An Absolute Beginner

A Novel in Two Books
by N. K. Johel

The day had arrived. Wednesday, November 1st, 2006. 5:30 pm. Because I had an office job it was important that I get some exercise every day. My husband met me, most nights, at the bus stop at the mall and we walked eight blocks home. Rain, or shine. This would continue to be our routine, at least three days out of a work week during the month of November during NaNoWriMo. To support me, my husband volunteered to make dinner every week night so I could begin "NaNo-ing" at 7:00 PM.

NaNoWriMo, known as National November Writer's Month, is a yearly event that writers from all over the world participate in. Some writers do it to break into a new novel. Others, I've heard, "NaNo" every year because they like to write, although not necessarily to publish. I didn't realize until 2008, a year and a half later, that groups of people met for write-ins in nearby Vancouver. Although it sounds like a good social thing for writers, I personally find I'm more productive at home. But, it's there for those who may not have the support I did, and social aspect of it is nice. As an artist and writer, 2006 NaNoWriMo was just a personal challenge. A chance to just sit down and write, even if it was bad.

I was a relatively new writer. Like I've mentioned in previous blogs, I have always enjoyed participating in many forms of the creative arts. When I took courses at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, the best skill I managed to retain was what my art instructors, Martin Guderna, and Marcus Bowcott taught about having the mind of a beginner. To, somehow, remain relatively un-jaded and unattached to the outcome of my work, and just enjoy the process. To be like a scientist and explore. I'd also been to a couple of Sheri-D Wilson'sSpoken Word performances in Vancouver around 2002, which really opened my curiosity about the music, rhythm and beat of words.

I'd discovered that, over time, the pressure of being self-conscious doesn't work when creating.  And so, being a beginner at "NaNo", I was blissfully unaware all the rules of writing and what I should, or should not, do. However, I was also an avid reader of post-modern literature because my husband studied English Lit in university.

Don't get me wrong, I was not sure what I was getting into. I'd always taken chances as a visual artist, going where I have not been before - but, c'mon - 50,000 words in one month?

It was rather unnerving.

My previous Blog

"A Germ of an Idea"

talked about how I had very little time to plan  and ponder what I was going to write about. So, over the three weeks leading up to NaNoWriMo, I took out my Creative Writing Level One and Two by

Ed Griffin

, a local author and creative writing teacher who had founded programs through the Surrey School Board, and used exercises to 'flesh out' the two characters I had at the time. Elanna Forsythe George and "Ricky" Rakesh Sharma, who was, at the time, going to be a wisecracking side kick. A Bollywood Director was going to be murdered. I had few ideas on how. But that was it.

So, there I was, that fateful November day, exercised, rested, fed and sitting in front of my computer at around 7:00 PM. There was no going back now. My husband, Michael stood with his hands on my shoulder, like a coach giving an athlete a pep talk.  "Remember, this is the first draft. You can say and do whatever you want. Have fun. You can do this."

I nodded and swallowed, thankful at his confidence in me as I wondered at the abyss of empty pages that needed to be filled. And, we agreed, it had to be fiction. Something not related to my life at all. All the notes and planning over the last three weeks flew out of my head. I didn't have a clue. Now what?


I listened.  Waited.  My fingers began to move over the keyboard as a few words came forth. Hmmn... But how long could I keep that up?  The average word count daily for NaNoWriMo is 1667, and by the time I got down the bottom of the first page I had about two hundred and fifty words. Well, it was a start.  But after that first page, I began to open up to this 'other world.'  A world where I was sometimes an observer, sometimes a participant.

As I found myself nearing the end of the first day of NaNo, I was amazed at the ideas that were coming through being this character. The freedom to express those ideas, without anyone else there to judge me, was - freeing and fun. Over the next few weeks I began to see myself as a stenographer who followed my main character around, just writing down what she was doing and thinking. Other people came into the picture too.  Yep, they'd just walk in and start talking, or doing what they were doing. I felt like an eavesdropper.

People ask me now why I chose to write in the first person.  First person narrative limits how a writer can tell a story. I wanted to tell the story purely from the character's own perspective. But, because my character was a paranormal detective, that helped to move into the third person narrative, or what people call "breaking the fourth wall."

But, during the first draft, I did what Michael suggested. I was writing by the seat of my pants, took all the chances and had fun. I got stuck a couple of times, thinking I wrote myself into a corner. But, found that, like us, my characters could either sleep or have something to eat, and - low and behold - something would develop. Oh, there was some planning, but I believed I 'pants'd' 90 percent of it.  My husband and I chatted during the walk home every night, or at the dinner table about the possible direction of things.  But, a lot of it was a surprise. Especially when a character died.  That happened a lot.

My bus mates on the commute to and from work learned about what I was doing and were interested in hearing about what was going on with the story. They teased me about how many people 'I killed' in the book. I'd be flabbergasted!

I didn't kill them, I'd say. It's just kinda happened. I was really 'only taking took notes.'

But, there was more to the this novel and the process of it than 'just murder.' But that will be for the next blog.

Remember, hang loose and have some fun!

N.K. Johel