It is nearly midnight, November 30th, 2011. I am at home wrapped in a blanket my mother made, huddled at my laptop, circa 2005, and I’m writing a novel. I am almost finished really. Though the room is dark, and my husband and children went to bed hours ago, I am not alone. I am writing in a Google Doc and that doc is shared with my students, many of whom are up way past their bedtimes because they too are finishing their novels. Or, in several cases, they are already finished and they are here to encourage or harass me as I write my last few thousand words.
A few days ago I swallowed hard and shared my novel with them as viewers. They can not edit or even comment on it, but they can read it and if I am working on it at the same time they can join me in a chat window on the right hand side of my screen.
Trisha showed up first, “How’s it going Mrs. Roberts?”I paused mid-sentence to reply, and then in desperation, I typed to her, “What would you do for revenge if your little brother sent text messages to your boyfriend pretending to be you?”
This was a serious plot question and, as we discussed possible scenarios, Able opened the document. “Mrs. Roberts, you’re still not done? How many words do you have left?”
I told him and he made the chat equivalent of hysterical laughter, “hahahahahahahah”
Something I might remember when I calculate his citizenship grade next week.
Eventually they had to go and I went back to writing. I had a novel to finish, but I was also desperately concerned about several students who were very close to finishing, but had not opened their documents that evening. Because they are all shared with me in Google Docs I can tell when they work on their novels. I kept checking my Docs list to see if they were editing yet. One by one each of them did arrive. I would chat with them briefly and then let them work, coming back every now and then to check their word count. In another tab I had the NaNoWriMo progress page open and I frequently refreshed to see who had won.
Chance stopped by. He had won several days before. He likewise wanted to know how many words I had left to write. Then, in an effort to be more funny than helpful, he started to tell me exactly how many minutes I had left, “Just two hours and three minutes left. Now two hours and two minutes left.” I ignored him and kept writing.
Julie opened the document, but did not engage in the chat for a while. She was reading. Her first chat message was to tell me how much she liked the first chapter. She was just in time. I was trying to remember if I had ever mentioned my protagonist’s last name. Julie found it in chapter four and let me know. As she read through the novel from the beginning, I raced to finish the end.
Leo was one who logged on late, but he only had a few hundred words to go. I greeted him and let him work, but a few minutes later he opened my document. “I NEED HELP!” he was desperate enough to use all caps for that.
He was having a small technical problem logging into the NaNoWriMo site. I looked up the username and password he had shared with me in a Google form at the beginning of the month and logged in as him. I had no problem. I pasted his novel into the word count verifier from his Google doc and told him he was 97% done. After I logged out he was able to log in himself again and eventually finished just fine, writing over 8,000 words. As with most students, this was the longest writing he had ever done.
As I was writing the last climactic moment of my novel, Troy opened the document and began reading. “Hi Mrs. Roberts. In the first chapter there is a place where you have a b but it should say be.”
“Thanks Troy. We will work on editing next week.”
“Are you almost done?”
“Do you want me to leave you alone so you can keep writing?”
“You sound like you are in a bad mood? Why didn’t you finish yesterday? Did you procrastinate?”
I took a deep breath and suggested that it was late and Troy should get some sleep. Three hundred words later my story was told, all parts accounted for, plot appropriately twisted, characters appropriately dealt with and loopholes casually left open for the sequel. I verified my word count and went to check on students still working.
Noel was still writing at 11:30 pm. She had won several days ago, meeting her lofty 30,000 word goal already, but she was still writing more. I suggested she could go to bed.
I left Donna still writing, less than a hundred words short, and destined to finish in time. She would be the last to finish, but she would finish.
I put myself to bed.
After a month of NaNoWriMo my novel is done. My students novels are done, but there is a new habit I can’t shake and so, I must add, this blog post is 923 words long. And that is really the end.