For Whom the Bell Tolls

It tolls for me.

Or, something like that. And I thought, at first, it was the bing-bonging herald of abject failure. After some reflection, I have decided this might not be true. Perhaps it’s not the sound of failure at all, but the sound of my mind and creativity being liberated from the mire and the muck of that dreaded phrase: “have to”. After all, I just used the words “bing-bonging” and “abject” in the same sentence. Could someone who is a complete and utter failure do such a thing? I think not.

But I sense you staring at your computer screen, reading these words with your head tilted to one side and a quizzical expression on your face. “What,” you wonder, “is this nutty woman nattering on about now?” So, let me explain …

Night before last, I decided NaNo was over and done for me. I started off the month woefully behind on my word count. I managed to catch up, which thrilled me. I also managed to catch a humdinger of a cold, which, needless to say, I found less than thrilling. This month has been a whirlwind of stuff: errands and after school activities and vet appointments and church meetings and family obligations and piano lessons and on and on and on. This is the endless, merry-go-round cycle of my life. I know this. But, somehow, things seemed to get kicked up a couple of notches this month. I know this is because of NaNo. It has happened before, and I even expected it, sort of. Anyhow, I am now at a point where I’m standing in the middle of life’s freeway, watching the holidays coming at me full-blast, their headlights bearing down on me, and I have concluded there are only two choices: jump for safety or get plowed into roadkill. I chose “safety”, by the way. This is not always a forgone conclusion. I have chosen “roadkill” in the past. I’ve decided the likelihood of me hitting the 50,000 word count before the end of November is slim. I’m at about 30,000 words, so it could happen … maybe.

leaf with rain dropsBut here’s the thing: I realized I don’t even care.

This is huge for me. HUGE! This is (I think?) my fourth time participating in NaNo. I have proven I can write 50,000 words in a month. Don’t get me wrong; this is a stunning accomplishment. I applaud anyone who can pull it off, and I felt incredibly proud of myself in those years when I managed to hit that elusive goal. But NaNo became just that for me: a goal. It became all about hitting the final word count, instead of being about getting some time in with the muses and some work completed. Every year that I hit the word count, it was like I got to the end of November, looked around, and said to myself, “Well, great. I’m done! Where’s my web badge?” I didn’t pursue the projects I had started. I didn’t finish anything. I just stopped and left everything dangling once my word counter hit 50K.

This year has been different. Perhaps it’s because writing, at the moment, is not fun for me. I no longer enjoy working on my in-progress book. I hope I will get back to those feelings of giddy happiness with it, but I’m just not there right now. Right now, it’s all about slogging forward. And making progress with the new scenes that need to be included in this story. And working the story around to where I know it needs to be. And delving into emotions and thoughts I might not want to explore in order to get to know my characters a lot better. None of this is fun for me. My characters have begun to feel like people I invited over for a party, who then set up camp in my house, ran up a huge phone bill, and ate all of my food. This year, even though my word count didn’t pile up as quickly as it had in years past, I felt really good about the fact that I was moving a long-standing project forward.Β 

And then it occurred to me: I needed this attitude adjustment. I can’t afford to hit the final word goal for NaNo and, then, walk away from this project again. It can’t be all about the act of “winning” this contest-thingie or about proving to myself that I am a writer because I can write 50,000 words in 30 days. No. It has to be about making progress and getting something completed. It has to be about THE WORK, not the goal. It has to be about breathing life into this story that has simmered in my brain for so many years now. Because I am a writer, and because I need to own that for myself, instead of treating it as if Β it isn’t real. As if I need someone or something else to validate it for me.

So, for perhaps the first time in my life, I have decided to walk away from a challenge. I may hit 50,000 words, and that’s all right. I may not hit 50,000 words. And you know what? That’s all right, too. I feel lighter already.

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4 thoughts on “For Whom the Bell Tolls

  1. The bell tolls not for you but for all men!! I got it immediately and didn’t head tilt quizzically once. I reckon sometimes it is harder to stop than go on. Good on ya!!!! What ever you decide to do!!!
    Like your other followers it is just good to see you in the in tray!!! πŸ™‚

    • Thank you, thank you! (As always, my friend. :D) I keep promising myself that I will be a more regular fixture around here, both in my own blog and in reading other blogs. So far, life is winning, though. Bah. I continue to have hope. πŸ˜€

      For me, it has always been harder to stop than to continue on. This is why I finished law school, in spite of how miserable I was. My parents’ favorite refrain has always been: “We didn’t raise you to be a quitter!” Great advice sometimes. And, other times … not so great. LOL

      The important thing is that I keep moving forward on this book. It MUST be finished. If not, I think I am going to lose my mind. And I’m only half-kidding there. If I continue making progress on it, I will consider NaNo time well spent, even without hitting the final word goal. πŸ˜€

  2. I don’t need NaNo or anything else to keep me writing – and I write to enjoy – all year round. For me, word count doesn’t mean much – in fact it means absolutely nothing. The quality of content is what it’s all about, I reckon, not quantity.

    I think you made the right choice in walking away.

    • Yes! I love what you said about writing to enjoy. This is what I want to come back to, especially with my current project. I’m not there at the moment, but I have hope things will swing back in that direction. It was an epiphany to realize just how bogged down I got in the “have to” idea of hitting a certain word goal. Once I realized that, I knew I was not using NaNo for its intended purpose, which is to spur and nurture creativity. I think I made the right choice in walking away, too. πŸ™‚

      Thanks, as always, for your support and your wise comments and insight. I appreciate it.

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