My bags are packed. I’m ready to go. Insert Peter, Paul and Mary here because I am, in fact, leaving on a jet plane, and I don’t know when I’ll be back again. I have a general idea because a return date is printed on my ticket, but it snows in Wisconsin. If it snows, I’ll be delayed.
I like to travel, especially when I don’t have to drive. The possibilities are endless. I’m bringing about 150 books (e-readers are the best!), music, snacks. The kid in me is wired up and fired up. Not because of the books, though, or the secret stash of Cliff bars, or the Lunchable my husband bought me for the flight (Shut up. I’m really eight.). That kid is tickled pink over the brand new legal pad stashed in my backpack.
Back in the days before laptops and desktops and the little electronic typewriter and the gigantic IBM typewriter circa 1944 that shook the walls every time I hit “return,” there were legal pads, bought with my own money. They were impractical and unconventional, so no legal pad ever appeared on my school supply list. When I ventured to the store to buy them, they had a purpose all their own. No mundane notebook filler, legal pads were intended for greatness. As a seventh grader, I wrote my first novel on a series of them. Those battered yellow tablets are stashed in the garage somewhere. Not somewhere. I know exactly where they are. I leave them there. It’s better to let sleeping dogs lie.
For over a year I carried those tablets everywhere, writing anywhere I could, squeezing in a few sentences here, a paragraph there. They were my best teachers. Through my work on yellow legal pads, I learned about hyperbole (mostly how to do it badly), and that sleep can be lost over sticky plot points. I learned that no one ever died over torn pages, although they might feel like it at the time. I learned that there are critics everywhere and that sometimes when kids see you spending more time with a pad of paper than with actual humans, they think you’re a little weird. And that weird can be good.
I let an adult read my book once. At the time, I was cocky and full of my own self-importance. I was thirteen and had written a book. I was golden. I had not learned that first drafts are word-vomit or that every writer needs an editor. I now try to imagine that teacher’s impression of my work. And I cringe. My writing then was so raw, the very essence of my burgeoning teenage self. I didn’t wear a mask back then. My hopes, my dreams, my insecurities are contained in those pages, bared to the world. Now I could no more let someone else read that early work than I could walk naked across the town square. They are essentially the same, you know. I can’t even bear to reread them myself. I’m not ready for that level of exposure
My husband bought me a new tablet tonight. I added it to the shopping list, and when I came home it was there on the counter. It’s yellow, and it’s new, and it’s waiting for me. I have plans for this pad, oh yes, I do. First and foremost, NaNoWriMo is coming. I signed up again this year, and I’m getting ready. On the pages of this legal pad, I will meet my characters for the first time. I will learn their names and their history. We will plan their story; what was, and what I hope will be. It’s the best present.
If you are signing up for NaNo, too, and leave your user name, I’ll add you as a buddy. I’ll meet you at the corner store to buy a box of Runts, and we can stay up all night plotting and planning whole new worlds. I can’t wait.