“That’s too much car for such a little girl.”
The condescending words came from a middle-aged man standing in the small crowd gathering around my 1983 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Regency. It was the summer of 1998, and this behemoth was my beloved, first car. It was navy blue, with air-conditioning, automatic everything, and was a whopping eighteen feet long. Steering from the plush, roomy front seat was like driving a couch, a couch upholstered in dark blue velour. I loved the feel of the soft velvety fabric against my legs. The paint job was dulled with age, and the massive doors had their share of dings and scratches. But, eye of the beholder. I loved the car, even when the radio would sometimes cut out. A swift kick to the jumbled wires beneath the dash and the synthesized voices of Backstreet Boys would sing out. It was a sweet, smooth ride of a grandma car, luxury in its heyday.
On that sunny afternoon, I had driven to the grocery store and tried to steer my Oldsmobile, which had the size and maneuverability of a boat, into a parking space. I got stuck, my car awkwardly angled partway into the too narrow spot. I sat in my conspicuous position, attracting onlookers with mocking faces.
Anxiously, I turned the wheel this way and that way, shifting the car forward and backward, desperately attempting to straighten out and get my tail end in line. But all I managed to do was inch perilously closer to the next car. I was going to scrape it if I moved again. Stupid sunny weather! If it had been stormy, everyone would be rushing indoors. No one would have stood around gawking at me, making me increasingly anxious as I tried to figure out what to do.
That’s when I heard it. “That’s too much car for such a little girl.” I was humiliated. At twenty years old, demeaning remarks from older men hurt rather than angered, as they would now.
Another onlooker had pity on me and spoke to me. He guided me, telling me exactly how to turn the wheel. Once safely parked, I hurried into the grocery store with my head bent down to hide my flushed face.
I needed only one item from the store: hairspray. My shopping was done in three minutes. But I stayed inside the store, trying to make myself invisible behind a display, peering through the window at my car. I knew that backing out of the parking spot would be no easy feat. I was too humiliated to try it. I stood there, watched and waited. Finally, the car parked adjacent to mine was leaving. I was relieved! I sprinted across the parking lot, clutching my plastic shopping bag. With ample room to maneuver, I backed out and got the heck out of there!
What in the world does that story have to do with writing? Why did pondering my work-in-progress bring up the memory of my beloved, but long and unwieldy, Oldsmobile?
Recently, I was feeling like my novel-in-progress was too long, too unwieldy, too difficult to manage with the multi-generational points of view and subplots. When I focus on what one character is doing, I worry that other characters are getting short shrift. What has that character been doing since we last saw him five chapters ago? And why have I included a whole chapter on the historical founding family of the town? Albeit it’s a brief chapter, but does it belong there at all? The whole thing is feeling unwieldy like an eighteen-foot Oldsmobile in a tight parking lot. Is it too much story for such an inexperienced writer? Is it going to attract a crowd of mocking strangers?
As for my Oldsmobile, I caused a tiny dent or two that first year I had my license, but eventually I was a better driver. I drove every day, and my skills improved simply from practice. Every day.
But I don’t write every day. I admit, I don’t even write every week. And I can’t expect to improve my writing skills without frequent practice. My work-in-progress will continue to feel unmanageable and unwieldy without a lot more time devoted to it. Significantly more time.
I was looking at our public library events calendar for an activity to entertain my son, Sweet Boy, and a notice popped up for a National Novel Writing Month information meeting. Nanowrimo for those of you in the know. Of course, I’ve been hearing about nanowrimo for years. I’ve never known anyone who tried it though. Participants world-wide spend the month of November consumed with a frenzied burst of writing to meet their word count goal – usually 50,000 words – by midnight on November 30th. If you’re curious, check out their website.
I reminded myself about why I can’t possibly do nanowrimo. November is crunch time for a charity called Christmas House, in which I’m heavily involved. I’ve got an IEP meeting and teacher conferences for Sweet Boy coming up. Autumn is when I start baking and selling pumpkin bread and chocolaty fudge, and the orders start piling up in the days before Thanksgiving. We’re traveling to see family over Thanksgiving weekend. Add the multiple, mundane tasks and obligations that moms generally have on their to-do lists. All valid reasons why I can’t do nanowrimo.
And then I decided to do it anyway. Wish me luck!