The Power of Writing: A Novel Idea

I first met Rhonda Howard in the fall of 2001. We continue to be close friends although I’ve yet to meet her in the conventional sense. And unless magic happens, I won’t.

I was walking to the bus stop, glad for my warm coat, when the realization popped into my head that not everybody has something to protect them from the cold. This was followed by the line, "She didn’t want to steal the jacket but she had no choice.” I didn’t know what to do with the first line of what I thought could make a promising short story, so I simply filed it away in my brain, under the heading "future writing ideas.”


Soon afterwards, an online friend told me about National Novel Writing Month. The concept is simple enough: write an original novel of at least 50,000 words during November. And so began a writing experience that has become an annual ritual. Yes, that’s right. I have done it – every year since 2001 with the exception of 2006 (when I was enrolled in a creative writing class at North Island College), the year in which I’ve been described as "not healthy.” I had missed writing the stories about my friends that much.

The first time I visited the website ( I knew I was hooked. I chose my user name anticipating November. It was time to bring out from storage, the line about stealing the jacket.

The idea of devoting an entire month to writing what would surely be bad dialogue and creating unrealistic characters appealed to me in a way hard to fathom. I was attracted by the overwhelming thought of having a finished novel come November 30, regardless of the quality. In fact, I went into the experience expecting the bottom of bird cages to shriek at the thought of being lined with my pages. And that was fine with me. It always was, and is, about the process; the physical act of sitting down in front of the computer every day and writing at least 1,600 words. It might sound like a daunting task but it’s not. You need only write approximately three times the length of this column. And my salvation for meeting my daily word count is dialogue. Lots of it; often about food!

November1 arrived finding me in front of the computer, shortly after 7am. I had only the vaguest notion of where I was going, but it became clear to me before the end of the day that I didn’t care. I took to heart, the Nanowrimo motto of "No plot? No problem!” when I ended up nowhere near where I expected, an almost daily occurrence.

Every day I wrote, soon realizing I was creating my own world. Rhonda Howard was joined by clowns, gnomes and her best friend, Gillette Ficus-Sibley. It really started to get strange. but I kept writing.

At noon, on November 30, I typed the final words, put my head down on the keyboard and sobbed, partially from exhaustion, but also from triumph.

Writing is often said to be an act of faith, of going to the keyboard with the belief that you have inside, what you need. I’ve got that. I prove it to myself every November. And so can you. Why don’t you join me?