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Oops: How I Almost Killed Myself Writing a Novel in a Month

Attempting to die in the snow

It was December 1st, 2007, and I had just finished my first successful NaNoWriMo. If you are unfamiliar, those who participate in NaNoWriMo endeavor to write a 50,000 word novel each November, and those who succeed are championed as winners. Today in 2017, people from all over the world are going to reach (or have already reached) that 50,000 word goal. Two hours ago, I reached 50,014 words, took a bite of a sandwich, and declared victory.

Back in 2007, on top of finishing NaNoWriMo, I crashed my car into a snowbank.

I grew up in Minneapolis. I would like to offer a disclaimer that Minneapolis is not a snowy wasteland 365 days out of the year, but it certainly was that night. December 1st was the Thank God It's Over Party, an international holiday in celebration of no long having to write 50,000 words in a month. That year, the Minneapolis NaNoWriMo contingent held their event at The Loft Literary Center (a fabulous place, by the way). Outside, a blizzard was belching out a last huff of ice and snow. I went to the party anyway, which meant driving downtown from the outskirts of the city. The lines on the freeway had disappeared. It was every car for itself, moving along slowly, guided by Minnesota Nice and fear.

That's not when I crashed the car. I got to the event all in one piece, and had a marvelous time mingling, sharing passages of my novel with the other writers, and drinking warm beverages. NaNoWriMo made me realize that it was possible to finish huge projects: that of course it was possible, because a great number of people had tackled the same huge enterprise as me and succeeded.

It was after I left the party that the poor decisions began to pile up.

I had parked on a dark side street. I started the car and turned up the defrost, and scraped off ice that had built up on the windshield. But I didn't realize the extent to which the wrath of winter had attacked the glass.

This is a car windshield covered in ice:

Car covered in ice

This is bubble wrap:

Bubble Wrap

One should not drive with either bubble wrap or ice on the windshield. But I did. When I pulled onto Washington Avenue, I realized that I couldn't see anything except a kaleidoscope of brilliant reds, greens, and yellows. Most likely stoplights, though I couldn't be sure. I thought to myself, "I can't see at all. Perhaps I should pull over." I quickly countered this thought with, "But if I cannot see, I should not pull over. What if I hit someone?" My final idea was to turn onto the freeway where it was dark, and therefore (in my mind) the windshield glass would be perfectly see-through (because there would be no city lights reflecting off the bubble-wrap ice formations). The perfect plan.

My hypothesis was never tested, because the car immediately hit a patch of ice and careened off of the entrance ramp into a snowbank. As I slid into the snow, I thought to myself, "Well, if I die, at least I've written a novel." When I didn't die, and was safely stuck in that snowbank, I took time to reflect and to, at last, properly defrost the windshield. I called my mom. "I missed the guardrail by inches!" She was not pleased. "Oh, and two men I think are here to help, probably, bye!" I'm glad I wasn't my mother that day.

The two men did, indeed, help push me out of the snowbank. I got home safely. I should probably have been grounded, but my dad is an enabler. When I was learning to drive, he had me drive up a steep icy hill in the dead of winter in the middle of the night. I rolled back down twice, and by the third time up there was a huge truck blocking half the road. But I made it. There was a proud father-daughter bonding moment between us.

I'm glad I didn't die in a fiery snowy car crash. I'm thrilled for self-driving cars to become publicly available.

In honor of everyone who wins NaNoWriMo today, as well as anyone who has ever picked up a pen, I'd like to share the charts of my NaNoWriMo word counts over the last 6 years. Some years may inspire you as to my diligence and dedication, others to my sheer lack of planning. November 30th, 2015, in which I wrote 30,000 words that day, will always hold a fond place in my memory.

If I can offer any advice, it would be twofold. Keep writing, and always defrost your windshield.

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