Word count: 478 Reading time: 2 minutes
5:00 PM on Halloween afternoon I looked at the two pumpkins sitting on the kitchen counter. Should we bother to carve them? The weather was foul, not Hurricane-Sandy foul, but heavy-rain-warning-in-the-Pacific-rainforest foul. And rain it did. The downpour drowned the stereo and pounded loudly enough to suspend conversation. No trick or treaters were going to come out in this mess.
But still. Miss this holiday and it would be gone forever. So we rolled up our sleeves. When we were done, we set the two jack-o-lanterns on the front steps. Twenty minutes later our first and only callers of the night arrived: three young girls in garbage can costumes with big plastic lids for hats. I admired their tenacity and determination to celebrate one of the most fun holidays of the year. I also knew that two shining lanterns had drawn the kids to our house.
The next morning, November 1, marked the start of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and I thought of many reasons not to participate this year:
- I only have a story idea. It’s not fleshed out. There is no timeline or well-defined story arc. It’s just a fragment.
- NaNo is hard. It takes a lot of effort and sacrifice even to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It means saying no to many things. Christmas fairs start in November. And I love Christmas fairs.
- All I’ll have at the end of will be a SFD, the start of a work, not a finished product.
- I can’t do it. It’s just not possible.
All of this, of course, is ridiculous. I’ve done NaNo for the past two years. It is a productive, intense experience. So many reasons to participate:
- All stories start with a single idea; they have to be told to find out where they are going. NaNo is the chance to capture what Anne Lamott calls the ‘down draft’, the getting down of the story. The ‘up draft’ – when the story is fixed up – comes later.
- Anything worth having is usually hard work and normally involves sacrifice.
- At the end of the process I’ll have another SFD, the important starting point for another novel.
- I can do it. I’ve done it twice before. In fact, my 2010 NaNo novel is currently under contract to Great Plains Publications. There are lots of published NaNo books.
Like Halloween, NaNoWriMo only comes once a year. A thirty day commitment isn’t forever. And if I miss it this year, I’ll have to wait twelve months to participate again. If I roll up my sleeves and finish a glowing jack-o-lantern for the front porch, who knows what fun characters might show up at the door.
How do you keep moving forward even when your psyche throws up the stop signs? How do you keep the prize of finished work in clear view?
Photo by: Alan Bolitho, LM