poured out slow and rough. With my idea only partially formed, the main character walked around the story like a cardboard cut out. I closed the file and flipped through other writer’s blogs, where I found solace and inspiration.

Yesterday, Linda Cassidy and Natalie Whipple wrote out exactly what I’d been thinking all afternoon. Recently, Ann M. Lynn’s post reminded me that even though NaNoWriMo is mostly about word count, it’s also about the story. Even in a writng frenzy, authors must avoid developing bad writing habits. And, the last several posts on Cathryn Grant’s blog told of another strategy: balance NaNoWriMo with other ongoing projects.

I took an afternoon and handwrote some thoughts about my main character. I jotted down a few prospective scenes. I let go of my obsession with word count. I picked two short stories to rewrite and refine during NaNoWriMo breaks.

This week, I have a clear idea of the story I want to write. My main character is taking shape slowly. She’s filling out like the inflatable pool I struggled to blow up last summer for the kids. I’ve expelled a lot of hot air, fought off an asthma attack, readjusted my focus. Now, the plastic is finally lifting off the ground. Last night, I closed the file at a little over 19,000 words.



9 responses to “From Fifth Grade to NaNoWriMo

  1. Forgive me if I already mentioned this, my brain is a bit muddled right now. One thing helping me push through the NaNo word count is a technique from a class on writing a novel in a year (much more sane, btw). The instructor had us make a list of scenes that might happen, could happen or would be interesting to write. They don’t have to be in order. Each day, just pick a scene that might happen next. As you go, other scenes often emerge.

    Clearly this is a more plot-driven approach, but you could modify with, she recalls x from her past, or he recognizes his greed when y happens.

    At any rate, I’m glad you’re getting synchronous thoughts from other blogs.

    I LOVE the story of your first story, including the title!!

    • That’s a great tip, Cathryn – scene by scene. I won’t have as much time to write this weekend as I’d like (work conference coming up), so I’ll keep my journal handy and use my five minute breaks to jot down ideas.


  2. I’m happy I could help! Have fun developing your character.

  3. Here’s another idea I remembered (same writing instructor, I think). What would surprise you?

    I’ve found my NaNo word geyser slowing, and this morning asked myself that question. A thought popped up and now I can’t WAIT to get to today’s writing session.

    • Thanks again, Cathryn. I’ll definitely use that, since, as you phrased it my “word geyser” is slowing too (great metaphor). I’m glad you’re still enjoying the NaNoWriMo process!

  4. Christi, I have found your NaNo musings very insightful. Glad to have found you!

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