For years, I’ve watched the approach of November and NaNoWriMo with a kind of voyeuristic enthusiasm (tinged by a touch of self-conscious guilt) as my friends slogged away at the process of giving life to a whole new world. Each November, I consider participating for the briefest of moments before quickly coming up with approximately 783 (and counting) excuses for why participating in the novel-writing process seems more insurmountable than the Khumbu Icefall; the idea seemed both preposterous and inherently perilous.
Fresh from my Rusticatio Biduum, however, I’m feeling invigorated and excited to jump headfirst into such a venture with one small tweak: I will write a novella in Latin. After all, as discussed extensively by Latin teachers who strive to incorporate Comprehensible Input into their classrooms, there is a dearth of compelling reading materials for the beginning and intermediate Latin students. Itinera Petri: Flammae Ducant and Pluto: Fabula Amoris are recent published attempts to fill this void, and both novellas are engaging and, more importantly, accessible to high-school Latin students.
Unlike the traditional novel written in NaNoWriMo, I am aiming to write about 5,000 (not 50,000!) words. I plan to try to restrict my list to the 50 Most Important Latin Verbs as constructed collaboratively on the Latin Best Practices List Serve.
This undertaking may end up being more ambitious for me than the traditional 50,000 NaNoWriMo novel because I am yoking the traditional writer’s concerns about plot and character development with my concerns about butchering a language that I love. Yet, as I told my students when I taught English and as Anne Lamott said so much more eloquently than I ever could, it “is a fantasy of the uninitiated” to assume that successful writers “take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter.” Instead, these authors write really, really shitty first drafts.
So, I am going to try to lower my affective filter, accept that I would make Cicero weep for shame, and write that shitty draft in Latin. Yes, I will make mistakes. Yes, it’s entirely likely that Cicero would weep. I can fail though only if I refuse to write for fear of these inevitable mistakes. I am going to revise that shitty first draft substantially after I make these egregious sins of grammar and vocabulary, and hopefully the revision process will prevent Cicero from returning through the Gate of Horn (or Ivory!) to wreak vengeance.
In the meantime, I hope very much that other fellow enthusiasts or teachers of Latin will consider the tremendously imprudent adventure of trying to navigate the treacherous Khumbu Icefall alongside me. After all, part of the NaNoWriMo process (as I understand it) is to be bolstered by a community of your peers, and we Latinists already share such strong amity that I hope to not to venture onto that icefall without at least one comrade and a strong lead line. If you’re interested in sharing the adventure with me, I’d love to hear from you!