No, I’m celebrating an anniversary and don’t care what anyone thinks of how I choose to celebrate (even if I’ve never printed out the certificate and added my name).
After twelve years away from my deepest love affair (that would be writing), I jumped back in with the challenge of National Write A Novel Month. For several years I’d been wondering if the love was gone and I should move on to something else, but when the challenge loomed in the future, all questions were answered and there was no way I was going to hold back. It seemed impossible, but a little motto my daughter and I share is: If it’s not impossible, why bother doing it?
It changed everything.
We’d just moved here to the south and were missing home and family so much it hurt physically. During the month of NaNo our daughter was coming for a visit, so I had to budget my writing time to leave room for drinking her in and keeping focus on every precious second she was here.
Oh, shit. That pumped the necessary daily word count up to the stratosphere. I endured a great deal of fear and trembling, but not preparation. Why prepare for something when the option of emotional turmoil was on the horizon. Geesh. Coming back to a lost love can make an idiot of a person.
But like a corny movie with lovers running towards each other with outstretched arms, I let the emotions roil as I waited for the start date and running, running, running in place like a rat on a wheel.
That was a mistake.
I missed a local kick off party and the chance to meet new people with a shared passion. I missed finding where the coffee shop was that local participants would meet every Tuesday night for a shared writing marathon. That was a huge opportunity missed because I was still ending up in Oklahoma no matter where I wanted to be when I hit the road, and, yes, I ended up deep in the dark wilderness of Oklahoma the first time I tried to make the Tuesday meeting.
But that’s all I missed. The social part and meeting new people when I was so terribly lonely.
As far as the writing went, coming late to the party, overwhelmed by nerves and doubts, was the best thing for me. Perhaps not the smartest move for every writer, and not the way I’ll approach it this time, if I decide to participate, but for coming back Home, it was my ticket to ride. The nerves kept me pumped better than a quad Venti mocha, and the lack of preparation + determination to finish helped me understand writing was never something I did, it’s who I am.
On November 1, I opened my laptop and started writing without so much as a clue about what genre I’d be writing in or a single character in mind. I just wanted to come Home, and it didn’t matter how raggedy my soul or clothes or grooming were, I just had to get there.
A week into the event, surprising myself day after day by exceeding my word count and meeting situations and characters that scratched their way into being on the computer screen, I hit a wall. A deeply personal and painful wall. The realization that I was writing out the cause of those twelve years away from writing was like walking into a chamber of viruses that attacked me all at once and made me violently ill. And behind schedule with my word count.
Oh, boy, did I cry. I cried for days as I fell further and further behind with my writing. And more terrified that I’d not simply unleashed a beast that had kept me from writing all those years, but an epic beast that would rip at me until I was so torn I wouldn’t be able to enjoy our daughter’s visit. I cried because something bigger than my craft, my art, and my Home had taken over. I cried because I felt I’d been a poseur in my previous life with the written word and had no “talent” at all.
That’s a great place for a writer to be. It’s practice because it’s a place we’ll visit over and over again if we’re ripping our stories from the fibers of our hearts and souls and the nether reaches of the inside gore of our bodies.
We learn to recover, leaning on our lover, stand straight and get back to work. Or we learn it was just a crush and time to move on to something else. We learn to face head on whatever stands between us and our purpose, flip it off, and in a deadly whisper, tell it, “Out of my way, you bastard. You’re just not that important.”
In short, you find you’ve got to pull yourself out of your own melodrama, your own story, and read it cover to cover. Twice. You find perspective. You learn who you are, what you are, and you grow and grow and grow until the BS of your personal woe becomes a pesky spider you heartlessly crush with your bare foot.
I finished with 50,000+ words in 23 days. No thought, time, or drama intruded on my time with the kid. It’s a month I will always celebrate.
I didn’t complete a novel in a month, but I did complete myself.
That’s the beauty of NaNo. You can make it whatever you want, get out of it whatever you need. And you get to decide if it’s going to change you for the better or worse and find out which one your bones prefer. You find out if writing is more important to you than praise of good writing. You discover if writing is one of those hobbies you flit around and leave if it gets challenging or boring, or if it’s the electrical current that keeps your heart pumping.
You learn what you’re willing to sacrifice, and how good sacrifice can feel.
This time, if I decide to participate, my approach will be different. I’ve got a memoir I’ve been toying with for far too long that needs a nudge into shape. I’ll start with an idea, a direction, and reams of notes. It will be more like a month of sculpting the raw material.
Or maybe I’ll skip it. Once NaNo changed me, I took on a one-day 10,000 word challenge and completed a smidge over 6,000 words, even with a late start, and then took on a 5,000-word-per-day challenge with a friend. There’s no longer a fear of the words not being there, nor is there a fear of writing crap. The words will show up when called on, and there’s no doubt that frantic writing will produce rubbish. I’m fine with that now. Writing horribly is now an accepted and expected part of the process. Bring it. I’ll fix it as I try again and again, then move on to another project with impossible demands.
I’ve also learned that I value words that count over word counts. I’ve learned I’d rather labor over 250 words per day that do word sprints because that’s my process. But I’ve also learned that spilling words without tangled, frightened thoughts can purge personal melodrama like a scythe clearing thick and prickly underbrush, leaving a path more clearly visible.
I’ll have to think on it a bit before committing to this year’s NaNo, being sure of only one thing: It always serves a purpose, even if that purpose is deciding not to participate.
Make NaNo what you want to make it, and grow a Home from the seed it plants.