Happy Thanksgiving! I’m celebrating the holiday in a rather odd way this year — staying home alone (with the cats, of course) while my husband visits his family in New York, enjoying a few rare days of silence and solitude before the deluge of all that December nonsense.
And, of course, barreling through the last hurrah of NaNoWriMo, about which I have three things I wish to say:
- I am, of course, quite desperately behind on my word count
- It doesn’t matter in the slightest, because
- It has completely served its purpose.
I’m writing a novel, dammit. Not just that, but I’m writing a Regency romance novel, which has been a fantasy lurking in the back of my brain since I was exactly fourteen years old. That was the year that I finally stopped re-reading Little Women and Jane Eyre long enough to discover the romance novel section at the library down the street from my house. I read about three of those candy-like novels every Saturday for about a year, until I had exhausted their inventory completely. Then I started re-reading them.
Then I started fantasizing about writing one myself.
I’m almost forty years old now.
Will I “win” NaNoWriMo this year? Probably not. In order to win, you’ve got to upload a manuscript (encrypted, of course) of at least 50,000 words. Sure, I’ve got about 35,000 words down by now, with the promise of plenty of free time over the holiday weekend to churn out a good deal more. I’ve also got a real, live plot that makes me giggle with excitement, and even a handful of characters that now dog my every step with their strange ways and odd habits… but it’s not what I would call a decent, coherent draft. Not just yet. So in that sense, I probably won’t “win” NaNoWriMo this year.
I’ll tell you what I’ve won.
I’m a writer.
What NaNoWriMo has done for me is similar to what starting my first blog back in 2003 did for me then. It got me in the habit of writing daily again. It put writing — MY writing, not writing for work, or for friends, or for some other noble cause — back in the center of my life. Not something I would hope to do someday, when I had the time, but the thing that I make the time for first, before I open somebody else’s book, before I turn on the TV, before I go on a shopping spree for 19th-century hair combs on Etsy.
How much do I have to write before I call myself a writer?
Was I a writer when I first started blogging, and I focused entirely on writing personal essays, simply (and rather desperately) hoping that one or two like-minded people might read my blog, might say hello in the comments, and might somehow crack through the loneliness of my first few years back in my hometown?
Was I a writer when my job involved writing various bits of text for publication every day — press releases, website copy, program notes, fundraising letters? It didn’t matter what it was; if it required stringing words or sentences together, it was my job to do the stringing.
Was I a writer when I went back to school, and spent every Saturday writing papers and case study reports, and even spent a whole summer writing a total of 150 pages of publishable independent research?
What about a few months ago, when my role at work was changed from on-the-phone-all-day consultant to organizer, editor, and producer of customer support articles and videos?
Maybe I was. Maybe I was a writer in each of those cases, and at every step of the way.
But there’s something about writing a thing that has been waiting to be written for over 25 years, something that fourteen-year-old me deeply fantasized about writing, something that has been poking me in the ribs off and on ever since, asking me when will it finally be time?
Somehow, through the process of actually, physically getting started on this long-deferred project, I’ve allowed myself to call myself a writer.
Because of this, because inside of me I am now wearing a t-shirt that says WRITER on it in big black-on-white cursive letters, because the first thing I want to do when I have five minutes free is open my laptop and get some more dialogue out of my head and into my characters’ mouths, I can feel the jagged little pieces of myself — the pieces that kept jostling around and poking me with their increasingly sharp edges as I repeatedly forced them into places that they didn’t belong — those pieces are now slipping gently, softly, easily into place.
It’s Thanksgiving. And big surprise: I’m thankful for NaNoWriMo. Actually, I’m thankful for a lot more than that:
I’m thankful for silence and solitude and cats, and for arriving at a point in my life where I can admit that those are the things that make my heart sing and my mind whirr softly and precisely like a Swiss watch. I’m thankful for a measure of economic freedom — quite new to me, after 38 years of poverty and financial insecurity — that allows me to pursue my secret, furtive dreams without the always-pressing need to commercialize them, or to mold them into oh-god-please-be-profitable shapes that are poorly fitting prom gowns at best.
Most of all, I’m deeply thankful that I’m keeping a promise to fourteen-year-old me. Because right now, I can feel her settle comfortably back into the pillows of the four-poster bed in the bedroom I grew up in, munching contentedly on a stale, hoarded box of Thin Mints, smiling, and saying Finally. Finally, I win.
Image by boadiceafairy