7:51. She did have novel-writing software, purchased at a discount via a non-profit after having succeeded, by a technicality of word-count only, her first novel-writing attempt several years ago. But she couldn’t use it to write novels. It had now become but storage, a huge, massive, overstuffed digital filing cabinet, of there-copied old journals, saved articles, process notes, wishes, and also, many unsaid things.
To write the novel, she must first do this pre-writing. That much she knew. And she also knew that she would never, ever succeed at writing even the first draft of a novel without hitting publish on every single day’s work. She needed the contact, she needed the arms of friends strung out together in this wide circle, she could not do it alone. Something was so lonely and afraid inside her which rendered her useless alone. So here she was, using some — some — what? what could she call this platform? Born of open-source software, it had, they said, spawned this evil, commercialized twin. She’d read about it, suspected the readings to be true, before ever setting foot upon it, and recently seen that evil side. But here she was again.
Anyway, nothing was inherently evil nor inherently good. Anyone knows that. And to have all this gorgeous blankness,
, here, which brought her back time and time again — something she never found in the novel-writing software, cluttered as it was with menus and headers and all manner of gadgets — it was this emptiness which made possible the breathing of small black lines of solid text, to march across it; like the passing of warm air across a jack-frosted skylight, except in reverse. Her fingers breathed, the clean sky-black pane disappeared, and there were words, like crystals branching in flowered patterns, ever-repeated to the minutest ends.
Did that make sense? It didn’t matter. Onward she marched, or rather marched her fingers. Fingers led by mind of course. Fingers led by mind… no, she would not pause there; to dwell there was to die. To imagine that she would be responsible forever, for whatever she’d said, whatever she’d thought — it would kill her certainly, or at least, kill her progress in this moment. So she allowed the words to flow.
Her throat began to close, a tension arose in her neck. She’d allowed Fear to enter, and here, the pre-writing was going not at all in the direction she’d intended. Now the sky was lightening, making a curtain before her golden, a bird was calling out a high-fluted tune.
She’d meant to write about the passage down to this place, this den, at the corner of the yard. Such luxury, to have a little unused place, to be able to close a door, to remove oneself from the interruptions of the world. Why did she so rarely use it?
In a word: Fear. Fear of wasting time, fear of being selfish, fear of the dark walk down. Fear of disturbing her husband when she slid out of bed. Fear of overwhelm; she’d thought too long already. Her ideas were swimming and she would drown.
But she did it, this morning; she first rolled to the left, in the dark, and wrapped her arm around him, very lightly, over the blankets, so as not to wake him. It was their agreement; one she of course had instigated. Always a kiss before leaving. She curled around his back but barely touching. She kissed the place behind his ear where the hairs were very short, she could not see them but knew they were black with a salt of white, knew the skin of his neck was brown. Felt his warmth, held him lightly in her embrace, as though he were one of the children, and not a lover. She stayed in that moment, she gazed up through the unblinded skylight above him, saw the branches of the great tree, gently moving blackest black against the paler black of sky. For one moment, a star was visible, which seemed to wink at her.
She rolled away, she placed her feet on the floor, now the hardest part was done. She doesn’t remember walking across the bedside rug now; she’d lost touch with her feet, for she lived again in her head. Her feet bumped some object on the way out, a clattering noise, a step-stool tucked in a corner by the door, still there from months ago when her little niece had visited. She cursed herself in her mind for the noise, for her own clumsiness and absent-mindedness; she picked up the step-stool, carried it down with her as she tiptoed past the other bedroom, crept down the stairs. The step-stool would not be any ticking clock on the mantel. Or perhaps it would.
775 words. She still had 900 to go. But already she was tired. Tired of writing what she thought might be fruitless, what might lead nowhere. The tension in her neck had disappeared, during the absorbing task of remembering how she’d made it to this place, this physical place she now sat, the place she intended to write her novel. But now, taking a sip of cold coffee, it reappeared. This was useless, it was selfish, it was utterly ridiculous; it was a story no one would care about nor read.
There. Now she could continue. Only shit would be written, that was the deal. “My Shitty First Novel.”
It would take a novel to write how she’d gotten here, and the novel might bore anyone to tears. But still, it had to be written. For her love of the moment, for her love of small flowers of black frost breathed across the white page. That was the only reason! It was a reason to enjoy life.
* * *
Certainly, a line break was needed. Three stars. Let’s move on to the next scene.
In the next scene, past which all using of the toilet is completely skipped, deemed too embarrassingly crass to document; all attempts to wake her laptop from sleep, all furtive glimpses into social media notifications are never spoken of, or at least not yet.
To the point on which she turned the key in the lock of the wood-framed glass door, turned it to the left, felt the catch retract in the unseen mechanisms of the door jam, then pressed the handle down, with her right hand, laptop in left. Then picking up the coffee press and empty mug again, shifting her body from the cozy house into that dark place that exists outside it, pausing on the step to set down again the press and mug, to now pull the door closed, as quietly as she could; to pick up again the press and mug, and suddenly, she was outside, staring at the sky, hands completely full.
Such a sky it was! Black, but not pure black, perhaps oyster black, or octopus black. Or the softness of charcoal. In it shone Orion! Old friend! So bright, so visible, such a sensible and at once divinely masculine constellation. One of the only constellations besides the big and little dippers that actually had a form she could understand. The wide shoulders, the belt, the dagger, the drawn-back bow she had to imagine, yes, but it was easy to do so, his fine face looking with Roman brow to the right. And what was to the right? Something she could not remember the name of, it looked to her like a house. “House constellation.” And their own house was further still to the right, though made of stone and not of light.
The Pleiades, the other adorable favourites, the ones she’d always thought of as “the tiny dipper” until she forced herself to look them up online, and memorize their given name. They were between “house constellation” and Our House. The Seven Sisters, could they not be called that also? So they should be. She stepped off the patio towards the downhill path in a mental swoon, wishing she could show her friends, explain to them that though her adventures had grown so small as to delight in stepping out the front door, into the blackness of night, in them there was such reward. That sometimes we need only change our habits the slightest, seemingly insignificant bit, to stumble upon a circus night, a tightrope in the sky on which we finally find our balance.
1377 words. Still room to speak of the moon. The moon was the greatest wonder of all, and it surprised her as she stepped onto the path, and looked to the left, towards the dark east. She had not expected it, she did not track the movements of the moon, she only noticed it if it appeared within her day or night, showed its curves and faces, or its missing places.
It hung there now, or then rather, as a fully visible darkened globe, prachtig (a Dutch word, not English, but none other would do; it was the only word in her limited vocabulary that could describe such a sight) under the lowest branches of the great tree, the same tree that had revealed a star between its uppermost branches, within the frame of the skylight above the bed. So there it hung, this darkened oyster globe, this shining black-grey pearl — and its lowest edge was illuminated — a silvered dish, a lit-line cradle, the splendour was intoxicating, she almost could not bear it.
She didn’t bear it, but left it there to exist without her further observation, as she now turned her attention to the blackness of the path ahead.
1579 words; she had not quite made it. Perhaps the final 98 could appear here, or in the footnotes, or in the comments, or in a further frosty exhalation upon the pane of glass.
The sun had risen fully now; the light beyond the curtained window was pure gold; there were several birds which invisibly twittered and sang beyond the confines of her den; the songs were alternatingly inquisitive and confident.
08:56. NaNoWriMo starts in just a few days, my friends, shall we try it? It could be fun. And with this last sentence, I have reached, and even slightly exceeded, my imagined daily training quota of 1677 words (to make a possible 50,000 total, during the 30 days of November). And I will not now moan upon mistakes, but instead, celebrate this Shitty First Draft.
09:02. Title? Let’s not waste time. Skim page with eyes, grab phrase, copy-paste, insert in Title field.
p.p.s. I had Orion wrong all these years… not a dagger but a sheath, not a bow but a shield, not an arrow but a sword… perhaps. Or is it a club, and an enemy — or is the enemy in fact prey? Needs further investigation.
Edit 11:43: Gee wiz, had the word count math all wrong too. 50K words / 30days = 1667-ish, not 1677-ish, as I’d incorrectly remembered. Clearly I’m off to an over-enthusiastic start… but at least I’m not pausing mid-write to use calculators (nor to DuckDuckGo constellations, for that matter). Yay me. 😎
Nadine inhales & exhales words & images from current vantage point in Zone of Emptiness, France. Thank you for reading. ❤︎