Writing a Novel in a Month with the Goddess of Death

So there is this crazy thing that happens to many writers in November. It’s called national novel writing month, when writers sign up at www.nanowrimo.org and agree to write a 50,000 word novel in one month.

In many ways I’m not ready (I’ve barely plotted my novel yet) but I do feel lucky to be taking a Writing Your Practice course with Susanna Harwood Rubin, which is lovingly preparing me with its daily writing commitment. This past week we focused on the subject of the first novel I wrote five years ago— Kali.

Goddess Kali Dancing 13 in

If you don’t know her, Kali is the goddess of death and destruction. She wears a necklace made of skulls, holds severed heads covered in blood, her tongue lolling wildly out her mouth. She is unkempt, unladylike, marginal. She is death. She is everything we don’t talk about.

I loved Kali ever since I read an article about her in Yoga Journal.  I had never heard of her before and I loved loved the way Sally Kempton described her as fierce, as unruly. I was awestruck by her wildness, her untameability. I love that she is powerful, that she is wild, that she destroys things, that she tears down walls. Basically, Kali doesn’t give a fuck. She is the very definition of liberation.

Ridiculous as it may seem, Kali reminds me of the Cosby episode when Cliff says to his son, Theo, “I brought you into this world and I will take you out.” In this same way, she represents timelessness, the dark void we are born out of and go back to. When Kali slays demons, she literally devours them up with her tongue. She takes them back into herself, into the everything from where they came from.

Her message of timelessness is comforting. She is the epitome of freedom, slaying everything that blinds us to seeing we are all one, enduring, never really bound to this world. As much as she is everything we don’t talk about, she’s also everything we do. She is limitless pure potential. She is shakti, the underlying primal energy of all things.

Although I’ve been not identifying with Kali as much in the last few months (I’ve been finding that I need a little bit of gentleness in my life right now, and luckily there are plenty of archetypes in eastern mythology for that as well), I’ve been finding that I have a strong Kali energy in me when I write. I rarely have trouble with a blank page. Not because I’m not afraid; I just don’t expect the words to be perfect.

Good or bad, I like when words pour out; I don’t mind writing similar sentences a few times right after each other to experiment with word choice. My words don’t come out shiny and rarely hit the mark right away. But that’s okay, because I never expected them to. In this way, I am lucky and it makes me fearless.

I’m terrified of the revising, the endless editing, the perfectionism that follows, but those first moments? Those Kali moments of streaming your heart out with your words? They’re ecstasy. In those moments I feel like a genius. But not me as much as the world is a genius and its pouring through me. This is when writing doesn’t need to have a point. So much of why I write is to share myself with the world, but writing stream of consciousness is writing for the sake of writing. There’s no goal. It has intrinsic worth even if no one sees it.

So if you want to start a writing practice, or think you want to gear up for nanowrimo, here’s my biggest piece of advice: just write. Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense, if you hate it, if it seems terrible.

You can even write on those feelings: “ok, I’m writing this— I don’t really know why, I feel like a failure because there’s nothing that wants to come out, now my mind is blank blah blah blah.” Let yourself be carried away with the energy of thoughts and write them out as if they were coming from the dark void that is Kali.

Of course there’s more I could say, like choosing a topic you love, a project that has meaning for you, something that will sustain you when you feel like giving up. But I think it’s more important to remember that nanowrimo is not pretty; it’s not time for criticism, perfection, for clean and shiny words. Instead, write with abandon, write like you don’t give a fuck, write like our girl, Kali.

photo 1

Some fave Kali quotes:

“Emboldened by the indwelling of the Mother,
This warrior poet calls out:
‘Listen to me, Death, so your insane pride
Will at last be humbled.
You can take away only this form.
I have already begun my deathless journey,
Chanting Kali! Kali! Kali!’”
— Ramprasad Sen (1720-1781)
photo 2
“Whatever version of Kali you seek out, ‘finding your Kali’ is always about liberation.”-
Sally Kempton

2 Responses so far.

  1. Stefanie says:

    Looking forward to reading your book! Good luck. This is my first Nanowrimo too. I appreciate your advice!

    • Barbara Joy says:

      That’s so exciting Stefanie! I will email you the activities happening in our area related to nanowrimo– would love to meet you in person to discuss our love of writing and yoga!

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