It’s a little over halfway through the month, which means we’re a little over halfway through NaNoWriMo, and I am behind by about 3 or 4 days. One of the ways I use NaNo (and there are many ways to use NaNo besides writing a novel) is to check in with myself about writing. What’s my process now? What are my fears, my anxieties? But this year I also wanted to win. I told myself I wanted to get out a 50k garbage draft as a way of clearing out the mental pipes and to try and write daily again. But I also wanted a gold star for something, a little rush of success in a year when I’ve only had three stories out and missed every self-imposed novella deadline.
I have, kind of, sort of, succeeded.
The past few years have been hard. All sorts of sorrows un-grieved, work changes, health changes. No major crises (thank fuck!!), but a series of little earthquakes, not worth even commenting on … until you look around and see the cracks and debris everywhere. (This may be a post of many metaphors. I apologize in advance.)
NaNo has shown me that all of that is with me now when I write, a kind of constant weight that keeps distracting me. I don’t remember the last time I slept through the night, and the thoughts I have in the darkness of 3 am are depressed ones that I have to slowly, painfully unravel before I can get back to sleep. I have developed a long to-do list over the last few years, so many things put off because of money or just not feeling well; that hovers over me now, distracting me at every pause. All this has placed me at a low ebb emotionally: I find myself skipping sad or angry scenes, shying away from inflicting on my characters the situations I know they must face.
And yet … and yet, I am writing every day. It has been months since I managed a daily practice (the last time was probably last year’s NaNo, when I drafted The Painter’s Widow up to That Scene and then put it aside because I just couldn’t bear to write it) but here I am on a Tuesday morning, tapping out these words and more, pasting last night’s laptop scribbles into the larger Scrivener file. I am still overwhelmed and still low on spoons and sleep, I am behind and may not win, but I am getting words out every day.
Years ago Daniel José Older wrote a lovely piece on how writing begins with forgiveness. And yes, it’s primarily about not writing every day, the exact opposite of the NaNo model (they even give you little badges for it!) But for me, what I needed most this November was to remember that I am capable of doing this. Which is yet another way to use NaNo: to find your way back to something you thought you’d lost, even if it will only be to lose it again. To make peace with all of that, to start exploring ways to move forward without it. Which is in itself a kind of forgiveness.