National Novel Writing Month kicks my ass. I mean that in the best possible way. Maybe I should say it saves my ass. Either way, it gets my ass in the chair, gets me past my own resistance, my own mind games, gets me writing again.
I first participated in NaNoWriMo in 2002. That was the most amazing year I had ever experienced as a writer, and probably ever will. My first book, Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write, came out that Spring, and while I was on my book tour, I got a call from Barbara Kingsolver (my favorite writer in the world), informing me that my novel, The Book of Dead Birds, had won the Bellwether Prize and would be published the following year by HarperCollins. Oh, and the other judges had been Toni Morrison and Maxine Hong Kingston, my two other favorite writers in the world. As you can imagine, this was mindblowingly thrilling (I still can barely believe it) and deeply affirming for me as a writer. Problem was, I started to believe that everything I wrote needed to be worthy of these luminaries’ blessing, and the weight of that expectation became too much to handle. I stopped writing completely, and felt like a huge fraud since I was still touring around, talking about my book about writing while not doing any writing, myself. When I heard about National Novel Writing Month, I realized that it could be my ticket back into my own creative process--if I tried to write 50,000 words in 30 days, there wouldn’t be enough time to worry about whether or not Toni Morrison would approve of each sentence. So I gave it a go, and it did just what I hoped it would...brought me back into my own organic rhythm. I wrote The Book of Live Wires, the sequel to The Book of Dead Birds, that month--I loved catching up with all of my characters, seeing what they had been doing since we had last spent time together. Now, nine years later, I am releasing The Book of Live Wires as an ebook to celebrate NaNoWriMo and the forthcoming 10th anniversary of the Bellwether Prize. It feels wonderful to have found a way to honor NaNo and all it has given me (including my second published novel, Self Storage, which started as a messy November draft).
The best way to honor NaNoWriMo, though, of course, is to write. It’s been a few years since I participated in this writerly marathon, and they’ve been discombobulating years, to say the least. Between 2008 and 2010, I got divorced, got laid off, got pregnant, got married, moved four times (ultimately buying and renovating a house), gave birth 19 years after having my first child, lost my mom to suicide one week later, and lost my mother-in-law unexpectedly four months after that. I also had two new books, Delta Girls and My Life with the Lincolns, published last year, one the same week my mother in law died, and between adjusting to life with a new baby and trying to process crushing waves of grief, I wasn’t able to give either of the books the focused marketing attention they deserved; I watched both of their Amazon ratings dwindle, feeling helpless and a bit hopeless as a writer. The fact that I wasn’t writing much didn’t help my state of mind. I’d been juggling three book projects, not fully committing to any of them, writing in fragments, fits and starts that weren’t really going anywhere. I was low on time and energy and inspiration (although my life’s been full of sweetness, as well; I’ve been channeling my creative energy through my breastmilk, it seems, watching my son flourish, grateful for the joy he’s brought to our lives). Part of me began to wonder if my time had passed as a writer, if I was done for, even though I’ve been writing since I was four and writing has always been central to my identity, my life. “Well, that was fun while it lasted,” I remember telling myself.
Now, less than a week into NaNoWriMo 2011, I am starting to get my writing mojo back. I decided to take NaNo very seriously this year--I arranged for extra child care, and even bought a new laptop, which makes writing a pleasure (especially compared to my old laptop, which is missing keys, and some of the remaining keys require several punches before they leave a letter on the screen, which is barely hanging on by one hinge.) So far I have exceeded my target word count daily, and find myself so excited to have committed to a single story, so excited to have recommitted to writing, itself.
I don’t know if I’ll maintain this pace (it’s unlikely, with various life responsibilities and teaching and my son’s 2nd birthday and the 2nd anniversary of my mom’s death and family coming into town this month) but I am okay with that. It would be great to reach 50,000 words, but honestly, I’d be fine with half of that. I am just so happy to be writing again.
I look forward to sharing my NaNo journey with you each Friday this month on SheWrites. I would love to hear about your own NaNo experiences, and wish you a wondrous journey with your own NaNo writing (and beyond!) May this month kick (and save) your ass in the best possible way.