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Back to my irregularly scheduled programming...

I’m going to come right out and tell you if you’re looking for a regularly scheduled blog, I am (currently) not the person to give that to you. Does that seem fair?

I don’t know what the big deal is. I just have to come here at least once a month and say whatever I feel like saying. For someone with such developed views on so many things you would think that wouldn’t be hard. But that’s what writing is…it’s hard. And it’s especially hard when your brain is used to being in editing mode.

A few years ago I did a thing called National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. Every year during the month of November, people from all over the world take part in this marathon novel-writing experiment. The goal is to write 50,000 words between November 1 and November 30. You need not have a plan although it’s probably helpful, and you need not share any of what you’ve written when you’re done. So I did it. On October 31st I thought “what the hell” and I signed up. I had no plan. I had no specific ideas. I just knew that the next day I had to sit down and write at least 1,666 words of…something.

The day I started writing I was not in a cheerful place, mentally. It showed in those first 2000 words, and getting those down was a little like pulling teeth. My instinct as an editor is to go over and over a sentence until it is perfect. Well guess what? It’s never perfect. You could edit that one sentence for eternity, and if you did so and then looked back on all the iterations of that one sentence, you’d discover you’d been playing a game of telephone all by yourself. (Now that I’m saying that to you, my 3 or 4 loyal readers, I’m thinking that would actually be a fun little writing experiment to do. Am I crazy?) Difficult as it was, I did manage to get my quota in that first day, and even most of the days that followed. Some days I wrote twice as much as necessary, other days less.

What I hoped to teach myself by entering NaNoWriMo was to write without looking backwards. To just go. The first advice regarding this that I ever got was during my senior year in high school. Alas, it took me 18 years to hear it, but better late than never I suppose. Ten minutes of class was devoted to writing a quick one-page essay about the previous night’s reading material. Mr. Bearce pointed out to me that my essays were half a page long while my classmates mostly met the full-page requirement. He didn’t doubt that I had done the reading assignments, though my essays were short. He knew my problem was that I couldn’t let go of perfecting a sentence, so I spent my ten minutes fussing over what little I’d managed to write instead of finishing the job. You may be asking yourself, “Were these essays graded for grammar, spelling, and punctuation?” They were not. I wanted quality over quantity, because I was never going to get another shot at it and because I generally feel that’s the right way to go for most things in life. But it wasn’t what was required of me. If you can’t meet the requirements you still fail, no matter how polished your little pebble of a story might be.

I understand why I did that, and why I still do that sometimes. The double-edged sword of introversion gives you a lot of insight into your own motivations. Whether you admit them to anyone (or even yourself sometimes) is a different matter. You may try to stick the slightly unsavory ones on a dusty shelf in your mind’s attic, next to the time you lied to one of your teachers and the first time you realized your trust in a “friend” was misplaced. Those things you say you’d prefer never to see again, but that you seek out when you can’t sleep, or when you’re having an absolute crap day. Everybody has a cubby-hole like that.

So, years later when I was living at home with my parents and my husband and my Bachelor’s degree and feeling like a failure, I decided to take a dead man’s advice and just write. What was I afraid of? Nobody had to see it until I was ready for them to see it. I started out writing a story about running away, but the funny thing was at a certain point, the story just took its own direction. I know that sounds like a cliché, and I’ve always had a raised eyebrow for every time I’ve heard an author say that. But it is true. The characters begin to have their own motivation. You send the plot in a particular direction because it’s how you want it to go, but as the story progresses it is harder and harder to continue. Eventually, when the effort of forcing your square peg into its round hole has brought you to a standstill, you will realize that the problem began when you stopped listening to the story.

I “won” National Novel Writing Month, which just means that I got to my word goal within the time limit. I actually wrote more than the required amount, and realized when I got there that it was only going to get me about halfway to an ending of some kind. The story was really starting to get good (in my humble opinion), so I made a plan for where I thought the rest of the story would take me. That in itself was a big deal, since I never once made an outline for any assignment unless required to do so, and most of my papers were written in the wee hours of the night before the due date. Perfectionism and procrastination are a difficult pair of traits to balance, let me tell you.

On December 1st I gave myself what I thought was some much-deserved time off…and I have not added a single word to that story in the three years since. I could tell you that life got in the way, and certainly there were times like holidays and birthdays and moving days when an additional burden of a writing assignment would’ve been irritating or unreasonable. But the real truth is that I just didn’t take the time. I’ve thought about the story and the characters, and about picking it back up again, but something else always managed to push it aside.

Perhaps this December 1st I will start my own personal novel writing goal. Cathie’s Novel Writing Year? Cathie’s Months of Writing Dangerously? None of these lend themselves to any catchy abbreviations, which is cool because I’m opposed to most of those on principal anyway. If I choose to do this, I can use my writing trials and tribulations as future blog fodder!

You’re welcome, and I’m sorry.

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