So, here we are. November is upon us yet again.
Unless you’re just tuning in, you probably know that every year I compete in National Novel Writing Month, where I take up the challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel inside the month of November. “Compete”, of course, is a strong word. Although many people do it, the only person I’m really competing with is myself, and, should I succeed, the only prize I’ll win is the novel I will have written.
Nevertheless, I do this every year, and, with any luck, this will be my sixth year completing the challenge, in a row.
That being said, I still approach this with a sense of dread. I look forward to NaNoWriMo, certainly, but like any big event, especially the good ones, you can’t help but think “Oh, boy”, at some point.
For me, that point usually comes November 1st.
I’ve written about Nano before. In fact, I had a whole series about it last year. And whenever I talk about Nano I also mention what happens every November 1st. I sit down at my computer, open up that document file, look at that blank page, and think to myself: “I can’t do this.”
That might surprise you coming from someone who has this 5 times, but it doesn’t surprise me. Not anymore.
I’ve done this for 5 years in a row, written a whole novel inside of 30 days. Not only that, but I’ve written a different novel. Not just a new story but a completely new genre. My first year was post-apocalyptic scifi, my second was contemporary romance, my third was kung fu fantasy, my fourth was historical fiction (Psst! Yes, Fatales), and last year my novel was a more realistic science fiction. I didn’t really plan it that way; it’s just that every year I’ve managed to pick a novel in a different genre. And this year’s no exception. I’m making my first foray into young adult dystopian literature.
As a result of this variety, my prep work each year has been vastly different. Some years I did a lot of prep and research. For Fatales, I read a biography on each of the women in my main cast. For some novels, I made a simple outline and wrote some basic bios for my characters. Other years, I just started with an idea and a rough concept of where I wanted to go with it.
All that to say that every year I had a completely different kind of story to write, and I may or may not have prepared thoroughly for it. And every year, I had the thought, as clear as day, “I can’t do this.”
And that’s why I’m not surprised, and why I fully expect that come November 1st, 2017, I will sit down at my computer, stare at that blank page, and think, “I can’t do this.”
Because I’ve learned I’m never fully ready. Not for Nano, and, I suspect, not for much of anything else. Because it doesn’t matter how much prep I do, whether I know exactly who my characters are and where my story is going to do. In the same way, it doesn’t matter what kind of story I’m writing, if it’s in a genre I’m familiar with or one I’ve never written in before. Every year, I think I won’t be able to do it.
And every year, I do it anyway.
I’ve learned, through experience, that this thought, this momentary conviction that I am not up to the task, is just part of the process. It doesn’t matter the novel or the situation. Because, added to the challenge of Nano itself, every year come November I’ve managed to find myself in some life crisis. Whether it’s depression, or moving, or moving again, while depressed, or whatever, my life takes November as an invitation to unravel in some way. As if it weren’t enough I was trying to write a novel, I also had to be trying to put my life back together in the middle of it.
And yet, I still did it. The novel. And my life.
Because not only is that thought a part of the process, the natural resistance your brain has been trained to put towards any change or challenge, but that thought is not based in reality. Because every year I’ve proven it wrong.
Don’t misunderstand me, I wish it didn’t happen. I wish I could go into this, or any challenge in life, with the confidence of knowing I was going to be able to do it. But that’s not how it works. At least, not for me. I’m thinking it’s just part of the equation. If I didn’t have to push past my own inertia and doubt, then maybe it wouldn’t mean as much or I wouldn’t learn as much.
“Either way, we’re for it,” as C.S. Lewis said.
The challenge is before me. Take it or leave it.
And, you know what? I like my chances.
And although I know I’ll sit down, November 1st, and think, “I can’t do this.”
I’m going to do it anyway.