Why Didn’t I Try This Years Ago?

The way I look at it, I started writing while I was in college. While I learned about grammar and punctuation and the niggly details of form in school, I learned how to communicate with language by writing for the college paper. I’ve been writing—more or less steadily—ever since.

About fifteen years ago, I started thinking it would be fun to write a murder mystery. Since I was a homeschooling parent at the time, editing a bimonthly homeschooling periodical, my mystery would involve the contentious and often self-righteous politics of the homeschooling movement. Though I kept playing with the idea in the back of my mind, I never seriously developed it.

Three books later and mostly retired from the homeschooling world (aside from an occasional conference speaking gig), the mystery floating around in my brain had become a fencing mystery, though it was no closer to being written than the homeschooling mystery had been.

Suddenly last fall I realized I was sick of my dithering. “Put up or shut up,” I told myself, and promptly signed up for November’s National Novel Writing Month (more familiarly known to its participants as NaNoWriMo), which was possibly the most terrifying thing I’d ever done.

NaNoWriMo is a peculiar challenge. Nobody makes you do it. Nobody but you decides whether you win. There are no prizes, aside from a certificate, some downloadable web badges, and a couple of discount coupons. All you have to do is write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November.

The genius of NaNoWriMo, though, is that time limit. You have no time to worry about how good the writing is or whether the characters are interesting or the plot makes sense. You can’t afford to look back and see how you’re doing. You can’t delete anything that doesn’t meet your standards—hell, you can’t even have any standards. You just have to get words down on the page and keep going.

To my surprise, at the end of November I had a first draft of a mystery. It’s crap, of course, but it’s crap with potential. Somewhere in that frantic mess, there’s a real book waiting to be shaped and polished.

That’s what I’m up to now. This part takes longer.

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