Notes on writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days with an inanimate object as narrator.
I’m writing this novel during NanoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November of 2023 where writers and aspiring authors crank out a fifty-thousand word book in thirty days. During this time I’m also taking part in a group writing competition on T2, a blockchain enabled microblogging social platform. You actually may be reading these notes on T2 because I’m going to be publishing them weekly there (here?).
I’ve written a number of books for Nanowrimo in the past. I enjoy the hell out of it. I like the 30 days of intense writing activity. I also seem to thrive on the need to keep my word count going, the chart that shows me where I am in terms of completing a minimum 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I suffer from some pretty intense anxiety and this sort of structured outlet allows me to channel that anxiety and focus it on what I love to do best - create worlds and stories.
This year, I’m doing something very different than I’ve done in the past. During NanoWriMo, since 2011, I’ve written four novels, a holy book (the first version of the Holy BJBLE), and a historical fiction account of the life of Hasan i-Sabah. This year, I am going far more personal and at the same time - impersonal.
My narrator is going to be an inanimate object. The stories my narrator tells are going to be the stories of me and of my family members. There will be fictional elements in this - so I’m not sure it would qualify as memoir or biography, though I will do my best to stick with the historical record as far as it is known to me. The challenge will be to tie family memories and history to both my maternal and paternal ancestry. As everyone knows, as more branches are added, a tree branches out. This creates a challenge in narrating a tale told by a singular object.
My solution is (at least for now) to use a non-linear time structure that not only reaches backwards, but also exists in the present at different points in time. Playing with time makes sense on a different level as well because the object I’ve chosen for my narrator is a pocket watch. Who better to tell a story of time?
I’ve titled my story “I, Watch” which is a play on words in several different directions. This morning on the first day of NanoWriMo, I attempted to elucidate on that and to offer the introduction and first chapter in a way that makes all of this make sense. It was challenging.
The human mind flows in one direction while perpetually missing the present for the past. The present is but an illusion to humanity as they imagine the future and misremember that which has taken place. The truth, as it often does, lies in between. There is no time but time itself - a single entity, a vast single-celled amoeba reflecting past, present, and future in a glistening rainbow mobius strip reeking of burnt toast, dirty diapers, cinnamon, and the early dusk aroma of night blooming jasmine. The description of time is not so much impossible as it is impervious to discernment by the limited capacities of the advanced monkey minds that populate and consume planet earth.
How can I say this? How might I grasp these inconceivable concepts that no human may discern? The answer, my friends, is simple enough. So simple, in fact, that I fear you may misunderstand. In fact, I’m quite certain that misunderstanding is all that you shall do - but I shall try to be patient. In the most simple way possible, only two words are needed. My comprehension is born from what I do and what I am. I watch.
I’m not the first to write a story from the perspective of an inanimate object. My first encounters with this idea were (like most people) in Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz where cards and teapots and flowers all suddenly became personified. It wasn’t until I read Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red that I saw an adult piece of fiction using this idea. While Pamuk’s narrator was the color personified it was also told through both objects (like a coin) and people - I don’t know if I have ever read an entire novel where the story is told by an object. While I’ve not read it, Tibor Fischer wrote a novel in 1997 titled, The Collector Collector which has a bowl as the narrator. Another which I have not read but which came up in an internet search is Autobiographies of a Lump of Coal, a Grain of Salt, a Drop of Water, a Bit of Old Iron, a Piece of Flint, by Annie Carey. This one dates back to 1870. I’m certain there must be others, but I haven’t found them.
So, while this is not uncharted territory, it is certainly not over-explored.
Even if that were the case, the stories I have to tell - those of my ancestors - have never been told. I am hesitant to unwind these tales as I fear that I may not do them justice, but in truth, there is no one better suited to their telling. In the early 1990s, I rather obsessively went on a quest to discover my roots. A large part of this was to help establish my own identity. I hoped that I was more than just the product of a birth defect, broken marriages, and dysfunctional people selfishly clawing their way into creating more dysfunctional folk to carry on their legacy. I discovered a rich history of misfits, pioneers, criminals, lawmen, refugees, and opportunists. I found mysteries that will never be solved. I discovered that it doesn’t take centuries for the unwritten life to disappear, but mere decades.
It’s my hope that in writing ‘I, Watch’ I may actually preserve some of these lives that were lived and are now mostly forgotten. And if I’m being honest, perhaps I am also hoping to give myself a better chance at immortality through undertaking this journey with time.