01 November 2013

another not-NaNoWriMo post

It's the six a.m. hour, and I've decided that the short piece I drafted at the beginning of the week is finished. So before I had a second cup of tea, I submitted it to two places, and it doesn't feel as unwise as maybe it should. (Of course, I trust my decision-making at this time of the morning far better than I trust it at two in the afternoon.)

At the same time, all over the world, NaNo'ers are leaping into beginnings, including my friend and colleague Jill. She came to dinner last night with notebook in hand, and it made me so happy to see that. Last night, at midnight (when I'd been soundly asleep for two hours), a local writing group had a NaNoWriMo kickoff write-in. I envy them. I envy their fresh starts sorely. I have never done NaNo, not in any way that is "correct," though I have made attempts of varying kinds to keep in the spirit. There is a buzz in the air about it, and anything that spurs one forward in any writerly way is a marvelous thing.

This, I suppose, is another of those keeping-in-the-spirit posts, though the last thing I can/should do this month is start anything new. My goal is more now in line with my 2010 November: do something that I need to do as a writer every day. Sure, that means sending out work, but more importantly, it means finishing.

I have folders of unfinished things, fully drafted short stories that don't quite work; half-written things that I'd forgotten I'd even thought of, let alone written; two-and-three word ideas that still blister and crackle no matter that I tossed them into a file years ago. I have kernels of pieces that can only become poems. I have a novel to be written, all furled potential; I have a full, old, old draft of another whose re-vision I'm starting to be able to see. More importantly, I have the novel I'm still working on, the manuscript I keep thinking is finished and keep understanding is not and the only right thing to do by that book that I love, the book that made me completely forget that there was a November last year, is keep working until it's right. Until it's as good as it deserves to be. And that is terrifying. It takes a kind of patience I don't have, that I have to make, and maybe I'm doing that kind of stepping back that Michael P. Nye wrote about earlier this week. I know good work takes time. I spent big chunks of my summer taking that time, considering things, and the revision I did in August did leave me with a better book than I had in July. I'm now understanding that "better" is no substitute for "right."

It's not right yet. I'm not sure what "right" is for it yet, but I know it deserves to be right.

So I will try to be patient and listen and if I can't do either of those things gracefully and contentedly (and I can't), I'll finish smaller works. They've been waiting longer still, and they deserve to at least get where they were going. I won't set another artificial deadline to finish another revision by a date or a time: I understand that my problem is not getting myself to work. It's not about spurring forward this time.

I do want it to be, though. I want to be part of the dash. I'm good at the dash--even elementary school gym class showed me that.

I loved gym class. The period was never more than forty minutes long, and in forty minutes, there was never enough time to get into the things I couldn't do. The longest we ever ran was a mile and a quarter. More often we sprinted. More often we dove after a ball, the goals quite clear, the scores clearer.

Novel writing is not gym class. Even my own process is not the one-size-fits-all yellow mesh pinnie, appropriate for all activities, no matter how much I want it to be. But there's something to learn from thinking about gym class--about exertion, in particular, because what is writing except exertion of one kind or another--no matter what shape I'm in, no matter what shape this novel or those drafted stories or those little poem seeds are in, I can do something. And so I must.


  1. "Novel writing is not gym class." Yes! Writing is not a race, and stories come to whatever completion "is" when they are ready. At least for me. NaNoWriMo has been a way for me to push myself in other writing forms (plays being my home base, novels being far more alien). After last year, I told myself I never needed to do the November thing again, having shown myself I could come to the end of a complete, if also completely horrible, first draft of a novel. All year a story has called, and so I'm back in it. Yet I'm not chasing the word count and am having a better time at it. At least for now. :) Of course the work only begins with the draft, as we well know. Like you, I do something every day. Even if the main event won't let me, I take care of other stories, or some business aspect of it all. Always enjoy your ponderings, Holly. This post has stayed with me all week, and so thought I should respond. :)

    1. Thank you! And I'm so glad that another story has come forward to be told by you. (I always find that reassuring, no matter what I'm working on. It's a sense of always having good company, perhaps.)

      Thanks for reading & commenting & yes--just a little something every day.