By Amanda Cleary Eastep
I stuffed my overnight bag into my narrow grammar school locker, already counting the red-handed seconds until I left my 4th grade troubles behind and walked two blocks to my best friend’s house for a sleepover.
My presence always caused a bit of angst for my friend’s mother since–although I was a well-behaved kid–I was also a notorious sleepwalker.
To thwart my subconscious wanderer from leaving the second-floor bedroom in the middle of the night and roaming the streets of our Midwest town, looting the K&J for wax lips and Twizzlers, my friend’s mother set up two metal folding chairs at the top of the staircase of the old house.
Yes. Metal folding chairs. At the top. Of the steep, dark, hardwood staircase.
Let the fun begin…
We had the whole TV room to ourselves, all the Tombstone pizza and Rice Krispie treats we wanted, and the combined bravery to call boys we liked and hang up. We made the classic “Is your refrigerator running? Then you better go catch it” prank phone calls. We played hide and seek (until I discovered the nudey magazine stuck in the bed springs beneath the college-aged brother’s bed).
Yep, it was the perfect 1970s sleepover…
Then I woke up.
The early morning sun was just beginning to illuminate the bedroom. The wrong bedroom. This one looked familiar. It was the one down the hall from where I had finally fallen asleep the previous night…but apparently hadn’t stayed asleep. At least my sleepwalking self hadn’t awakened in a tangle of metal chair legs and broken bones at the bottom of the stairs.
Then I heard the snoring. My little heart beat wildly as I turned my head to see the sleeping figure of my best friend’s grandpa.
As I lay beside him in a cold sweat, too terrified to move, my friend popped her head through the open door, stared at me wide-eyed, and hissed, “What are you doing?”
This memory came back to me recently as a perfect analogy for writing a novel. I got the bright idea to take part in the annual National Novel Writing Month held online each November.
(It’s a good analogy for other things, too, like starting a business or entering a new relationship…especially with a really old dude.)
What am I doing?
I asked myself this the other day when I realized:
- I’m about 10,000 words behind the NaNoWriMo word-count goal…
- I’m Googling things like “museum bombing” and “ancient Assyrian weapons”, which could possibly raise suspicion in the FBI, the CIA, and the PTA…
- I have no climactic moment planned other than “protagonist defeats antagonist…probably with some type of ancient Assyrian weapon.”
This novel writing venture is a 1970s sleepover gone horribly wrong.
The parallels are uncanny.
First comes the anticipation of the event. I’m going to write a novel! This is going to be so fun. Omg. I need new pajamas and a new Spa Radio playlist and snacks, lots of snacks!
Then the fun begins. The ideas flow like Nestle Quik strawberry milk. Let’s do this. Now let’s do that. This is going to be such a great book. I’m laughing, I’m crying, I’m imagining the film version with Robert Downey Jr. playing, uh, anything he wants to. This is the most fun EVER!
You wake up. How did I get here, and who are these people? I wake up beside a strange character (not you, Honey), because I’m obsessed with my protagonist. And my antagonist and the minor characters and those angel thingys with the kick ass ancient Assyrian weapons.
I also wake up each morning with all my writerly doubts. Jerks.
You ask yourself. WHAT AM I DOING? Why did I think I could write a novel? I must have been dreaming…or sleepwalking with a pen in my hand. Life was going along just fine. I work, I eat, I go to bed, I enjoy the weekend. Now I’m staring at 20,000 words of the worst book ever written, and I’m breaking out in a cold sweat.
But it isn’t long before I get a grip, pour myself a big bowl of Lucky Charms, and sit back down at the computer.
I started this current book several years ago, during a tough time in my life. But the characters, damn them, they just kept hanging around my brain locker, waiting to be invited to the party.
So this year I committed to not only finish the rewrite of another book and begin to send that to agents, publishers, and my mother (because she will like it, for sure), but to resurrect the book I’m working on now and use National Novel Writing Month as motivation.
Yes, it’s exciting and fun and scary and the quickest way to instill self-doubt. But that’s writing.
Actually, I’ve considered placing a couple of metal folding chairs in front of myself the next time I decide to write a novel…but then I’d probably just end up in bed with somebody’s grandpa.