Life Gets In The Way

I started NaNoWriMo with the best of intentions. My creative pump primed, I dove into the idea of writing a novel in a month whole-heartedly. But then, on November 1, I was hit with a common cold strong enough to force me to bed at 6 pm two nights in a row. The baby was cutting her molars, and she is beginning to throw some truly spectacular temper tantrums – I have no memory of Claire ever flailing as much as Elizabeth has in the past week. If I were a first time mother, I probably would have taken her to the doctor on Monday afternoon; by the time her father came home, she was a little angel again.

By November 3rd, Andrew had inherited my illness and ended up staying in bed for a day and a half. Meanwhile, I’d sort of conveniently forgotten an essay deadline for November 4th, so all the energy I regained in my recovery went to the writing of that little gem rather than the promised fiction. (The essay will appear in the Art House America blog on Thursday.)

Life gets in the way! When it comes to my writing, I have been known to duck and cover for no good reasons, but I have to say that real life just completely sabatoged a healthy start to my first Nanowrimo. Don’t worry (because you are, right? Very worried?). Even though I’ve only written 1000 words of fiction, I am not giving up. I like my characters, but I have no plot. I continue to think that the creativity required by fiction is fun, and while I feel frustrated by my lack of time and energy, I’m going to keep plugging along, writing as much as I can each day, celebrating the mere fact that I am putting words on paper every day – because that has not happened since … graduate school.

So far, aside from learning that writing fiction is not as scary as I thought it would be, and that it might be, dare I say, fun, the freedom from online clutter (Facebook, Pinterest – except when I really need to see something pretty) has been so refreshing. These days, to close one’s Facebook account would really be like opting out of pop culture (and who knows whether I’d still be able to subscribe to Spotify), so I won’t go that far, but there is something really satisfying about the fact that my NaNoWriMo is off to a slow start because of REAL LIFE stuff rather than time-sucking social media stuff.

If any of you parents out there have bright ideas on where to find free time in busy, kid-filled days, please post a comment. I am beginning to think that a 5 am wake up is going to be the only way I can get any real writing done. By the kids’ bedtimes, I’m toast.

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A Challenge

For months, I’ve been talking about writing fiction. When someone asks me how my writing is going, I hedge and then casually mention that narrative nonfiction, which is what I’m trained in, doesn’t suit my lifestyle with young children and that I’d sort of like to see what it would be like to make a genre change. This is met with a lot of encouragement. I have good friends and writing mentors; they tell me to do it, and to do it fearlessly and with as little frustration as possible.

Nonfiction has plenty of challenges: uncooperative sources, the perils of the broken tape recorder, the confusing nature of memory and recollected fact, and the inconvenience of truth. But at least the truth, no matter how difficult, offers the writer a framework. Writing fiction is like having someone tell you to tailor a dress to a perfect size four with no measuring tape and no mannequin. Where in the world does one begin? My feeling is that you must have to be very good. A very good writer, an even better reader, a person with a way of seeing things that applies to both a very specific instance or story while offering a broader meaning to others.

I have no confidence in my ability to do any of these things. I am “good enough” in my own head, writing down the things that happen to me or that I find funny or quirky or moving. But I have set such a high standard for fiction writers that the prospect of becoming one myself totally freaks me out. Which is why, for the past month, I have opened my notepad and written a few lines before scratching everything out. And why, for the past week, I have been avoiding writing all together. The thing I want to do scares me to death. It’s a writer’s neurosis, and it is silly, but, for me, very real.

So yesterday, on October 31st, I got an email from Gotham, an online writing center, reminding me that November 1 begins NaNoWriMo: the National Novel Writing Month. The challenge? To write a 175 page novel in the month of November. Before I even knew what my little fingers were doing, I found myself signing up at Nanowrimo.org.

I’ve been known to take on extreme challenges before. When I could run only two miles without sucking wind, I signed up for the Chicago marathon, trained for it and finished. In graduate school I decided to take on an immersion project in a city three and a half hours from home. The finished manuscript certainly was not perfect, and it didn’t come without major stress, but I finished it, graduated and felt I could be relatively proud of that accomplishment.

So, here I am at the foot of this mountain. I have no idea how much I will actually write every day, or if I will be able to write every day, and I am NOT going to kill myself to get 175 pages. But I love the idea of the challenge, and I love that I am doing it for no one other than myself and for the joy of creating.

There will be no Facebook for me in November, and certainly no Pinterest, and doggone it, very limited access to email and this beautiful blog. Feel free to send me your sympathies and encouragement, though; I’ll need a month’s worth to get me through!