It’s November 1st, and all across the world, thousands of writers are sitting down and frantically banging out words in search of NaNoWriMo glory.
If you are not familiar with it, NaNoWriMo is a month-long writing challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. There is a time limit and deadlines and you actually do win a PDF certificate in the end–as well as bragging rights and the ability to nonchalantly drop phrases like “yes, that’s something I explored in my first novel” into casual conversation.
I have completed NaNoWriMo, twice, which means that technically I have written 2 novels. (There was another attempt, in between the two successful attempts, where I had to quit after 11,000 words due to a writing-related back injury. Posture is important, people.)
The very first time was in 2004, when I was finding my way back to writing. I’d just completed my first short story after an 8-year writing hiatus. That story had been started two year prior, and it was short, barely 2100 words which (if you did the math) is just a little bit longer than what I would have to write every damn day if I expected to complete this NaNoWriMo thing.
So yes, I was afraid I couldn’t do it. I was afraid that I would write junk. I was afraid I would give up. (What I should have been afraid of were muscle spasms in my back–posture.) But I did it. I lost some sleep, but I wrote nearly every day and I ended up with over 50,000 words of reasonably coherent narrative. There was a beginning, a middle and an end. There were characters, setting, dialogue and scene. There was even conflict. Yes, some of it was junk (in fact, a lot of it was junk) but some of it was actually not bad at all. It was a wild crazy ride, but doing it, writing without fear, letting myself put down anything as long as I got words, was a trip.
I learned stuff about writing, but I also learned about what people think about writing. You see, I was married then, and my now-ex-husband told my now-ex-mother-in-law about what I was doing, and her reaction was “Doesn’t she have anything better to do?”
I actually like my ex-mother-in-law quite a bit, she’s a strong, salt-of-the-earth soul, but clearly we never saw eye-to-eye.
At the time, I was not sure enough in myself as a writer to respond to that. Because in a lot of ways, writing looks like an indulgence. It’s a hobby in other people’s minds, something to do that takes up a lot of time when you could productively be working or cleaning or doing your taxes. The rest of the world looks at you and wonders how it is that you think you have the right to waste so much time.
But today, if I were to respond to that, I’d say no, I have nothing better to do. Writing is the thing that connects me to the world and feeds my soul. I know in my bones I am meant to do this. Whether I publish or am well-read or critically acclaimed may or may not be in the stars, but this is the thing that I do that helps me connect me to who I am.
I can’t think of anything better to do than that.