About fifty years ago, my daddy—who at the time smoked three packs of Camel “regulars” a day—decided he was going to quit cold turkey.
Here’s what he did the day before he smoked his last cigarette. He walked all over downtown Augusta, Georgia, where he was the manager of the J.C. Penney store, and told everyone he knew (and he knew a lot of people) that it was his last day to smoke. Ever. And it was. No cigarette ever touched Daddy’s lips again. He swore for the rest of his life that he succeeded at quitting because he would have been too embarrassed to do otherwise.
Now, I’m using those some tactics to reach a totally different goal.
For more years than I’d like to admit, I’ve been working on a young adult novel about a twelve-year-girl who lives with her disabled mother in a single-wide trailer at the end of a long dirt road. The girl’s name is Jasmine Margarita, “Jazzy” for short, and some tough stuff happens to her. Really tough stuff.
Over the years, the story has changed a lot. I’ve taken some plot twists out and put other plot twists in. I’ve changed point of view from first person to third. I’ve switched from telling the story in present tense to telling it in past tense. I’ve killed off some characters and created new ones. I’ve also read lots of books about how to write a novel. I’ve taken a couple of novel-writing classes. With a writer’s critical eye, I’ve read countless young adult novels.
Yet my own novel has remained largely unwritten, except in my head.
Why? Other things got in the way. Almost all of them good. Over the course of three years, all three of my children got married. Two grandchildren were born. I wrote a book about the Civil War, hundreds of columns for this newspaper and stories for other publications. The novel kept getting shoved to the back burner.
But this past September, I was given a great gift.
We learned that the beach house we’ve rented on St. Simons Island for more than thirty years was available for the entire month for a fraction of its summer rate. George and I and most of our brood spent several days there together at the beginning of the month.
Then everybody except for the dog and me went home.
I was alone in a place where I had no grass to cut, no floors to mop and no meals to cook. I didn’t have meetings to attend or classes to teach or parties to go to. I didn’t know a single soul on that island. All my other writing assignments were finished. The jig was up. Because before I left home, I did the same thing my daddy had done all those years ago. I told everybody who would listen that I was either going to write my novel while I was alone at the beach or quit pretending.
So I set my laptop computer up on the glass dining table of that little ramshackle beach cottage, with notebooks and legal pads and pens and pencils strewn about. With a thick black Sharpie, I wrote the words WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? on a note card and taped it next to the computer.
Then I opened the word document entitled “Jazzy” and began to write.
November is National Novel Writers Month, NaNoWriMo for short, a time when thousands of people throughout the country make it their goal to finish the first draft of a novel. This year, I’m participating. Totally. By the end of this month, I will have passed the suggested 50,000 word mark that all NaNoWriMo participants aim for. My first draft will be complete.
And you can take that to the bank.
(November 3, 2013)