“Patience” is a word my five-year old meets with a face like someone who’s just licked dish soap. I’m pretty sure that in his world, “patience” is equivalent to a four-letter adult word. Now and again, I’ve heard him creating dialogue between his toys, and one will counsel the other to ‘just be patient.’ The toy being counseled usually responds by knocking down, jumping on, and otherwise assaulting the toy that sounds a lot like me.
I smile to myself and try to remember how hard it is to be patient when you’re small and all the world is a great adventure full of mysteries to be explored. I pack him off to preschool with a hug and a kiss, and then I sprint for my writing nook, anxious not to waste a second.
Alright, alright. I do NOT generally sprint for my nook. I want to. Desperately. Sometimes it feels like my brain makes the mad dash, and the anguish when it hitsthe end of its tether and recoils back into the reality of what my body is doing is no joke. Some days, it’s enough to make me want to cry.
At least, that’s what life’s been like for me since July.
It’s one of those ‘seasons of life’ things we all read about. One of the fallow ones. Like early spring, when the ground is still too hard or too mushy, the night air still too fickle to put the seeds in the ground and expect anything to actually grow. This one is taking waaaaaay longer than I thought it would when I planned to take some time off from writing this summer. It’s time filled with 1000 other good things. But between all that good stuff, and challenging schedules, and a perpetual need to address the other issues that have also been neglected for months, I’m lucky if I manage to creep to my desk for five quiet minutes to reflect on my day or make a to-do list (and we’re talking the ‘no-kidding-do-this-today-or-suffer-the-consequences’ kind of list) in my daily planner.
Having read and reflected and counseled others through these periods, I know I’m supposed to grant myself some grace. That life sometimes takes us on surprising detours, and with grace that exceeds the merely human, the detours usually end up having greater meaning than we realized they did at the time.
But as I was sitting in my nook for 30 hectic minutes — each of which I spent gritting my teeth and telling myself that if I could just get through one more to-do list item THEN I could reward myself with writing time — I felt like my son must every time I ask him to do a chore before getting to the thing he really wants. And I just wanted to smash the obstacles that are keeping me from writing.
That’s when I realized: it’s mid-October already! For once, the recognition of time having passed isn’t accompanied by harsh self-judgment of all that I’ve yet to accomplish. Instead, hope hangs on it like the hint of rain in the wind. Mid-October hold the promise of unbridled creativity the same way the scent of September always spurs me to run, the smell of wet earth and cooler weather triggering the Pavlovian instinct to lap the soccer field or rugby pitch. Only, mid-October is the time to clear the deck to make the time in November to put everything else to the side in order to write a new novel: NaNoWriMo.
I completed NaNoWriMo for the first time four years ago. It was a revolutionary experience for me. I couldn’t believe I actually managed to hammer out 50,000 words in one month – and that just two months after moving back to the U.S. with a one-year old. It felt Herculean at the time. Now, having succeeded at it three more times, I know that it is challenging, certainly – but far from the near-impossible task it appeared to be that first November.
Each year I think back to that first year: writing at nap times and in the hours after the baby went down and before I collapsed from exhaustion, while still trying to learn my new community and establish new routines; and I know that if I could do it then, I can do it now. Which, if we take just one logical step further, means that I canwin against the Hydra that distracts me now, regardless of whether it’s October or November, or July. At the very least, I can at least choose to put down my sword in favor of the pen (or let’s be honest, keyboard) and get. back. to. the. writing.
I’m not actually planning to do NaNoWriMo this year. It makes me sad to watch from the sidelines, but with two manuscripts currently in need of revising, I plan to use the time to focus my energies on whipping those WIPs into shape rather than on creating another new temptation. But thanks to the lessons I’ve learned from NaNos past, I’m going to start carving out the time now. It will feel slow going at first: jotting a few notes here, making a game plan there, laying out my plot structure and diving deeper into my characters, until I know everythingabout them. And I’ll clear the distractions away, reminding myself to be patient with myself as I do. Remembering to create a ritual. Recognizing that getting my butt in my chair is half the battle. That even five minutes is better than no minutes. That November will come and I will go exploring in these big new worlds and will conquer the challenges I’ve created there — and then all the patience will prove worth it.
Are you doing NaNoWriMo? If so, let us know! (Admitting it is half way to getting it done!) We’ll cheer you on!
Not sure yet? Ask us any questions you want. Then give it a go. You’ve got nothing to lose and so much confidence to gain!
NaNoWriMo confession: I signed up last year and never did it. In my defense, I was just coming off of PitchWars and my brain was pretty mushy. But I really want to pull it off this year! Thanks, Thea, for encouraging us newbies to give it a go, and for reminding us about that helpful thing called patience. And now I have that Guns N’ Roses’ song in my head.