“What day is November 1st?” A normal question to ask, although only avid NaNoWriMo participants may realize the importance of it. “Tuesday,” is the answer that echoed from the kitchen. Mentally, I calculate: midnight, Monday 10/31, I have my Geography Lab from 8:00AM to 9:50AM (if I don’t withdraw from the class…) on Tuesday the first. So, it will hurt—but at least I can be thankful of no work to clock in to. A small mercy, that. A pang of sadness that our local NaNoWriNo group has a schism, creating a new branch under which I now reside. My writing friend is on the other side (that’s you, Dana) and I look forward to seeing her at the Midnight Kick Off Party each year. I believe I went last year but now I can’t remember. Some friend I am! (There is no debate here, I am a shitty friend.)
I have “failed” the last few years of National Novel Writing Month (I passively recognize the tactic behind spelling that title out: for word count)—and all the recent months—to write. Once 50,000 words was a delightful, daunting challenge that I knew, deep down, I could always overcome. But once you “lose” for the first time, it is easy to get discouraged—permanently or so it seems.
Every November—and the months leading up to it—for the past few years I have “written about writing.” Promised myself this time, surely this time, I would not fail. I reaffirm how dedicated and awesome I am, talk about past “wins” and, in general, get stupidly excited. It’s a motivational tactic. Then, suddenly its midnight on November 1st and I feel like shit. All my ideas: gone. My motivation: wavering. My excitement: smoldering out to anger. I fail over the next 30 days by doing, sometimes quite literally, anything but writing. So what has changed? Does it really matter? What will it take to restore my belief in myself, my dedication to the craft, my focus?
I know what I would prefer—my friend Dana to remind me I’m awesome (and shameless). For the people who once waited very patiently for me to release my latest, unpolished, unedited chunk of story across the internet—to acknowledge me again. For the words to “flow easily” or to greet me without resistance. I think that is the definition of “easy,” which is why it won’t happen, ever. There may have been a brief, fleeting moment in my life where the “act of writing” was easy and without resistance. Those days are over now. My veil of invulnerability has been sliced through.
I am not certain when I became, socially and mentally (and, let’s face it, emotionally) so incredibly dependent upon the praise and acknowledgement of others. Some people in my life, at this exact moment, are thinking: “Michelle, you’ve always been self-centered, this isn’t new.” A harsher, sickening voice in my head echoes, “Michelle, it isn’t always about you.” (Yes it is!) Why is my own success, my own work—my own praise—no longer sufficient? This sounds like I am blaming others: no, I am not. No one else can “win” NaNoWriMo for me. No one else can write those bitter, 50k words. Or any bitter words that spew from my brain to my keyboard. Perhaps no one else can be consistently happy for me but me.
That is unfair to the people in my life who have exhaustively remained dedicated to my writing even when I myself have not been: Mason, Stephanie, Dana. My mother. My cousin Denise. I’d like to also believe my Aunt Deb, secretly from the shadows. I do you all a disservice if I do not* [pause to Tweet about a typo] acknowledge your belief in me. I thank you and anyone else reading and feeling slighted; I love you. Now, how do I love myself enough to keep writing without your coveted attentions? If I was the last person alive, like some episode of the Twilight Zone (you’ve seen it), would I still write? With no one around to impress? No ‘like’ button to press? Would I somehow still survive without that nourishment to my ego?
Somehow, yes, I would like to believe I would (and that it would be the least of my survival problems), just like I would like to believe that this November, maybe, just maybe, I will write and win NaNoWriMo. How do I recover my writing confidence? School has got me so busy and, I fear, too preoccupied/stressed/deeply saddened. There is also the business of my business but I need to believe that I won’t allow it to seriously hinder my creative efforts. [Shameless plug: I am the Distracted Dragon now. Dragons are cool. I sell custom designed 1.5” buttons, magnets, key chains and 3.5” drink coasters on my website or Facebook store]
I have successfully been waking early and arriving to campus between 6:30 and 7:00AM (that means I am awake roughly between 5:15 and 5:30, depending how much Mason wants to risk physical harm in rousing me). A few days (but not many) I have sat down to hand write before the campus Writing Center opens at 8AM. Then I turn that introspective into a blog. In this case, we’re calling it a “pity blog” but I hope that by the end of it, we’ll both see that I’ve turned myself around and am picking myself up by my bootstraps. Except I’m wearing Uggs today. I’m somehow hoping that, somewhere, someone will note that I am making an effort. Writing is hard. But writing, once you’ve lost faith in yourself, is even worse. Once I was confident, naïve, about my own literary shortcomings—I still am, I am and will always be, a student—but I wasn’t so hyper-aware or worried about that fact. Once, I was simply happy to write. Proud, even. Proud to be making my dreams a reality, unlike so many others out there who gave them up in favor of jobs or families (ha ha, suckers**). No, I was different and that meant I could write 50,000 words and “win” because I had what it takes (I am detecting some verbiage borrowing from a character from LOST here).
And then I look back at my train wreck of a manuscript, get so overwhelmingly lost and discouraged about the prospect of the second draft, that I bury that manuscript in the litter box and never look back. Murder, I can do. Cleaning up after the murder is what gets me caught every time. But I can stab a bitch 50,000 times (you know, like 50,000 words in November, I’m being funny, not psycho) and not blink as the blood sprays against my skin, gets salty droplets in my eyes, fills my nose with an acrid stench. Froths at the corners of my mouth, pounds in my chest, makes my hands and stomach tremble. No, the act of writing is bloody and messy and angry for me personally. It is the aftermath, the reality, the real, actual work of revision and cleaning up that stops me in my tracks. The bumbling, curious police officer (why am I picturing deputy sheriff Barney Fife now?) who just happens to be my next door neighbor. It complicates the task of murder tremendously. Even acts of passion are halted by the neighbor walking their dog or watering their lawn. I can’t just grab a knife anymore, my hand shakes too much. I can’t just soak the pages in blood. Go away, officer. Get off my lawn.
So how do I convince this nosey police officer, this nagging personification of doubt and shame, this “internal affairs” guy to mind his own damn business? From calling me in the middle of the night to ask what the noise is all about? How do I get past the act—and to the scrubbing, the rolling onto the carpet, the crying and shaking in the bath tub part?
I keep stabbing until I have no room left. Until I’m buried in either manuscripts or bodies. Like the unsuspecting police on Mr. Frost’s lawn (Jeff Goldblum, my favorite film of his). I just have to write. That is the only advice I’ll ever get from “actual” authors when they learn I’m not actually writing. The only advice I’d give myself if I was still in the business of giving unsolicited advice.
“You can’t write a novel in your head.” I knew someone once who used to inspire me by their ludicrous notions of writing. They claimed to have great and numerous story ideas (lies) brimming in their head. They “thought” about writing often but blamed their unfinished (no, un-started) manuscripts on being unable to put those genius words down on paper. Claimed (if I remember correctly) that between thinking about writing and the actual act-of, they lost connection with all their epic ideas. You know what that is? Not writing. You know what is impressive about that? Nothing. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that writing is not “easy” but it is also not invisible. You either do it or you don’t, and you’re not always going to catch every brilliant, or even shitty, word that filters through your spider web, but you won’t catch anything if you don’t spin a web at all.
I used to laugh, to insist I would never allow myself to return to a role in life where I was not actively writing. That I would never let a story “rent” a space in my head without allowing me to document the residency. To never become that “not-writer” who only wasted (?) their time thinking about writing and not actually doing any writing. Yet somehow I have become that which I find the most laughable and sad—the writer who does not write. The dreamer who is far too awake. I must be half-asleep, I must be lucid. I must stop only thinking and return to a state of action.
No more pity blogs, no more “LOVE ME, LOVE ME!” pleas, no more excuses—ha ha. Just kidding. They’ll be here, but I am betting you’ll see more actual writing than me just talking about writing. And if not, well, feel free to remind me of that fact. I may hate you for a little while, but I’ll be so happy someone interacted with me, my ego will stamp out that fire real quick. I need to go dig that manuscript out of the litter box, apologize to my cat, and see what I can do with it.
I believe for November and for NaNoWriMo my best option is to start a new body of work. I have tried revision and re-writing and it just doesn’t feel good to do under those circumstances (or any, really, but I’ll have to get over that). I don’t know yet what those ideas may be. Part of the charm of NaNoWriMo is a distinct lack of pre-planning. I’ll have some kind of idea before the 1st if I am going to succeed (“The difference between a dream and a goal is plan.”)
Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? Locally? We could write in the same room if you’d like (don’t expect me to interact with you, that is far too much to ask).
Have you experienced this kind of soul-crushing dismay before and not hung yourself? If you did hang yourself and are still reading this, we really need to talk. I have valid questions.
(My photograph above, my writing, used the free program #Prisma to make it cool and stained-glass looking.)