Put Pen to Paper

About million years ago I heard about a writing challenge. The idea of it was to write 50,000 words in the month of November. This, it was figured, was roughly the length of a draft novel. Pull it off in whatever way you could, and you’d have a draft to work with when December 1st rolled around.

My signup confirmation from the organization that runs the challenge arrived in my inbox in January of 2008. I The first-ever reference to it in my email is from nine days earlier, sent from my old work email account. It just has the URL for the organization, Nanowrimo, which is shorthand for Na(tional) No(vel) Wr(iting) Mo(nth).

I don’t recall how that November’s efforts went. I know I had quit my steady job earlier that year, in order to pursue writing. I had a book burning inside of me about the “rationalization” of the crab fisheries in the Bering Sea. My book was going to be about how “crab ratz” was a local expression of a much larger and slow-rolling catastrophe playing out across the United States, pushed by federal policies that used economic justifications to privatize giant resources held in common, and grinding the working people of the land and sea under their heel in the process. My hometown was being gutted by the policy, and I was on fire with desire to share the story with the world. My plan was to do contract consulting part time, and write in the other half of my day.

But I also know that by the time November rolled around I was deep into the most significant mental and emotional crisis I had (and still have) ever experienced. I’d parted ways with my longtime boyfriend that the summer, and it had kicked off an almighty crisis of being un-homed, uncoupled, unemployed, and totally lost. I think I recall that I only consumed grapefruit and listened to Bon Iver on repeat for most of a month, and I think that month might have been November. I do not think I wrote 50,000 words of a draft novel.

But, hey! There’s always do-overs! This past November, in a manner typical of my extreme tendencies, I took a hiatus from the rest of life and diligently banged out 50,000 words. Laundry, sleep, and harmonious domesticity be damned, I was going to get my words.

Well, almost. I actually had fragments from previous writing that I called in for cut-and-paste a few times, when crazy toddler bedtimes and exhaustion were going to keep me from my 1,667-word daily quota. But at the end of it, I had…. well… 50,000 words. Unfortunately, I had no book draft whatsoever. I was about 1/4 of the way into something, and it was changing shape all the time, and I had completely lost the thread on where it was going. I was exhausted and deflated, even with the goal having been met. I never opened the document again after the evening of November 30th.

A couple of weeks ago I remembered about it, though. And I thought, “Huh, interesting.” Because the draft is about a community of people in the time after a great catastrophe. This is no surprise, because I’m a fangirl for dystopian fiction. But I wondered if there might be anything in there that felt relevant to our current moment.

I’ve skimmed the writing a bit today. And I’m pleased to observe that, while it’s still a totally tangled smash of about three plots with nothing near an end or even a clear driving narrative, some of it actually doesn’t suck all that much! This feels like an accomplishment of no small significance.

The working title for my NaNoWriMo project.

I’ve been working through a worksheet on creativity in recent days, tasked with identifying my creative “domain” and medium. I won’t bother with all the why and what of that exercise, but there’s a question in there about creativity that is “that is ‘nice to have’ versus that which is essential for your well-being.” When I re-read what I’ve written in that worksheet, I notice how much I hedged when describing the importance of writing — even though the worksheet is for me and me alone to view. I’m not certain whether that is authentic, or self-protecting. At once point in there I’ve jotted down that the “wanting comes in waves, as they say.* I’m not sure this is something I need in order to feel fulfilled in life. By the same measure, though, it’s something that never goes away and is always nagging at the edges of my desire.” 

Looking back on it, I wonder where my uncertainty or ambivalence comes in. Even though I’ve never “become a writer,” I sure enjoy writing all the time. And I’ve done it for many, many years now!

And with that, another evening has been chewed up…. writing! Time to retire and hopefully do a bit of that other half of the equation. Reading!