Write It Sideways

How I Wrote a Novel in 19 Days (and Lived to Tell the Tale)

*Today’s post comes from Lori Franklin of Jane Be Nimble–blogger and first-time novelist. Here’s the story of her physical and emotional healing experience participating in NaNoWriMo this year.

If you haven’t seen my face before, the first thing I should tell you is that I’m a molecular biologist by training.

The last fifteen years of my life have been defined by experimental trial and error―it’s how I process information. If I had a scientific question about how something worked, I could set up an experiment with the proper controls to give me an informative answer.

The other thing you should know is that I came out of remission from my MS (multiple sclerosis) in November of 2008, which really threw me for a loop.

As a result I lost my job as I could no longer perform my responsibilities. To make a long story short, my docs suspect I may have crossed over from relapsing-remitting to secondary progressive MS, which means that there’s a good chance I may not go back into the remitting stage of MS.

Yeah, it’s a bummer, but wishing it away isn’t an effective strategy.

Part of my training as a scientist included studying neurology. As I was finishing graduate school a lot of new information was being discovered about neuroplasticity―the tremendous ability of the mind to form new connections and effectively re-wire itself.

What does all this have to do with NaNoWriMo?

Well, I believe, as do a lot of other scientists out there, that the more we use the brain for varied functions, the stronger the connections we make in the brain. I have over a dozen lesions (areas of nonfunctional scar tissue) in my brain and spinal cord at this point, but scientists are discovering that basically the brain can re-route around the damage with new connections. This is one reason I started my blog―to stimulate my brain.

So, I started an experiment.

I first learned about NaNoWriMo, the contest to draft a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, from Suzannah’s post (thank you, Suzannah!) and I decided to enter as an activity to help stimulate my brain. It made good sense since I’ve always enjoyed writing, have always wanted to write a book, and I thought this may be the ticket to try to prepare a first draft.

I’m plagued with crushing fatigue and dizzy spells, so I had to make a plan of attack that could be amenable to my uninvited guest, Ms. MS. I decided to write first thing in the morning, for at least an hour, then twice more during the day―once in the afternoon and once in the early evening. I aimed for 2,500 words a day to be done by the 25th of November. This also gave me padding for the days when I couldn’t write at all because of Ms. MS.

It was a wild ride; I finished! But, the peak of my satisfaction was the last few days. I had taken Suzannah’s advice to outline my story prior to the starting line, which is acceptable by NaNoWriMo’s rules. Defining the plot points ahead of time made all the difference! Now I know now that I am not a ‘pantser.’

I outlined the entire novel, but during the first couple of weeks of NaNoWriMo I was torn about how I had planned to finish the novel. In the final days, with pressure to finish, staring at my last few scenes, it hit me like a flash of lightning! Why hadn’t I thought of this before? Of course, of course–the heroine must do x, y, and z! I love it!

My writing experiment proved to be an utterly moving experience.

  1. I experienced several profound flashes of inspiration!
  2. I wrote a 50,414-word draft in 19 days!
  3. I was shocked when I realized that I finished my novel on the very same day that I came out of remission last year. It wasn’t my plan―it just happened almost like it was pre-destined! There was no way I could’ve done this a year ago!

I have hope. I have hope that I can continue to connect my wires.

NaNoWriMo may be about writing a novel in one month, but for me, my NaNoWriMo writing experiment gave me hope for better days ahead. 2010 is looking good―maybe you’ll learn something about yourself if you try NaNoWriMo next year; it is a powerful experience that I highly recommend―even if a novel is the last thing on your mind.

Lori Franklin is the author of Jane Be Nimble, a blog about striving for an agile body and mind. The author wishes to thank Suzannah for her blog and helping her heal. Lori can be contacted at lori [at] janebenimble [dot] com. Sign up for Lori’s feed via RSS or delivery into your email inbox.