The struggle is real.
This year, I decided I wanted to actually, honestly, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die participate in National Novel Writing Month. I hadn’t heard of this phenomenon until a few years ago, when my mom sent me a link. It sounded cool: a competition between two friends, urging each other to finish their novels, that bloomed into a challenge for writers worldwide. The goal is to write 50,000 words in November – roughly 1,600 a day – and to complete that naggingly overdue book you’ve often contemplated finishing.
I never found myself in that particular boat (other boats, yes), until this year, when I told myself I wanted to finish my no-kidding first draft of my memoir I’ve been “working on” since I started my MFA. I completed my Master’s thesis nearly three years ago. I started and finished a military advanced course for field grade officers, brewed and birthed a baby, and joined a Reserve unit in Germany working with Marines on a quarterly basis. I bemoan my lack of time to gather my thoughts and sit down at the laptop, but I must also realize I’m a busy person. And let’s not forget single-parenting a toddler for too many months while my husband is deployed.
NaNoWriMo is, for me, an exercise in acceptance and patience. Acceptance that I’m not going to get to the keyboard every day, and patience with what little I do manage to crank out. (Finding the time to write this blog was carved out of me time and Beaner’s nap time.) We all have our expectations. Mine fell in line with 1,600 new words a day. Emphasis on new. That’s not feasible. I know this. I’ve adapted my blogging style to produce two posts a month, hideously little when compared to other sites, but a pace at which I can sustain. The same is true for my other writing. I’m lucky if I find time for my memoir once a week, after full days of taking care of Bean, cooking, cleaning, mowing the lawn, washing and folding the laundry, bringing Cadbury for a walk, keeping up my human contact through coffee and phone calls, trying to squeeze in a workout, and generally accomplishing daily tasks required to successfully “adult.” I know any writing time is good writing time.
My progress is measured not solely in words, but also in organization. Technically, I’ve already met the goal. I have 63,017 words. My progress this month has produced preciously little new material. I’ve ransacked my thesis for stories I feel are appropriate for my story of me. Mostly, they’re stand-alone pieces. The same goes for the deployment emails I saved almost a decade ago (praise be to Gmail for its impossible-to-fill storage limit); these serve not so much as copy-and-paste additions, as a placeholder spine for my creative muse to rewrite somewhere down the line. Essentially, I’ve created 128 pages of writing prompts for myself. So, hang on, isn’t that backward progress? Welcome to being a writer.
I’m glad I told myself I’d do this. Sure, it’s put a monkey on my back, clamoring away with the rest of the troop already up there, but it has motivated me to try harder. It’s inspired me to find spare time when I thought I had none, to write down ideas while browsing the vegetable aisle in Tesco, to read books about writing (thank you, Harold Evans). I will not kick off December with a freshly penned memoir, but I will be a few tiny steps closer.