It is a damp, drizzly November in my soul–Herman Melville
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a lone writer during National Novel Writing Month must be in want of a life.
As an introverted writer living in the country, I’m normally in want of a life, but there is something about the tangle of bare branches against the flat grey November sky this morning that underscores that fact in a particularly pointed way. I love solitude, but sometimes my thoughts are more oppressive than the lead-swirling clouds, and I realize I’ve been spending much too much time inside my own head.
The month started out well, in a sustained blaze of color from the trees that matched the persistent energy of my creativity. Words fluttered down and piled in drifts at my feet, there for the grabbing in huge handfuls. Monday, however, arrived on the back of an especially Mondayish gust of plot twists that included two sick little boys and an unfortunate incident in which my writing chair made an attempt on my life. (One of my dad’s favorite pieces of advice is, “Never trust a kid.” This is incontrovertibly wise. I would like to add to that, “Also, never trust a chair on wheels.” It will turn on you. Literally. I have an approximately Rhode Island-sized bruise on my posterior that proves that this is the case. If you have ever written anything more substantial than a check, you will understand that a bruised bum is a serious setback for a writer.)
Over the past few days, I have been fighting like grim death to hold on to my writing goals and watching them ooze through my fingers. I wonder how other writers do it. How is it possible to make this work, this writing/parenting/working/Cancer Dog/life thing? I’ve read musings, both rapturous and abrasive, by published writers on the virtues (or lack thereof) of National Novel Writing Month. But the truth of the matter is that what this write-a-novel-thingy-in-a-month madness is all about is being a writer. And being a writer means not putting words on paper or a screen, but living the writing life (see “Dillard, Annie.” And if you see her, please tell her that I’m still waiting to hear back on whether she will adopt me). For one month, in November, the unwashed masses of unpublished writers like me are encouraged to act like real writers, to make writing a priority–the priority. As many have pointed out, this is what we should be doing all the time, not just in November, if we’re going to succeed.
But it’s hard. It is so hard. It’s impossible, really. Completely mad to think that, amidst all the other clamoring demands of life, we could actually do this, could actually produce books, the way Real Writers do. I get so frustrated with those Real Writers sometimes. I mean, who are these people? How do they get anything done? Do they all have nannies staying home with their sick kids? Does someone else do the laundry, plan and cook the meals, clean the house, tend the garden, do the chores and errands, take Cancer Dog to vet appointments, pay the bills, balance the budget, bring home a paycheck? I think of one of my professors from Once Upon a Time in Days of Yore, who, when his back went out, had his wife come in to the office for the day to reach down books from the shelves for him. I wanted a wife so bad.
I have to remind myself that all those Real Writers somehow got where they are. At some point in their pasts, they were knee-deep in the madness, too. And they still are. I know that things don’t get easier, that life doesn’t somehow open up in a wide vista before them all of a sudden, that nobody slaps medals on their chests and booms, “You have ARRIVED!!”
Still, it’s a nice mental image.
I feel myself starting to ramble. I’m at that point in the month where I’m beginning to have the sneaking suspicion that it is entirely possible to run out of words. So, before I have used ALL THE WORDS, I’ll cut this short. I guess what I want with this–do we know what we want when we write, or are we writing in order to find out? I guess what I want is to say that I am here, in my black hole, and I suspect that I am not the only one, and that if you, too, are out there in the far cold reaches of space screaming soundlessly into a void, I hear you. This writing thing is as isolating as hell, and as fiercely cold and terrifying sometimes. But you are not alone.