I’ve been away from my blog for a month. For the first time in more than two and a half years. I did this so that I could attempt NaNoWriMo for the first time—National Novel Writing Month. This is an insane proposition where people all over the country (and probably beyond) commit to writing 50,000 words in 30 days during the month of November. And I did it. Meaning I put 50K worth of words on pages, most of which had something to do with their brethren. Not necessarily enough to form a cohesive story, mind you, but there are 50,000 words that relate to each other and are supposed to be a paranormal romance novel.
Except that it turns out that writing a novel is hard. Much harder than I thought it would be. And some of my deepest fears were realized, insofar as I now know with certainty that I have no natural ability in this area whatsoever. Which was pretty upsetting, considering it is my most cherished dream to write the kind of fiction I love to read. I had an OK premise, that with a little bit of work should have been enough to start.
And it was enough to start. One of the most interesting aspects to this experience was that whereas I usually have great difficulty beginning a project, once I get going, almost nothing can stop me from finishing. This time, I jumped in on November 1, and didn’t come up for air until the day I crossed the 50,000 word finish line, on November 26. So, I know I can comfortably write 2000 words a day. Considering that I had been writing about 2000 words a week, that was the good news. The bad news was that story arcs, series arcs and character arcs are hard to time, and hard to intertwine. The whole thing deteriorated as I got further and further into the month. Don’t try this at home, children.
On the other hand, do try it. That was the point of the exercise, after all: to do something creative and fun and challenging and to do it. The goal was to commit to a challenge and to meet it, no matter what. And there was a lot of no
matter what that went on during the month of November.
I spent three full weeks of November with a persistent virus that laid me very low. I felt like shit. And I bemoaned my fate. But here’s the thing: feeling poorly meant that I didn’t have enough energy to go out much or do much more than lay on my couch, coughing up a lung and decimating whole forests worth of trees to feed my Kleenex habit. But all that couch time doubled as writing time, which worked out well. I was able to follow the NaNoWriMo instructions and write, write, write, suspending judgment and criticism, and not looking back, just putting one foot in front of the other.
I learned some things along the way. This whole experience was a one day at a time kind of gig. I couldn’t project even as far as tomorrow, because the thought of what I was going to write tomorrow filled me with anxiety. So I channeled my inner Scarlett and I didn’t think about tomorrow until it came. I learned to block out the nasty naysayers in my mind who constantly berated me for even trying to do this. They told me over and over again how bad my “novel” was and how lame I was for writing it. They told me I was wasting my time. I told them to shut the fuck up. And they did. Mostly. But even when they were threatening to destroy my eardrums with a cacophony of criticism and negativity, I kept going. I didn’t realize I could do that as effectively as I did. And I will never be quite as beholden to the voice of my inner critic—which sounds suspiciously like my mother—again. Worth the price of admission right there.
I learned that even though I’ve always thought of myself as a hard worker, I’ve learned that I’ve only been willing to work hard on things that come easily to me. In other words, when it doesn’t feel like work. Something like writing fiction though, which I’ve wanted to do since I was a little girl captivated by the worlds I visited between the pages of my beloved books, hasn’t come easily. I am afraid that I will forever be Salieri to the Mozarts of my craft—good enough to recognize my mediocrity as compared with the masters.
I am faced with a question that will determine my character: will I forge ahead, with two steps forward and one (or more) steps back, and test my mettle against a task that truly challenges me? Or will I give up and throw in the towel, determined to continue doing only that which plays to my strengths? Can I train my brain to tell stories in a compelling way or to create characters that people want to spend time with? I have no idea. Time will tell.
I do know that the potential to bring the kind of joy to someone else that my favorite authors have given to me saturates my thoughts. Thea Harrison, Karen Marie Moning, Nalini Singh, Faith Hunter, MaryJanice Davidson, JR Ward, Charmaine Harris, Darynda Jones, Jeaniene Frost, Laurell K. Hamilton, Kresley Cole, Katie MacAlister, Molly Harper, Robyn Peterson, Patricia Briggs, Jessica Clare, Kevin Hearne, John G. Hartness and G. A. Aikens are my rock stars. If one of them likes a tweet or comments on one of my Facebook posts, or—swoon city—comments on one of my blogs, I’m delirious with excitement. I would take the work of these authors to a desert island or the zombie apocalypse and count my blessings that life couldn’t be too bad if I have my books with me.
I want to be like all of them. And after spending four weeks trying to emulate them, I have a much better appreciation of just how talented they are, and how truly special their work is. These authors are the best of the best, and there’s a reason they dominate the best seller lists. They deserve to be there.
So we shall see what we shall see. I hope I turn out to be the kind of person who rises to a challenge and takes Winston Churchill’s advice to never, never, never give up. It’s a new world for me, and it’s a scary place. And I hope I make myself proud. As a wise person once told me, and I’ve written about before in this space, we build self esteem by doing esteemable things. I want to build a mountain from a little pile of clay, as the great Tom Jones said (or sang, as the case may be). I’ve got high hopes for my mountain. Now it’s time to put some action around my dream. I want to be a reader and a writer.