I signed up for NaNoWriMo this year, same as last year, but the difference this year was I gave myself the freedom to lose. And did, with an abysmal showing of 12,383 words. A meager offering for a month — any month — I quickly realized this November would not, could not be about word count.
On November 3rd I turned Thirty.
On November 5th my grandmother passed away.
I had setbacks in the publishing game. I made progress. I rode that roller coaster and tried not to lose my lunch.
I did write. Whenever I could muster it. Whenever I had a chance. Yet…12,383.
I started late. I wrote my first words of the month on my actual birthday, but those words ended up being all wrong. Not because they were of the shitty first draft variety (though, realistically they were that as well), but because it was the wrong book. 3,000 words in the crapper.
I didn’t write everyday. There are many days not during NaNoWriMo when I do not write, for whatever reason and usually because I am taking care of other life business that comes with being a mom, a wife, and part of a community. But even those days I am thinking about the words. There were many days this November when I could not think about the words. Loss has a way of confining your thoughts. There were more days spent staring out the window with tea, or talking to family, or feeling aimless, floaty, sinking. It wasn’t just the missing person — my grandma’s non-presence had created a hole, but it wasn’t just that. I was taking a long sigh in, exhaling slowly.
I couldn’t muster the need to compete. The manuscript I started this month is based on a screenplay I wrote in my early twenties. Because of my history with the project, I had a certain ownership right out the gate, an unwillingness to give this project away, to just write it so I’d have another potential book to query.
I refused to ignore the Muse when she came calling. I woke up November 24th with a burning desire to finish the screenplay I began writing last year. The desire was so strong that I actually outlined — a dirty ugly word in my world. I planned out the scenes and began nailing them down. It stole my focus and refused to return it. I didn’t fight it.
I spent time with my son and my husband, with my family and my friends. I watched movies and read books. I loved things deeply this November. There is something to be said for casting off your cloak of ambition to cuddle under the blanket of all you’ve already been blessed with. When someone dies, it is normal to feel sadness, to cling tight to your dear ones, but it can be even more normal to recede. I couldn’t do that. My son is growing up fast. Already he watches older boys for cues on how to be grown up, already he crushes on pretty girls and dreams of having one to buy flowers for and give kisses to, already he is changing. Still he will hug me now, kiss my cheek, cry on my shoulder and for how much longer will that last? By next November he might not want to climb in bed with me because he’s scared.
I couldn’t fight just being. I wrote for myself, for the thrill of discovery, for the love of story. Publishing is a fickle creature, a flash of teeth capable of ripping out your throat. Publishing is not why I write. I want it, desperately, compulsively, but never do I want only that. If there were no market for my manuscripts, I would still tell those stories to myself. I would still love the craft. I would still be a writer. I wrote that way, this November.
I believe NaNoWriMo has merit. It forces you to start, it compels you to keep placing your fingers to the keys even when your hands are made of lead. I do not believe you have to write 50,000 words to Win. As a competitive individual, a person driven and focused and uninterested in bullshit procrastination, this is hard for me to admit. But winning, it just isn’t everything. It just isn’t always actually winning at all.
This November I rebelled. I won.