Participating in National Novel Writing Month (November) has been a challenge I’ve wanted to attempt for years. Inevitably I’d stumble upon a link or article somewhere that referenced NaNoWriMo at some point in the final days when most people were noting their last syllables toward the 50,000 word goal. This year, however, was different.
While visiting New Orleans this summer I happened upon the “Before I Die” public art exhibit: an alleyway turned blackboard covered in the sentence starters, “Before I die I want to ________.” Crumbled bits of chalk dotted the sidewalk beneath the installation. I walked slowly down the rows reading others’ responses, imagining the person behind the dreams, until I made it toward the end, to a line that had worn out and offered a space for my own dream. I wrote it in, confident that this silent declaration would make my desire a reality:
Before I die I want to publish a book.
I replaced the chalk, stood back a few feet, and smiled. Standing there in that moment I knew that someday it would happen.
I signed up officially for NaNoWriMo in September. I planned to write a memoir instead of a novel. Then, before the writing began, 50,000 words did not feel like too much. In July at the height of my travels, I was writing over 1,000 words a day. I’d wake up in the early morning, drive six to eight hours to a new place, find a motel by early afternoon, spend the evening exploring, and return to my hotel room to write into the late hours of the night. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with this daily routine. I felt as if I could do it forever.
And then came November.
Just before the official start I spontaneously signed up for a children’s yoga teacher training intensive that stretched out across 18 hours of the weekend. By the end of the first day of training I barely had enough motivation to stop at Walgreens and buy a new notebook for writing. (I prefer the dying art form of pencil to paper when I’m not blogging.) The store I stopped in was being renovated and the school supply aisle was all bare shelves and two pocket folders. I wandered around until I found a plywood door that led to the new section of the store with pristine rows of perfectly stocked shelves. I’m not sure I should have been shopping there, but I figured my mission was more important than risking a chance encounter with the store security guard. Oddly, there was only a single five-star one subject college ruled notebook– the exact style I always work with– on the shelf. My cashier was a woman named Twilah who was wearing a Las Vegas ID lanyard and dancing along to the musical stuffed fox by the cash register. I decided that was as good a sign as any that my latest writing endeavor would be a success.
I finished the first weekend without a single word written and resolved to write extra the following week.
By mid-month I was at the 10,000 word mark. I added my word count to the online system which predicted that I would reach 50,000 words in mid-January if I kept going at the rate I was going. I thought to myself that I could do it, I could reach 50,000 words if I really tried, but suddenly I didn’t care to. I knew I’d never even wear the prize– a commemorative t-shirt– if I did reach the goal.
Around the time I decided I didn’t care to fill every free moment of my day with writing to be a NaNoWriMo “winner”, a close friend came over and remarked at how dark my living room was. She peeled back the opaque curtains and I squinted at the sunlight sifting in through the barely opened blinds. She jokingly referred to the giant five piece leather sectional we were sitting on as a “man cave couch” and said it was sucking all the space and energy from the room, that it didn’t fit my personality at all. I laughed. She was right. In an instant my perspective shifted. Though I spent months clearing my house of my former husband’s belongings last year, so much of him remained. I’d been living alone for more than two years in the space that I thought would be transitory when we first moved in– a stepping stone until we bought our first house together– and still the rooms were not my own. My friend and I spent time walking from room to room and she pointed out all the places where things just didn’t sit right, the paint needed touching up, energy was blocked, darkness was looming.
After she left I immediately starting moving furniture, rearranging, clearing away things that had piled up for too long, and checking every corner of every cabinet for things I no longer needed. After five years in this apartment I uncovered a bag of catnip in a cupboard even though I’ve never owned a cat. I had no idea how much I’d been holding on to.
The next day I bought new, lighter curtains for the living room and the following morning at 6 AM when I woke up the sunlight was streaming so brightly through the blinds I thought for sure that I’d overslept and it was nearly noon. Suddenly the darkest room in the house had become the lightest and brightest.
Within a week I’d sold and replaced the large leather couch with one much smaller and covered in light green fabric. Never a morning person, I’ve found myself dancing, twirling, and jumping my way across the spaciousness of the living room toward the bathroom each morning upon waking.
So in the past few weeks instead of pouring my heart onto a page, I lifted my heart by moving away the heavy burdens that had been surrounding me for years. This cleaning, clearing, and renovating is where my energy is right now. I have no doubt that when my project is finally finished, I will write again, more comfortably and earnestly than before.
With less than an hour remaining in National Novel Writing Month I have written 14,827 words of my memoir and another 1011 (and counting) in this article. Maybe by the end of next November I’ll have reached 50,000 words, maybe it will happen prior. I’ve learned it’s not the deadline or the words on the page that are important, it’s focusing your time and efforts where your heart is in the moment and knowing that all else will come in time.