Last Friday, March 19, when visiting my family in Ohio, I photographed this colorful set of books on top of Charlie’s dresser. I’d not seen them altogether in this format . I know they’ve been read aloud numerous times to Charlie.(5) he always tells me about a grandmother in the books who knits.
In writing, there are plotters – people that plot out their stories and follow that plan – and there are pantsters, which are kindly called “discovery writers.” This pantster signed up for National Novel Writing Month 2019 (NaNoWriMo).
I had an idea, a “what if,” and I had a deadline. Every night that November, after the kids went to bed, I followed my characters around for approximately 1800 words. Some nights it took an hour to meet my wordcount; some nights it took four. It was stressful, and I was tired, but it was only 30 days. I tried not to think about it during the day.
As a “discovery writer,” I honestly had no idea what was ever going to happen next. As I typed, I’d suddenly realize something about a character’s past. Or I’d leave a note to myself in all caps that said, “HOW LONG TO GET TO MARS?” – because now they were going to Mars (unplanned by me, but that’s where they were going, so I should probably find out more about it if I was really going to write this ridiculous book). I did research as I went, and kept a spreadsheet of links to NASA, MarsONE and studies about soil bacteria, which had – also against my will – become an issue on the space shuttle, and one that I couldn’t fix for months. I wasn’t in control.
The story went off in weird tangents – not my story, because my story was never supposed to be about space and soil – it twisted and turned. I wrote completely without a plan, without an ending in mind, and somehow, I managed to type my last word – my 50,083rd – just before midnight on November 30th.
It wasn’t the story I had planned to write, and they weren’t perfect words but there were 50,000 of them. I put it away for a month, then read it with fresh eyes, and while it was still imperfect, it wasn’t terrible. Over the next six months, in lockdown, I revised, expanded and rewrote while my kids sat and homeschooled beside me.
NaNoWriMo was a grind, but it gave me the reasonably short timeframe and the motivation I needed to finally write a novel. I even sat down to do it again this year. I wrote another 50K words in 30 days, but this time I was prepared. I wasn’t a pantster this time: I had an outline, almost chapter-by-chapter, of what I wanted to happen and what I wanted to develop. This story wasn’t going to go rogue on me (though it did, here and there), but I discovered something else: it wasn’t as much fun.
Ground Control is being published in e-book, paperback and hardcover formats in the Spring
“Diane Kerr mentors poets through the Madwomen in the Attic Creative Writing Program at Carlow University and is the author of the collection, Butterfly. Her work has appeared in the Alaska Quarterly Review, Mississippi Review, and Pearl, among others. She holds an MFA from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Kerr’s forthcoming Perigee follows a speaker’s emotional reckoning with a traumatic secret she felt pressured to keep during her girlhood. In varied lyric narratives, these poems reinforce that shock and suffering have no statute of limitations.”
Last Saturday night we were down by PNC Park and strolling along the walkway while the Pirates were inside the park, beating the St. Louis Cardinals, 7-1. The Allegheny River was muddy and reflecting the night lights of the boats and city.
My friend Steve saw a man he recognized. Captain George Boyle on the Safety Boat by the fireworks on the barge. They hadn’t seen each other in years.
Captain George was patrolling the river to keep the pleasure boats away from the barge where the fireworks were set to go off after the game, to keep the boaters out of the danger zone.
Captain George invited us aboard the Safety Boat, and Steve bought his book (which Captain George autographed for him) One of those serendipitous moments in life.
“A world traveling photographer and film producer chronicles the highlights and adventures of a unique and thrilling career”
If you’re from Pittsburgh you might have seen one of the 13 part TV series “What’s New at the Zoo” which Captain George filmed.
You can read about Captain George’s suiting up in scuba gear and his retrieval of the Gateway Clipper Steamboat’s Paddlewheel from the bottom of the Allegheny River.
Captain George Boyle just autographed a copy of You Ought to Write A Book…By George
Lots of adventures packed in twenty chapters! If you want a copy of his book just leave a comment and I’ll contact Captain George.
Here is what Mr. Fred Rogers said in the blurb on the back cover
“My goodness George, what a marvelous tome you have written. You certainly have gone to great lengths to help the reader understand some of the technical details of photography. I’m happy to be included in the events of your life.” Fred Rogers, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood