The Signified and NaNoWriMo

When I started my thesis, I had this idea for a collection of short stories. Neil Gaiman is a heavy influence on my writing, and I really love the personification of things and the idea that our collective belief and experience can give birth to these entities. But the past few years, I’ve been reading nothing but blackness, and this has seeped into my writing. When I was thinking of this idea, I noticed a few other artists doing the same thing: Lupe Fiasco does it with his Michael Young History Saga with The Streets, The Game. Nas does it with the idea of beef in the song…”Beef” in King’s Disease 3. One of my favorite poets, Steven Willis, does it with “The Hustle.” When I started working on my thesis, I was (still am) coming into my voice and vocation of a writer and what that means to me as a Black American. So I started thinking about things that I considered core to the Black American experience and how they might have manifested themselves. I wanted to write something that was very me, which means mythology, magic, and centering black voices, and something that reflected a lot of the learning and growth I’ve been going through the past few years. My advisor said that sounded really big, and maybe to focus. It was good advice. It’s a huge idea that needed more research and work than would have been possible in the time frame in which I wanted to complete my thesis. So I wrote my short stories about Dre and Lia and a literary framework centering black authors, and it was great.

The idea about this Black pantheon never left me, and ideas started coming to me in their voices. An important aspect of this story is that it not center Black suffering and pain. I want to write stories that speak to how beautiful, how resourceful, how creative, how funny and talented Black people are. But, if there were these deities, I thought, then they would have found their creation in slavery since chattel slavery and its legacy is something unique to the Black experience. But I didn’t want it to be about how awful slavery was and is, but how Black people manage to create culture, story, songs, music, and happiness through it all. I have a poem titled “Diamonds” and the last few lines are Black people are the building blocks of society/Carbon atoms necessary to create/ Anything American/ So Is it any wonder after all of this pressure/That all blackness can create/ Is diamonds? I wanted to write a story around this idea and I kept thinking of what some of the core elements of the Black American experience might be, if personified in a story, and what the name of the Pantheon might be. Neil Gaiman has The Endless. I came up with The Signified, something that, I think sounds dope, and is supremely Black. I’m very happy with this. Right now, there are six, which might change as I write and edit: The Culture, The Hustle, The Song, The Fear, and Joy. The book will be structured similarly to American Gods, where there is the main narrative, and then these interlude chapters detailing a moment where they appear or are given form.

So, after a year of no sustained writing since defending my thesis, I decided to do NaNoWrimo this year. It’s been 5 or 6 years since I last tried it. I’ve only managed to “win” once, and that was over a decade ago. I knew it would be hard…I mean, it’s a lot of writing, I’m pretty busy, I started a new job, etc. But I’m really, really excited about this idea and wanted to try. Even if I didn’t get 50k words, I figured it would be a good start. I usually get to like 25k before I either peter out or make some other excuse to stop. I’ve got a lot of potential novel ideas with about 25k words, haha. But this felt very different from the outset. I’ve rarely been so excited to write, and when I did, it came so very easily. I finished Nano on 11/23, a whole week early. I ended up writing about 2.1k words per day on average. The novel, and how pretentious it feels to say that, is nowhere near complete. It’s so very rough and early. I started thinking it would be a collection of connected short stories and was playing around with POV and different voice, but as I got deeper, I decided it would be a more traditional novel with different character POVs throughout.

Now that I’m done, I’m going to ask a few friends to read what I’ve written and give me some feedback. I’m going to do some character work, some research, and some plotting. The general direction of the story is becoming clear to me, but it’s not quite there. I’m going to set a much more reasonable pace of about 1k/words per day starting in December. I’m hoping to be done with the rough draft around March or April, but until I really get into the weeds and have the story figured out, there’s no real way to know. This idea is huge and intimidating, and I want to make sure I get it as right as I can.

2023 will be the year that I try and get published. I will be applying to PhD programs soon, and I want to look as impressive as possible on paper. That’s part of the reason I took a job teaching. Now my personal and professional goals are going to be overlapping. I’ve suffered from imposter syndrome for a long time. I have a tendency to downplay myself, my writing, my poetry…just myself in general. So 2023, I’m going to believe the people around me I trust instead of the small voice that wants to minimize my presence.

That”s what I’m thankful for on this day. The people in my life that have constantly pumped me up even when I want to slide into the background.

Happy turkey day, everybody.

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