Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Novels or not?

November is almost over. Along with it NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, comes to a close. Some people completed it, some did not. Some people completed their stories before reaching 50,000 words. I think that counts as success.

I participated in NaNo this year for the first time and broke several rules before I even got started. I was surprised to discover that memoirs are not considered novels, since the definition of a novel includes a specification for fiction, and therefore not eligible for verification at the end of the month. However, I was far more shocked to discover that most fiction writers on the forums at NaNo thought that writing a memoir would be easier than writing fiction and was therefore cheating.

My immediate reaction was, "Honey, you have obviously never tried writing a 50,000 word memoir about an emotionally intense period of your life."

I had thought that writing about my time in Iraq would be emotional, but fairly easy. After all, I was a civilian and not in actual combat. I was not prepared for hours spent in front of my computer with tears running down my face, for flashbacks that had me sitting there staring off into my own past, the return of nightmares and anxiety attacks that upset my husband, or the gut wrenching nausea. Most of all I wasn't prepared for how hard it would be to put the desolation, devastation, wonder, beauty and joy into words. I had most of it written down in my blog and just needed to copy it, right? Not even close.

There are two reasons I can think of to write a memoir such as mine. One is as a means of therapy which you may choose not to share. That can be written very matter of factly and held at a distance. The other is because you need to share your story. That one must suck the reader in and give him no choice but to see those events through your eyes and heart. You have to choose words and feel those things again. That one is physically draining and emotionally exhausting. At some points you just have to get up and walk away. Eventually, you just get the facts into the manuscript and promise to add feeling later.

So, I finished the first draft and used NaNo to do it. I didn't follow their rules, but I did it, and I feel accomplished. The attitude that life writing is easier than writing fiction (or visa versa) is akin to the attitude of non-writers who think that anyone can write. As a crotchety old man used to say, "Shut your mouth, kid. You look simple."

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