November 2, 2012

Literary Abandon

Starting things is really hard. 

So is finishing them, come to find. 

For the past two years, I have counted myself among the ranks of those who participate in National Novel Writing Month, which takes place every November. (Learn more about NaNoWriMo here.) Brave souls, those who take up the dizzy deed of writing a novel in one month. I'm sad to say that I have yet to surrender myself wholly to the "Thirty days and nights of literary abandon!" that characterize true dedication to the cause. Instead, it turns into about thirty minutes of literary abandon in which I write a chapter, remember that I'm not James Joyce, and then allow a sort of despair about my own mediocrity to wash over me and blot out any chance that I will be 50,000 words sadder and wiser come December. "Literary abandon" becomes just "abandon." As in, giving up. Leaving my novel behind in the dust. With tumbleweed a-blowin'.

That's not to say that the stories ever go away. They live and breathe in my conversations with close friends. They duel with my unconscious at night. They nestle into my back pocket on my walks to campus and dangle from the rear-view mirror on evening drives. They send me Christmas cards and always call on my birthday. Stories are such lively companions, and loyal to boot. They don't easily forget.

So why would I ever abandon such a lovely thing as a story? Two main reasons: 
1) I'm a grad student. I'm busy and stuff sometimes I guess. 2) Writing scares me.

The first "reason" is more like a pretty lame excuse. The second at least has the advantage of tugging on your heartstrings for a few moments before you realize it is equally lame and that I just need to get over my fears of vulnerability and mediocrity and judgment and realize that, while my novel may not be even 17% as literary as anything I read for my grad school seminars, it is a valuable intellectual and emotional exercise. Maybe even vital. I can't just sit back and notwriteanovel so that no one can ever accuse me of producing a shoddy novel. I have to get to the point where I would rather be a bad novelist than notanovelistatall. (In saying this, perhaps I am doing a disservice to ten-year-old Richelle, who indeed wrote novels aplenty about an impoverished girl named Rosaline. Maybe my creative genius peaked at a young age.)

This year will be different. I can feel it in my bones. The same obstacles still threaten to deter me, however, so I'm trying to cut them off at the pass. I have been telling anyone and everyone willing to listen that I'M GOING TO WRITE A NOVEL THIS MONTH! Chances are, more than one of my friends have rolled their eyes, thinking, "Sure. Why don't you send me a moon rock while you're at it?" By and large, I have been blessed with beautiful, gracious friends and family who are eager to see me take this on. If you are one of those lovely people, thank you. You are my sweetest stories, all of you.

So to kick things off, I thought I would take a trip down memory lane and reveal the opening paragraphs of my 2010 and 2011 attempts. The first was going to be called Traces, and the idea was that everyone carries some kind of grief or burden with them that is mostly hidden but occasionally surfaces in brief moments of vulnerability; everyone wears traces of their own stories. I meant to write about a few seemingly unconnected characters and let them kind of become tangent lines to each others' lives in a big web of human grace. Last year's story... well, that is an entire post waiting to happen. For now, I will let these first lines speak for themselves.


Jane could never figure out why her parents had decided to name her Jane. Didn’t they know that it rhymed with plain? Not to mention stain, feign, pain, et al. As a child, she used to wonder how many people at that same moment were slamming a car door, drinking cherry Kool-Aid, or wondering why the very notion of infinity didn’t scare everyone into the oblivion. (Unfortunately, mortality and its finiteness didn’t seem too bright a prospect either.) She reassured herself that maybe if people all around the world were engaged in the same activity at the same time, nobody would ever have to be truly alone. She had no reason to feel alone at the time. Yet for some reason, she persisted in her favorite activity: play-acting as though she were an orphan. When her mother handed her morning bowl of oatmeal, Jane would secretly pretend it was gruel. She didn’t know what gruel actually was, but she knew it was eaten by the likes of great orphans like Oliver Twist. She imagined it looked a lot like oatmeal and tasted like grasshoppers. Something about pretending to be an orphan made Jane feel less guilty for being lonely. 


The binary opposition between fiction and fact is no longer relevant: in any differential system, it is the assertion of the space between the entities that matters. Paul de Man

Is this her?”
Michael’s eyes widened in disbelief and horror as the medical examiner pulled back the sterile white sheet to reveal a pallid, lifeless version of his wife lying on a cold metal cart. Her skin was gray, her lips dried and pursed in an expression unique to the dead.
That’s her,” he said, more to himself than to the woman with the clipboard. “But… how… you said she was murdered?”
I’m so sorry to put you through this, Mr. Hutcheon. The police are actively investigating the circumstances surrounding your wife’s death. We do believe it was a homicide.


  1. Richelle, I, for one would love to have you write a novel. You have such a glorious way of expressing yourself, why, even your FB musings are delightful. And, besides, I have never known a real author personally! I think I told you that I printed out your "Ode to Lake Michigan" and saved it. I love it.
    Connie Garn

    1. Thanks for your encouragement and enthusiasm, Sister Garn. I wouldn't go as far as to call myself a "real author," but maybe someday :)

  2. NaNoWriMo! This is the first year I found out about it. Maybe I will give it a try next year...are you with me?!

    1. I would love to see you write a novel, Brooke! And next year is the first year I won't be a student in November. I am with you 100%!