NaNoWriMo starts on All Saints Day, followed on November 2 by All Souls Day. For me, it’s perfectly timed in the year, when the veils are thin and spirits are said to be near. The first year I did NaNoWriMo, a story idea had been growing, of a young woman lost in grief over the end of a serious romance. When her grandmother has to move from the family home, Jenna finds a trunk with pictures of her great-grandmother Birdie. She also finds a mostly empty journal. But when Jenna tries to use it for a journal, the words that flow from her pen tell Birdie’s story.
I knew I’d be holding a lens to my own ancestors’ attitudes about gender roles and racism. The dreams that convinced me to do NaNoWriMo told me that loud and clear. The story flowed easily, especially Birdie’s. I noticed a few poltergeist effects during the month–papers on my desk shifting suddenly while I wrote alone in my office, for example. I chose to acknowledge them as Birdie’s announcement of her presence. Call her spirit, call her story character–for me she’s both. The story flowed through me fairly cleanly. I had enough words, and a possible ending, on November 28, but went to bed unsure of whether the story was done.
The next day, I realized there were two more scenes to write, so I did one on each day, finishing on the 30th with an enormously satisfying “The End.” The story made me feel like a wizard–magically conjuring a novel I loved in 30 days. I printed my certificate, and showed it to anyone who would put up with my bragging.
The whole experience was a kind of magic, the result of my long apprenticeship in listening for the story combined with the enthusiasm to work in a new way, thanks to NaNoWriMo.