Monday, November 06, 2006

Days 4 & 5: retreating

After having decided not to do NaNoWriMo this year, I threw my hat in the writerly ring at the very last minute. After having decided that I didn't have to do NaNo this year--after deciding I didn't have time, I didn't have anything to prove after finishing NaNo two years in a row, and I didn't have a burning desire to work on a Novel versus Something Else--I'm approaching this year's So-Called Novel with very flexible expectations. This year, I'm not trying to prove anything to myself or others, and I'm not trying to write something "readable." This year, I'm truly writing for myself, not caring whether the Thing I'm writing even resembles a novel but writing because I think the process is worthwhile.

All this being said, I made a couple of promises to myself when I decided to try NaNoWriMo even though I'm currently teaching six classes and technically don't have time for this madness. I promised myself to keep NaNo on the bottom of my priority list. Although I'm taking seriously my goal to write 50,000 words during the month of November, it's not worth losing sleep over. NaNo isn't paying my bills--my teaching is--and NaNo isn't keeping me healthy and sane--a semi-regular sleep schedule is. When I decided at the eleventh hour to toss my hat playfully into the NaNoWriMo ring, I promised to approach the project with a sense of playful abandon. This is supposed to be fun, after all: the last thing I need during the month of November is more work. If I'm not having fun writing, I have permission to stop writing and start doing something else. And I don't have permission to stay up late, ingest unhealthy amounts of caffeine, or skip out on meditation practice, exercise, or social interactions just because of a silly little thing called NaNo. I've done all of those self-abusive things in the past, and they're simply not worth it.

So, this weekend I didn't work on the so-called novel: instead, I sat one day of retreat at the Providence Zen Center on Saturday and attended a women's brunch at the Cambridge Zen Center on Sunday. These were commitments I'd scheduled before deciding to do NaNoWriMo, so I felt strongly about keeping them: writing a novel in a month isn't worth cancelling retreat days or social engagements. I'd hoped to write on Saturday morning before heading off for retreat, and I'd planned to write on Sunday after I got home. But life intervened, and I didn't fight it. It's not worth losing sleep over, I reminded myself. A month is a short time to write 50,000 words, but it's a long time to be perpetually sleep-deprived. Right now, I'm about 7,000 words behind where I "should" be...but having completed NaNoWriMo two years running, I know that it's easy to make-up word count when you have free time, and this weekend I didn't.

Having spent a lot of my life juggling various large commitments--a dissertation, several blogs, two novels, and more paper-grading than you dare imagine--I've learned the hard way that being productive isn't a matter of how or how much you's more a matter of how or how much you rest when you're not working. Right now, I could worry myself into a frenzy over the 7,000 words I haven't written...and that would probably make me feel so bad, behind, and hopeless, I'd avoid even touching the So-Called Novel. What's better in the long run, I've learned the hard way, is to cut myself the same slack I'd give a panicked student who was convinced she couldn't possibly write Paper X. "Okay," I'd say. "Take a breath. What seems to be the problem, and how can we divide this task into do-able chunks so you feel good about making forward motion rather than feeling bad about being stalled?"

So tonight's goal isn't to stay up all night trying to write 7,000 words; tonight's goal is to write 1,667 words, the same as any other day. Next weekend, after spending another week paying the bills, I will spend some leisurely at-home pajama time making up for word-count. In the meantime, those 7,000 unwritten words aren't going anywhere, and they definitely aren't worth losing sleep over.
Word count: 3,207
Where & when: in bed on Friday night, still tired from a week of grading catch-up
Last line: The quiet giant strong enough to rock her to sleep had succeeded again, whatever his name might be.


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