A long time ago, I used to go to a bagel place in Gainesville for lunch or coffee or to write. One day, in the final stages of writing my dissertation, I felt that I could see the core of that book, the truth, the purpose, like never before, but it was still just out of my reach. I thought that if I just had a little more time it could be the book I wanted it to be. I finished it, and the degree, and it was good enough, but the truth I was trying to write never made it fully onto the page.
Today, in the final stages of NaNoWriMo 2011, working on what may be one of the final drafts of my memoir, I remember that feeling, and I have it again–almost there, what I want still just out of reach. But I can see it, and I’m getting closer.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, on her porch in Cross Creek, Florida, has decorated twenty years of my refrigerators, bulletin boards, and walls above desks.
She lives in my imagination: solitary, independent, strong, writing.
I look up at her now, as I’ve crossed the forty-thousand-word threshold, and know it’s finally safe to say that I will finish NaNoWriMo.
I have planned and preached daily writing, but I haven’t always practiced it.
This month I have. I will have used NaNo to complete a draft of the third version (version, not draft; there have been many, many drafts) of my memoir.
A few thoughts after nineteen consecutive 2,000+/- word days:
A focus on word count helps me to write big rather than small, expand scenes, comb my mind for details. I don’t worry about saying too much–I want to say as much as possible. I mine the depths and explore the outer limits of my memories.
Telling the same story in different ways allows new ideas to rise to the surface, unexpected patterns and threads to emerge. My desire for completion is stronger than ever, but I also see that this book has needed to cook–in a crock pot, not a microwave.
My perfectionistic internal editor is no match for the fast flow of words. Her day will come on December 1. I tell her that if there is just one good idea or phrase per page, it will have been a good month, and she relaxes.
As all veteran perfectionistic procrastinators know, postponing the beginning of any project works to defer, or explain, feared failure.
You want to lose 20 pounds before your class reunion a year from now?
You could start today, and lose 1.67 pounds every month, easy-peasy, just skipping that glass of wine and going for a walk.
Or you could spend eight months vaguely worrying about the twenty pounds, easing the worry with chocolate, so that you gain another five pounds in the process, and then try to lose 25 pounds in four months, or 6.25 pounds every month. Ambitious, but not impossible.
And, just in case you haven’t figured out that the “you” here is me, you could also worry and eat for ten months, until you need to lose, say, 28 pounds in two months, and then begin to do the math and plan the fasting that will be necessary to even fit into your dress with the help of two pairs of Spanx.
Or, you could set out to do NaNoWriMo, knowing the 50,000 words in 30 days means 1,667 words per day.
And you could mess around for the first three days, setting up the perfect writing software or getting out your Thanksgiving tableware, so that you have to recalibrate and write 1,851 words per day for 27 days.
You know where this is likely to end: somewhere along the lines of giving up on the prospect of writing 5,000 words per day for the last ten days.
This year, in the first three days of NaNo, I’ve written 7,763 words.
Fire and pestilence could derail me still, but I have to admit that starting strong, despite its unfamiliarity, feels pretty good.
Until I feel a little more comfortable (which I will define for now as having written 25,000 words before November 10), unless I have something really important to say, I’ll be blogging about NaNoWriMo and how each day’s writing went.
Today’s word count: 2081. Total so far: 4161. Why I wrote an almost identical number of words yesterday and today: unknown.
But what I do know is that sprinting is good.
Twenty minute bursts of writing as fast as I can, ignoring everything else that I can, leads to words and breathlessness, as a good sprint should.
I’ve told the story here before about how my maternal grandmother, Anne Jones, cleared off her dining room table and then covered it again with a Vogue pattern and beautiful fabric, pinning and cutting and finally taking the whole thing into to a closet-turned-sewing-room to transform it into a dress.
And during this process, often there were–yes, this is a family secret–dirty dishes in the sink.
Yesterday I got ready for NaNoWriMo by taking care of some important items on my short- and long-term to-do list. A marked-up lime green post-it note went into the trashcan before I went to bed.
The decks felt clear. Nothing would come between me and my daily 2,000 words, since I have learned the hard way that it’s hard to pick up extra words at the end of the month, and I’m committed to picking them up at the beginning.
But overnight new emails came in that had to be dealt with. I created some dirty dishes, literal and metaphorical, before I even left for the office. And of course there was work to be done.
A phone-lunch with Jeanne confirmed my suspicions. It was happening for her, too.
The newsflash that we already knew? The to-do list never ends.
I hung up and sprinted for 672 words in fifteen minutes.
My friend Michelle emailed her own advice about a completely different topic, and it fits here, too: Compartmentalizing: Just Do It.
So as much as it makes me a little nervous, I’ve left dishes in sinks all through this day, and I have written 2080 words because of it.
This has turned into a tricky post of “yes, buts,” “no, ands,” and “well, maybes.”
You may remember that I committed to NaNoWriMo. A few days ago I realized that not only was I not going to finish 50,000 words, I wasn’t going to come close.
I had to admit that I can’t do “everything,” so I put the novel away and embarked on a weekend of intense and productive memoir editing. A small part of me says I shouldn’t have “quit,” but I know that the decision to choose what’s really important to me over what was for me a “sparkly” (thanks, Jeanne) was driven by Strength from Within.
Deep in the memoir, I asked myself, Had I found Strength from Within on Christmas Eve of 2002, when my then-husband left the Waldorf-Astoria to barhop, returning early Christmas morning drunk enough to vomit all over our bed? Did I find Strength from Within when I asked the housekeeper for more linens, then joined my family for breakfast and cheerfully wished everyone a Merry Christmas?
I did not make a scene, cause embarrassment, spoil the holiday for others. Some people say “Strength from Within” means bearing more–more weight, more trouble, more pain–with determined stoicism. To them, yes, I exhibited Strength from Within. But in hindsight, I know that with a little more Strength from Within, I might have spoken out publicly, might have asked for help.
Later, still editing, I asked myself, Did I exhibit Strength from Within for four more years of that marriage, including Christmas Eve, 2006, which I spent sitting alone in my car at the beach, while at home he slept off his vodka-and-Gatorade, followed by a Christmas morning AA meeting before we joined the family festivities?
Maybe. I persevered and hoped and prayed for his change of heart. Maybe not. I should have made him leave sooner than I did.
Does Strength from Within mean eternally pushing a giant rock up a hill, a la Sisyphus (thanks, Julie)?
I say now that Strength from Within means knowing when to put the weight down.
It means trusting yourself enough to stop pushing the rock, allowing that maybe it will roll onto you and knock you down, but looking forward to slipping out from under it and walking away.
It means embracing my wounds, accepting my limitations, and appreciating the strength that comes from admitting my weakness and embracing my power.
My wounds, limitations, weaknesses, power: these are my Strengths from Within. What are yours?