I took November off from my real life to make up a life. I liked the made up life. I would like it to be my real life.
When I accepted the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge to write 50,000 words of fiction in 30 days (see my October post about it here), I thought I had lost my mind; but maybe I found it. The challenge included the necessity to write every day, if I wanted to be a “winner.” That I loved that part was not a surprise, I just needed the goal to give myself permission to do it. What was a surprise was that I loved writing fiction. My 51,555 words is no NY Times best seller—in its current draft form or ever—but I think it’s not horrible. It will be a best seller among my family. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end; and I like it enough to want to continue to work with it.
One of the reasons I wanted to try my hand at fiction was that I have heard it writes itself; that you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen before you start writing. I couldn’t believe that. I wanted to see for myself. It’s true; that’s exactly what happened. And I never really got stuck. That is not to say some parts are not boring as hell, but it did flow out.
Writing memoir, which is what I have been doing up until now, is exploring the past—or in my case, the present. I haven’t found space for the future in my writing. My novel was a looking ahead, and I felt free and hopeful.
My fictional story picks up where my current life leaves off. It’s something I daydream about a lot: what would this kitchen look like with my farm table in it instead of the stupid cheap round table? What would it be like to cook in here with my familiar things, stored in places that make sense to me? What would the dining room look like without the filthy carpet? What would the bedroom be like in a color other than the pale yellow it has been for 55 years? What if the mid-20th-century-modern house were furnished with mid-20th-century-modern furniture rather than antiques? What would my life be like if I could cook for friends? What if I had friends? What if my sisters and I were free to clean out the house? The novel gave me an opportunity to live the answers to the questions, in a way that felt different from daydreaming.
I thought the story was going to be about quickly cleaning out the house and then linger in the exploration of building a garden, starting a retreat center of some sort, maybe falling in love again. The part that comes after the part that comes next in my real life. But the story had other ideas. It ended with the beginning of all of that, but first there was a lifetime of memories to go through. There was a house to transform and a past to make sense of first. Things have to happen in order, even in fiction.
My fictional character and her fictional sisters—all bearing a striking resemblance to me and my sisters—got to live into all those what ifs. And the answer to the questions is: it would be freaking amazing! But it’s not time yet. First Mama gets to live here a while longer. And that’s pretty freaking amazing, too. Everything in its time.