On Sunday night, after a 6 hour drive that was only supposed to be 4, I drank a strong whiskey soda, ate a double cheeseburger and finished my Nanowrimo book. Eric and I celebrated with a dance party, though I was so tired that my dance moves (mostly jumping and lots of punching of the air) were pretty muted and even more off beat than usual. Still, I wrote a freakin’ book! A bad, unreadable book, but I went to graduate school in creative writing and never actually thought I’d write a book. I was happy with the idea of short stories and essays.
I’ve been trying to think about what I learned from this experience, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot; although, ironically, it’s hard to figure out how to put into words (maybe after writing 50,000 of them in a month, I’ve used up all my words). The truth is, I’m surprised at how much I’ve learned by pushing myself to do something that seemed big and sometimes overwhelming and occasionally impossible, but some of them are mundane. Do you really want to know about how I learned that I rely too heavily on dialogue and too little on description? Probably not.
So, maybe I’ll just limit myself to two things that I’ve been thinking about a lot over the course of this.
The first is that just because something isn’t great doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth doing. In preparing to do Nanowrimo, I checked out several books on writing and creative process from the library. I took immense comfort in things I found in Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist. There are a lot of things in there that were simple but deeply meaningful for me, and I particularly felt like a graphic titled “The Life of a Project” was made for me personally. It wasn’t made just for me, of course, and because I used to teach project based learning, I’ve seen dozens of students struggle with the exact same emotional cycle. The thing I never tell students is just how many of my ideas have made it to the “this sucks” and “Dark Night of the Soul,” never to come out the other side.
I will not even pretend that the novel I wrote in 30 days is particularly good. The only time it was ever good was before I wrote a single word, when all I had was the vision of my heroine being a tattooed, Rockabilly version of Veronica Mars. I’ve been very frank with people that have asked to read my novel that I don’t think that’s a good idea. But I finished it, which is something I do less than I should, and I learned a lot from it. Actually, for all that I gleefully describe my book as “unreadable,” there were Big Ideas in there that meant something to me that may find their way into other projects.
The other thing is that this book is the product not just of me, but of many, many people who never typed a single word of it. Without the tweeted encouragement of my friend Mike, who bolstered me by letting me know he was “rooting” for me, and my friend Pedro who told me I’d accomplished something that is on his bucket list, I might not have felt that finishing mattered. I got tweets from strangers when I posted that I’d crossed the 20,000 word mark. My friend Sara met me at a coffee shop for a “work date” where I got a lot of writing done as well as some quality conversation when I needed to take a mental break. There are also people like my Aunt Meg, who has always praised and encouraged my story telling skills, and my parents, who don’t seem to fully understand what I’m doing with my life, but still asked questions and gave me time to write over the Thanksgiving break. Eric’s parents relayed their encouragement and support–as well as a few excellent writing tips–that made me feel like I was doing something remarkable and impressive. And, of course, there’s Eric who was an unflagging cheerleader and also gave me the gift of not minding that the house was sometimes pretty messy or that I was commandeering the couch and/or staying up late to get my daily word count in.
I quit my teaching job two years ago for a lot of reasons, but a big part of it was that I needed more time for myself and more time to nurture my soul. That sounds cheesy and melodramatic, but it is also true. I felt that I had less and less time each year for the things that made me who I was. There have been some rough spots in those two years–unemployment is incredibly difficult–but in the last 6 months, I’ve started to feel more like myself. This last month was good for my creative muscles, but the support and encouragement I received was also incredible for my spirit.