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Happy December 1st, NaNoWriMoers! I don’t know about y’all, but it’s been a rollercoaster of a month for me. November kicked off with my brother assaulting our dad and ended with a dose of grief and homesickness, a frantic Thanksgiving dinner, and a bad head cold.

Amidst all this, I’ve somehow managed to meet my NaNoWriMo goal of 60,000 words! While I fell short in other ways, there’s so much to celebrate.

The project: Escape Artist

I’m writing a fictionalized biography/Southern lit novel titled Escape Artist. The book is largely inspired by the life and legacy of my “Little Grandma,” as well as the true stories passed down to me. Escape Artist covers 70 years and four generations of the Aldridge family, complete with moonshine, magic, murder, and so much more. 

escape artist

Escape Artist blurb

“I throwed a jar of pickles at Daddy one time. He went to kick Mama and I throwed that jar of pickles right at him. And he said, ‘What in the world did you do that for?’ And I said, ‘You cuss my mama, you treat my mama like a dog and I’m tired of it.’ Then he come at me like he was gonna get me and I said, ‘I dare you to come and get me.'”

My aunt Lucy speaks so candidly of her trauma, her delicate, sunspotted hands folded across the belly of her worn peach dress. “You gon’ write a story about that?” she asks me. 

I nod.

“Well, if I’m livin’ when you get it done, I wanna read it.”

Escape Artist is a fictionalized retelling of the true stories my family passed down to me. At 84, my aunt Lucy is the oldest of the Aldridge clan, our new matriarch. She and her brothers and sisters — my aunts and uncles, my dad — are getting older. I don’t wanna bury their stories with them when the time comes. They believe their stories are worth sharing with the world. And so do I.

Because Escape Artist is so personal to me (and makes me homesick something fierce), writing it has been a one-step-forward-two-steps-back process. I put immense pressure on myself to get it right, to do their stories justice. I know this isn’t ideal for my momentum or my confidence, but hey, I guess we’re all our own worst critic.

It’s also a gigantic story with so much to juggle. Aside from personal events, the timeline covers big historical eras: Prohibition, the Great Depression, WWII, the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War. Sometimes I struggle to weave all this into the plot and relate it back to the family — but I’m figuring it out!

This was my first year doing NaNoWriMo, and even though I knew that cranking out 50,000 words in 30 days doesn’t work for me, I wanted to establish momentum and routine. Even though things didn’t work out as planned, I achieved some big milestones.

My NaNoWriMo 2019 stats

  • Words added: 18,087
  • End word count: 60,477
  • Days: 20 of 30
  • Total time: 29 hours — 24:18 drafting, 3:53 structure, 0:49 researching

I met my goal of 60,000 words, but I didn’t finish my first draft, which was my ultimate goal. I’m feeling slightly disappointed, but also triumphant.

Escape Artist is the first and largest project I’ve stuck with. In my 15-plus years of writing, I’ve abandoned or only halfway developed every single story idea I’ve had up to this point — so I’m proud of myself for persevering.

I’m a NaNoWriMo rebel through and through. I didn’t (and don’t) write every day, and I already had a solid 40,000-ish words when I started. I’m also a turtle writer. I started writing Escape Artist in September 2018 and I’ve only just reached 60,000 words.

Short-term goals

  • Finish the first draft
  • Complete research
  • Compile all scratchpad content into chapters
  • Make editing notes if I have time (no pressure here!)

I’ve spent much of this morning auditing my NaNoWriMo content: plotting, structuring, and moving scratchpad content into the master draft.

I estimate I’ll need anywhere from another 5,000 to 10,000 words to complete the first draft, but I’ve got a solid plan. I know exactly what scenes I still need to write, what topics I need to research, and what characters need a little more development. 

Now all that’s left is to break down those tasks into small, achievable chunks.

Daily goals

  • Invest one hour daily, early in the morning before starting work
  • Focus on one scene, one research topic at a time

Baby steps are key. One hour, one scene, one topic at a time. By doing this, I will finish the first draft by the end of December. (Let’s just hope December is more conducive to writing than November was.)

Long-term goals

  • Spring 2020: Finish editing the first draft and seek out beta readers
  • Early summer 2020: Revise the final draft and start querying for an agent

Pondering these goals, I panic slightly because I feel I’m racing against the clock. I’d like to publish Escape Artist during my aunt “Lucy’s” lifetime. 

While I realize that six-ish months probably isn’t enough time to get this book where I want it, damnit, I’m going to try. I have to. I’m not giving myself a choice, because I don’t have one.

So that’s how my NaNoWriMo 2019 went — how was yours?

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