Thursday, November 5, 2009


Mt. Diablo, November 2009
I'm shepherding a group of NaNo newbies this year, first timers making their trek through November. This is my third go-round, which I suppose makes me the grizzled old veteran around these parts. One of the newbies (a co-worker) just stopped me in the break room and said "you know, I was working on my story last night, and it's been hard work, and then all of a sudden it just took on its own life."

I know the feeling well. I like that we have this month-long excuse to be silly and self-indulgent and take a tilt at the "novelist" windmill. I joked on the NaNo forums that I'm addicted to the word count rush -- my competitive nature again, surely -- and that I'm just chugging along with the story because in my head, it's already done. I'm just filling in the gaps.

Let me try an extended analogy here. Around springtime, I'm standing on the plains, just kind of looking around the mental landscape for interesting features. I've recovered from the previous November, and I'm starting to think about that next great story journey. Out on the horizon, I can see something -- hills, maybe, or trees, or rocks. It's hard to tell from here, but they look interesting, and I make a note about them on an index card and start walking in their general direction.

It's a long walk: months long, in fact, and all too often I need to take my eyes away to attend to something or other in my waking life -- work, kids, pets, whatever. But those features are still there, out on the horizon. I can make out shapes if I look long enough. I can start seeing the high points, and I can see the gaps in-between. It looks like mountains. I'm still walking, making notes, and details are starting to appear. A tree line, or the way a cloud breaks over a peak. I start thinking about the path I'll be taking, the way over and around and through those mountains, when I finally reach them.

By the time I get to their feet, it's October. Now I'm so close, I can only see the surface. The peaks are clear, but the valleys are hidden, and the path is mysterious. I know the big landmarks -- I spotted those weeks ago -- but I'm still not sure of the path through. I set up camp by the mountain, the start of the range. I'm eager to start, eager to set out and explore.

November comes, and I can finally start climbing! The low, round foothills are the easiest, and I meander my way up, up, up. The peaks are coming into view, as are the paths that lead to them. I'm still heading for my landmarks: I know that they'll see me through if I just stop to orient myself now and then. I'll get to the other side in the end, exhausted and weary surely, surprised and amused maybe. The way was twisted and turned, the path was tangled at times or unclear. It lead me down into hidden vales, and up along steep climbs, and sometimes an exhilarating headlong rush downhill, my feet barely able to keep up. But I have been climbing before; I know what to expect, and I know what I can do. I am not the most graceful, the most skilled wayfinder in the mountains, but I am getting better with each climb.


Elizabeth H. said...

Beautiful photo and imagery. I like it.

The only trouble is that for me, I can sketch out all the distant landmarks I want, but by the time I get to them, they'll turn out to have been mountain yaks who have wandered to new positions, and there will be a sign across the path saying "Closed for Renovation," and when I take the detour back through the nearest village in hopes of still getting to the same place by a roundabout route, I'll do something like...I dunno...stop off for a minute at the local greasy spoon and end up spending the rest of my vacation talking to the guy in the John Deere cap and "Frodo Lives!" t-shirt who's sitting at the counter in the corner.

But it's a nice thought.

mpclemens said...

Your trips through the mountains sound interesting, though. When I lose sight of the landmarks, I tend to panic and stand still and eat enough gorp to make myself sick.

There's a lot of yaks in the way for me, too, but I've gotten fairly good at spotting them before it's too late.

Those spurious note cards get a big diagonal line across them if they just won't fit, or often recycled into another story if they fit, but just not here. At least two of the primary characters in this year's story were actually cut from last year's. Yak herding -- they followed me to this year's mountains.

Must have been the gorp.

Strikethru said...

Jealous of all you nanosians. (??) This sounds much more glorious than researching business to business corporate blogging strategy. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

mpclemens said...

You're missed in the Brigade, Cheryl. Finish up this silly degree already. :-)