Hello all! It’s been a hot minute. Life’s been crazy, NaNoWriMo has been failing. Everything is wild. But nevertheless, I’m here to update you on the writing of my current WIP The Dancer’s Handbook of Love and Other Illnesses. It’s a Young Adult Contemporary, dealing with issues of chronic illness, friendship, love, disability pride and acceptance, and ableism. Here’s the little blurb I wrote up for it during my introduction post last month:
Eliza doesn’t have time to be sick, not with the chance to become an internationally renowned tap dancer finally within her grasp.
There’s only one problem. She is sick, diagnosed at age 13 with a condition, the name of which might as well be alphabet soup. And, worse yet, nobody knows. Not even her best friend.
A chance meeting with Jordan, another sick kid with an alphabet-soup diagnosis, finally gives her someone who understands. And, if she’s honest, Jordan is kind of cute.
But Eliza doesn’t have time for any of that–sickness, cute boys, or flares. She’s determined to win her scholarship to America, and nothing is going to get in the way of that.
So, how’s NaNoWriMo been going? Let’s take a look!
How’s the writing going overall?
So I think that answers the question.
Truthfully though, I’m trying not to be too hard on myself. The hospital where I work has been moving into a new building, which as you can imagine has been a monumental task. And I’ve had assessments pretty much every week this month and I’m very tired. I’m also still dealing with illness, and general covid stress, and my dogs. It’s a lot. So I’m happy with what I’ve got done. The way I see it, is that there’s no point burning myself out writing a book about being kind to yourself and having pride in yourself when you’re disabled or chronically ill. It would be just slightly hypocritical.
NaNoWriMo has been a bust, but I’m okay with that.
What’s been the most fun aspect about writing this novel so far?
I think the chance to experiment with a different set of tropes and settings and characters to what I’m used to. So far in my writing career, I’ve written historical, fantasy, historical-fantasy, and dystopian, but I’ve never written contemporary before. While I don’t think contemporary will ever be my “thing”, I love this story. And I’ve loved the chance to try different tropes, to write a super contemporary meet-cute. And to not worry about historical accuracy, or the fashion of the time period, or using modern slang. It’s been very good.
What do you think of your characters at this point? Who’s your favourite to write about?
I love my characters! So far I have four main ones, and I’d love to tell you all about them.
First up, we’ve got our main character, Eliza West. Eliza is sick, and thinks the best way to recover from being sick is…well, pretending not to be sick. Which, surprisingly literally no-one, does not work. I love her. She’s dedicated, hard-working and full of so much grief over the loss of her dreams. She’s trying to put her life back together in the only way she knows how…and it’s kinda not working. My poor girl.
Then we have Eliza’s mum, who actually doesn’t have a name. I should get onto that, I suppose. She’s a tough woman, but at the end of the day she’s like her daughter. She’s broken and she’s just trying to hold on and do whatever she can for Eliza. It’s all a bit too much for her, but she’s trying.
Of course, we also have Jordan, my boy. He’s really proved himself to be quite a character and I love him so much. He’s literally just…so passionate. He loves cryptozoology (which we’ve bonded over), the Mothman is definitely his favourite, just in case you’re wondering. He’s also giving me serious Autism vibes, so I’ve been wondering whether I should just go yeah, he’s autistic and make it canon, or wait a bit and see how it goes.
Then there’s Tara, who’s Eliza’s best friend. A fellow tap dancer, Tara is a real girly girl and I love her. She’s into sparkly sequins and pink things, and fangirls over Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley like a 60s teenager. She’s really fun, but I haven’t had a chance to really dig into her character, though I know I will before the end of the book!
Who’s my favourite to write about? I’m not sure…actually, definitely Jordan. I love him.
Has your novel surprised you in any way?
Hmm…not really that I can think of? It’s gone to plan pretty well so far, and I’m happy with that. No doubt before the end it will throw up a couple of huge surprises.
Have you come across any problem areas?
I’m almost at the end of my outlined material…and I have no idea what happens next. So that’s a problem!
What’s been your biggest victory with writing this novel at this point?
Hmm…not sure? I’m only 10k words in, so I don’t really feel like I have any victories as of this point! I might have to revisit this question when I’ve written a bit more.
If you were transported into your novel and became any one of the characters, which one do you think you’d be? Would you take any different actions than they have?
Probably Eliza! Eliza is quite different to me, but pretty similar in some areas. We both love dance, and we struggle with dealing with equal parts ambition and chronic illness. Then again, I also have a lot of similarities with Jordan, we’re both obsessed with cryptozoology, just for example. I would definitely like to make a YouTube career out of talking about mythological monsters and folktales. Sounds like a dream.
Would I take any different actions? Well, I definitely wouldn’t have made the decision which kicks off the novel. Essentially, Jordan interviews Eliza in a doctor’s waiting room, and then gives her his number. And then they meet up at a cafe. Basically all of those things would have set off my stranger danger alert right away and I definitely would not have done them.
Give us the first sentence or paragraph then 2 (or 3!) more favorite snippets!
Here’s the opening! I kind of like, but also I’m very insecure about it. What writer isn’t?
The dentist’s office would have been better than here.
At least young people see dentists just as much as everyone else. When you sit in a dentist’s waiting room, you can take a quick glance around the stuffy little place and see a pretty even sampling of humanity. Little kids, young mothers, middle-aged men, elderly couples with dentures.
The rheumatologist’s waiting room isn’t like that.
And here’s a couple of other snippets! I love sharing snippets!
It only distracts me for a few minutes, before a sharp pain shoots through my ankle, something akin to what I imagined being shot would be like. I hiss, then immediately jerk up my facade again. Despite the fact that everyone in this waiting room is here for one reason—muscular-skeletal pain—to show actual signs of pain is off-limits. It makes people uncomfortable.
“Let me get this straight,” Tara says, leaning against the wall as she pulls her silver tap shoes on. “You met a boy in a dentist waiting room who asked your opinion on a literal cryptid?”
I wince at the sound of my lie coming out of her mouth, but I nod. “Yup. That’s the long and the short of it.”
Tara laughs, straightening up and clicking her shoes against the wooden floor experimentally. “That’s weird.”
Tapping out a quick timestep as an ankle warm up, I shrug. “It was kinda cute though. You should have seen him talking to the old lady who was sitting with us. It was super sweet.” I hesitate, tapping a few more times as I deliberated on what more I should tell her. “He gave me his number too.”
An unabashed snort erupts from Tara’s nose and then she’s bent double, laughing. “He gave you his number?” she asks. “So he could talk to you about the Loch Ness Monster?” from her tone, I realise that’s she thanking her lucky stars that something that sounds like its from a cringey romance novel was actually happening to her in real life. It was just too good to be true, no doubt a very similar scene was going to appear in her next novel.
My phone buzzes in my pocket and I pull it out, grateful for the distraction. I’m expecting another text from Tara, or maybe from Chantelle, but it’s neither.
Instead, Jordan’s name greets me.
Hey, what about tomorrow after school? 3:15 at the library?
Something snaps in me. I stare at the messenger app for a minute and then, before I lose my nerve, I quickly type back a reply.
Hey, thanks for the offer. Sorry, I don’t think I can meet up with you after all. I’m actually super busy with my HSC stuff and dancing. I don’t really have time to hang out. Sorry.
I hesitate for only a second, then I press the send icon. A soft whoosh tells me that my missive is on it’s way. A moment later, the app tells me that Jordan has opened my message. Then the three little dots that mean he’s typing pop up, bouncing up and down at the bottom of the screen, as if they’re taunting me.
I stare at them for a moment, and then, just as suddenly as they appeared, they vanish. I see that Jordan is now offline, and I feel a little rush of relief.
But after all, he’s just some random kid I met at the rheumatologist’s office. I don’t owe him anything, I barely even know him. I put my phone on aeroplane mode, so that no more messages can bother me, and go to bed, bones, muscles and heart all aching.
Share an interesting tidbit about the writing process so far! (For example: Have you made any hilarious typos? Derailed from your outline? Killed off a character? Changed projects entirely? Anything you want to share!)
I’m sure I’ve made plenty of hilarious typos, I always do. But I haven’t read through my work thoroughly enough to find any of them! I haven’t killed off any characters (yet), it’s a contemporary romance. I’m not killing off any characters (I hope).
Anyway, there’s not been a lot of interesting behind the scenes with this one, it’s mostly just been a slow slog, getting out a 100 words at a time. It’s been super slow and I’ve been struggling with that. It’s hard not to compare me to my former self, who once smashed out a 90k novel in three weeks. I know I shouldn’t be doing that. Little Chelsea was a completely different person from current Big Chelsea. Little Chelsea didn’t have a job, or study, or dogs, or trauma, Big Chelsea has all of those things, and some more. So of course I’m not going to write super fast, I have so many other responsibilities that unfortunately require first priority. I’m learning to be ok with not being a fast writer anymore, even though it hurts.
Take us on a tour of what a normal writing day for this novel looks like. Where do you write? What time of day? Alone or with others? Is a lot of coffee (or some other drink) consumed? Do you light candles? Play music? Get distracted by social media (*cough, cough*)? Tell all!
There really isn’t a normal writing day for me anymore, but here’s how a few days went:
Get up, go to work. Work for eight hours, go shopping, get home, feel exhausted for an hour or so, and then drag myself to my laptop to drag out a few hundred words, then collapse in exhaustion again. I would like to say it was something different, but there really wasn’t anything else.
However, like always, I did have some writing rituals. One is that this has been a real fruit tea type of book. Some books aren’t, you need to understand. Some books are like, coffee books, or regular tea books, or even herbal tea books. But this one is definitely a fruit tea book. My favourites so far have proved to be Blood Orange, Strawberry + Raspberry and Peach + Pineapple.
I also have a fun music playlist for this book, which I enjoy listening to. It’s mostly Ed Sheeran, Little Women soundtrack, some Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley for the tap vibes, and a dash of Adele and Taylor Swift. It’s different to my usual tastes, but I quite like it.
And of course I get distracted by social media. Who doesn’t?
How was your NaNoWriMo? Did you finish your novel or are you still plodding away, like me? Tell me all about your current work in progress! What’s featured on your playlists?