Novel Writing as a Woman of Color: My Inspirations for NaNoWriMo 2014


This month I embarked on a journey that I’ve set out upon only once before — to write an entire novel in 30 days.

Well, to be more specific I’m continuing a novel that I previously started. I had about 13,000 words sketched out on a story that’s loosely based on a period of my life in DC, and I decided to add 50,000 words to it during the month of November. Ambitious? Certainly. Achievable? Yes.

Two years ago I started a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) novel from scratch. I was impressed with myself for having made it almost halfway through — hitting the 22,000 word mark before losing the discipline and petering out for the rest of the month. I feel like I learned two things about myself through the trial: 1) that I have it in me to write a novel, and 2) that I have a need to write stories that connect to my direct experiences.

The second point is why I didn’t manage to finish my first shot at NaNoWriMo. I tried to write a story that was completely unconnected to race and gender struggles and had a hard time getting the words to resonate with me as I went on. This year, I’ve taken a different approach, talking about race, class, and gender issues through the lens of fiction.

I’m inspired by writers like Junot Diaz and Jesmyn Ward as I write — two authors who seem to draw heavily on personal experience and a strong sense of the cultures and geographies they represented or touched growing up. I couldn’t imagine either of them trying to write a story that wasn’t steeped in those personal backgrounds.

I’m also thankful as I write that I have the time and energy to be attempting something like a novel. I’m reminded why poetry, spoken word, and short stories are also really important mediums of writing to support. Many working class people of color may only have a few moments each day to write down a thought or a line they developed during the day, regardless of the untapped talent they might have. I also believe that poetry sometimes offers a means of expression that is gentler to the traumas that many people of color, and women and/or LGBTQ folks in particular might encounter. I’m thinking of the wonderful writing that Audre Lorde and Nikki Giovanni left for us to absorb, and I’m impressed with the bravery that so much of their writing required, particularly at the time it was published.

Finally, I’m happy about the ways writing a novel has helped me appreciate reading one. There’s nothing like trying to capture a scene with fresh and insightful wording to make me understand the talent and editing prowess of authors I read daily. Whatever I come out of this month with will certainly need a lot of love and editing attention, but it’s been a fun personal challenge, and I’m looking forward to reaching the finish line.

If anyone else is doing NaNoWriMo this year and wants to connect, you can find my profile here.


  1. Best of luck with NaNoWriMo! I’m pleased to hear that you are writing about class, gender and race issues. Good fiction reflects the real world in all its nuances. A book without those issues would be missing several chapters.

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