This post is a part of my Reflections on Nanowrimo series.
Each November writers around the globe take on the challenge to write 50 thousand words in 30 days. It was a pretty big step for me and I would like to share some of that with you.
The Monday morning of week three started off more or less the same as every other Monday. I had ended the weekend with a total word count of 34, 433. I was really proud and honestly surprised with myself. I was well ahead of the average word count of 20k as suggested on the stats chart provided by the Nanowrimo Team. The folks at Nanowrimo provide a handy chart that plots your daily word count to keep you relatively on track and to show you how well you are doing in relation to your local writing community, country and the world. I admit it can be intimidating, but there were tons of resources available when you started to feel put upon by the whole thing.
The local writing groups have write-ins at local pubs and you can take your laptop and write and meet others who are going through the same thing. Nanowrimo reaches out to authors to give weekly pep talks and the Nanowrimo Twitter community is incredibly active and supportive with Word Dashes and prompts to assist you to reach your goal of 50 thousand words. To write a novel.
I had these things available to me and I had adrenaline, a 2 hour commute and lots of coffee to push me through. Not to mention an incredibly dedicated and supportive friend who convinced me to join the challenge and wade through the murky depths with me, step by step.
Now, if you recall, I was being a terrible daughter, friend and wife because I was basically obsessed with meeting this goal and week 3 was the week of my dear Random’s birthday.
My husband, who is affectionately known as Random, is a pretty laid back guy, and he said that he didn’t want to do anything for his birthday. I don’t trust anyone who says that. Even if you go for a cup of coffee or a walk in the park with someone you care about, you should do something for your birthday. (But I digress)
Now, despite my personal philosophy on birthdays, his casual attitude about it worked in my favour. I can admit that I regarded this scenario quite selfishly and for a few days, it was fine with me. The words were pouring from my brain, down my fingers and onto the page and it was exciting. But there was this little annoying voice. This persistent tapping on my conscience that I could no longer ignore. I had to do something for him for his birthday.
His birthday happened to fall on a Friday but we decided to celebrate on Saturday. As an early riser, I knew I had time to write in the morning before he got up to start the day. I booked him in for one of those fancy hot towel shaves and made dinner reservations at a local steakhouse. I was a good wife again! While he was getting pampered, I sat in the freezing, sleet covered car with my laptop and wrote. My conscience would let me sleep that night. The flu, however, would not.
The next day, with a low grade fever burning, I added 2,059 words, bringing the word count to 46,470. The 50 thousand words was within reach and at the pace I was writing, I knew it would happen early into week 4. That was a wild thought.
I am happy to say that I met that goal on Day 21. Tuesday, November 21st, 2017. I don’t think I will ever forget that day. I “won” Nanowrimo when I ended the day with 50, 183 words. I was proud of myself. Professor K was proud of me. It was incredible. I wrote something that long? Me? I did that?
It was a wonderful feeling. So, then, why was I feeling so…I don’t know…dissatisfied.
Why can’t things just be black or white? Happy or sad? Why are there all these shades of gray? I think about this while the song “Shades of Gray” by The Monkees plays in my head.
Hold on, tangent ahead.
I live in a rural part of Southern Ontario on a decent piece of land on a quiet street. I had always wanted a fire pit. The neighbours had one. I wanted one too. (Picture a petulant child with her arms folded) I love roasted marshmallows and the thought of roasting my own over an open flame – instead of over the element of the stove like 10 year old Abbie did, or in the microwave like ahem-year old Abbie used to (don’t judge me, I like hot marshmallows) – in my yard, steps away from my TV and favourite chair. Come on. Of course I wanted a fire pit. And now, I’m sure, you do too. lol
Anyway, Random and I went to the home improvement store and we bought a fire pit kit and drove it into our backyard. It was the strangest thing I had seen in a long time, our cars parked side by side in the backyard while we unloaded the stones to build our fire pit. Cars. In the backyard. HA!
Over the next couple of days, Random built the fire pit and sent me pictures of the progress while I was at work. One cold November day in 2016, it was completed and we were going to have our first fire when I got home from work. We were having trouble getting the fire lit and then the howls of a pack of coyotes cut short our little plan and we hustled back to the house. No fire. No marshmallows.
Then the snow came, then the rest of a pretty crappy winter blew in, then finally spring arrived.
Late one night, at the end of April 2017 we had our first fire. It was cold and windy, but the flame caught and I finally able to roasted my port soaked jumbo marshmallow. (Yes, you read that right. I dunked a jumbo marshmallow in a glass of port and then roasted it – YUM!!)
We have had a number of fire pit nights since then. On one of those occasions we could not see each other for the smoke that blew in our faces and I was struck with an idea. I’m gonna build a rock wall to close in the area, protect the fire from gusts of wind and create a social space for us and our friends.
I was going to build it. I planned it out, excavated the stones from our property and the once vacant lots around our house. I hired the guys to bring me aggregate and dig the trench in which to put said aggregate. All of this was done, the foundation laid, and then…the dead heat of summer arrived and with it, entertaining season. After that it was Thanksgiving and then the beginning of wintery weather. And then, of course, Nanowrimo.
At this point we already know that I was a terrible daughter, friend and wife. It turned out that I was also a terrible general contractor and stone mason. (Skills I dare not add to my CV.)
The story of the rock wall deserves a post all it’s own and one day I may write it, but for now, the take away is this: it’s March 11th and it’s still not done.
So, there I am, Tuesday, November 21st, 2017. I have a fever. I have written 50, 183 words to my novel and I realize something very important. I am nowhere near finished this story.
Professor K and I attended a pre-retirement course provided by our 9 to 5 and while the instructors talked, my fever-addled brain tried to reason that it didn’t matter that I wasn’t finished, or that as November closed it wouldn’t be finished. Or that I had no idea what I was going to do when I retired or what on earth was a RIF.
Professor K, to his credit, tried his best to convince me that I was doing well. That this tricky part some refer to as the “middle march” or the “murky middle” was normal and the feelings I was experiencing were not unusual and in fact, are kind of expected.
Academically, I knew this. Not because I studied creative writing in school, I didn’t, but because the kind folks at Nanowrimo had written about this murky middle business. But they did that in week 2, and I was flying high during week 2. I should have known that I was not immune. For any number of reasons, but primarily because during week 2 I was no where near “the middle”.
I didn’t know it then, but Professor K and I would have this very conversation a few more times. On this same project. Thank goodness for continuity!
I tried to be more forgiving of myself. I tried to convince myself that it didn’t matter. I tried. But it mattered. I was beginning to feel like a failure and the numbers reflected it.
On day 22 I wrote 400 words.
On day 23 I wrote 22 words.
Was this another rock wall? An unfinished pathetic attempt? A ridiculous over-reach to a skill set that I just did not possess, but arrogantly thought I could master?
A literary rock wall. It wasn’t enough to have a literal rock wall? When I looked out the window and saw at it, it mocked me on two levels.
Some stone mason/writer I turned out to be.
The Friday of that week was my day off. I got some sleep and started to feel better physically, and about myself emotionally. I spent the day in the den and churned out a whopping 929 words! Things were turning around. I could feel it.
By Sunday, Day 26, my fever broke, and my words started to flow again. I ended the weekend having added 2,978 more words to my little tale.
But with 4 days left, was I going to be able to finish my novel?
Let me save you the suspense. No.
But we can talk about that next week.