A Writer’s Notebook: NaNoWriMo update #1

Today, I am five days into NaNoWriMo.  My current official word count (not counting the writing I’ve already done today) is 13,666 words, with an average of 3,416.5 words per day.  This is a pretty frenetic pace, really, and I don’t expect to keep it up throughout the month (yesterday, for example, I actually wrote only 1,919 words), but I am trying to stay ahead of the 1,667 daily average necessary to finish the book during November because I’m going on vacation in 10 days and will be taking some time off from the writing.  Last year, I broke the 50,000-word barrier on November 15, which is the date we’re leaving for vacation this year, so if I can keep to that pace, I should be in good shape.

The strange thing is that while I have just as complex and impassioned a vision for this novel as I did for last year’s, I don’t have anything like the same detailed plan or outline for this novel.  Consequently, my writing so far has been all over the place.  I started out pounding through the first several pages, but I soon found myself skipping ahead to a much later scene, then back to fill in some gaps, and, just last night, I jump so far forward I wound up in a completely different chapter.  The energy is still high, but stitching this novel together at the end is going to prove a bit of a chore if I don’t start writing within more defined plans.

Fortunately, this is NaNoWriMo, and the only things that matter here are speed and energy.  Plans and sense are very distant seconds, so I remain free to write whatever, whenever, and I don’t have to worry about any of it making any sense until December, at the earliest.

So, behold the madness: a series of random excerpts from this week’s writing.

Julian walked in the penumbra of an eclipse, himself a light in a darkened world.  So he felt.  Everything, everyone, moved around him without ever touching him.  There was repulsion, the aura around him a warning to others so that no flesh ever touched his on purpose.  Julian walking through the city was a scene in a movie meant to represent something—isolation, loneliness—though for Julian it represented nothing.  It was only truth.  He isolated himself.  Better to walk alone than live the horrors of his thirst.


In the kitchen, the narrow cabinet on the end open, a glass of tomato juice in his hand.  A bottle on the counter: iron supplements.  The maximum milligram dosage.  He took two, downed them with the tomato juice.

Julian kept his pills in here for two reasons.  One, he’d always liked tomato juice, and milk, and other thick drinks, so much so that he even drank them with his vitamins and drugs.  And two, in the kitchen, he didn’t have a mirror.

The iron supplements.  He’d always been anemic, his parents said, and so he’d always had the supplements.  More as he grew older, even though his doctors always told him to ease up, that too much iron could kill him.  And that he wasn’t anemic at all.  Doctors—plural because his parents couldn’t see any other reason for his weakness and switched whenever they got the wrong answer from a doctor.  “Julian is just a feeble child, is all, not a trace of anemia that I can tell.”  Or, “Can I run some tests for drug abuse?”  One doctor had smiled, at Julian like he knew something, and then at Julian’s mother; he said, “He’ll either grow out of it” —then back to Julian— “or he’ll grow into it.  Nothing to worry about, though.”

But his parents always insisted it was something in the blood.  And they’d never been far from the truth.


They looked at each other.  The interviewer set aside his clipboard.

“Hypothetical.  Someone busts in here at three in the morning looking for drugs.  We keep all kinds of tranquilizers in back, for the dogs and the cats.  How would you handle that situation?”

“I’d call the police, sir.  And try to detain the break-in.”


“I’d detain him.”


Julian’s world was going black from the edges, like some dark wall behind him was leaning over and around him, a gaping maw set on swallowing him whole.  When he spoke, he spoke through this other mouth, his own voice an echo in his head.

“I guess it would depend on the situation, on the person.”

The man leaned into Julian’s dark aperture, his mustache huge on his face and moving with the man’s lips as though alive itself, as though the man’s hushed and conspiratorial voice issued not from his throat or his fat mouth but from that thick, bristly strip of hair.

“What I’m asking is, could you hurt a man?”

“Yes sir.”

“If you had to, I mean.”

“Yes sir.”

“If you had to.…”  He rubbed his cheek but stared into Julian’s draped vision, his eyes bulbous….  “is there anything you wouldn’t be willing to do to protect this store?”

Julian closed his eyes.  From outside, he was sure it looked as though he were squeezing them, little wrinkled folds like a chromosome in a high school textbook.  He was squeezing them.  He was desperate to have them shut, whether to keep in his thirst or to close out the smell of this big man’s ruddy skin, his medicinal shampoo, the starch in his polo shirt, his breath, his blood.  Julian pinched his lids against it all.  But when he opened his eyes to answer, the man just sat waiting, and only an instant had passed, and Julian had only blinked.

He said, “Anything.”

“Really,” the man said.  His voice flat.  Disbelieving.  He sat back slightly, thought, then leaned in again.  “You could kill a man if you had to?”

Julian was sick.  He couldn’t think.  He gripped the arms of his chair.  He dreamed of the doorway, the sidewalks, the open night.  Somewhere out there, he was already rushing home.

“If I had to, I’d drink his fucking blood.”


That Sunday, his workweek suspended for a holy day, he walked down to the strips of nightclubs on Bowery, on Houston, on the various numbered streets.  He spoke to no one.  He drank as much as he could afford, but mostly he gorged on the energy drifting into the streets, swimming, terrified, lost, rapt.  Passion in the Greek sense:  to be affected by something, by all things; to feel, to sense.  To be well—or—to suffer horribly, to endure all the violent infections of every sick person who wandered these streets, this city, the earth.  Both—Julian was in the passion of both, a lover dying of orgasm and Christ blissfully flayed on a cross.

And it got worse.  The people around him no longer needed touch to infect him.  They were vectors all, their presence alone enough to thrill him as though with the thousand stingers on a savage swarm of bees.   He left the district dizzy, staggering, unbothered for change.  A market loomed, open late; he entered; he bought a package of ground chuck, five pounds of it, which he tucked covetously under one arm like a child and cradled it home.  There, he stabbed the yellow styrene with a fillet knife two, three times and held it over his open lips to suck the thin fatty blood through.  And when he’d dumped the meat in the freezer and washed the knife, he cut himself as well.

There is no writing exercise to any of this except to write.  Write fast and hard and don’t look back.  I’d call it freewriting, but actually, I’ve been employing a whole slew of exercises this week, from freewriting, to writing to music, to writing to pictures.  Check out my NaNoWriMo page here on the site for more about some of the things I’ve been up to this week.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

2 thoughts on “A Writer’s Notebook: NaNoWriMo update #1

  1. Good luck with this year’s nanowrimo! Looks like you’re already off to a fast start. And thanks for posting some clips from what you’ve done so far. It must be interesting to pull out short pieces from a longer exposition written at a break neck pace and see how they stand on their own.

    1. Thanks! It is interesting on all counts–the writing so fast, the pulling out a few bits, and the seeing how they stand alone. In some ways, I think it’s good training for those occasions when one has to excerpt their longer works for proposals, blurbs, and such. I always overthink those sorts of projects, but with NaNoWriMo, I don’t have time to think, and working from instinct is, on reflection, pretty instructive.

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