December 21, 2016

Another NaNo...Another Life Lesson

As many of you know, I participated in my 4th National Novel Writing Month this November, and made it for the 50,000 word win for the 3rd time in a row.

First, let me explain something to you about NaNoWriMo that you don't likely understand if you are a) not a writer, and b) have never participated in NaNo yourself.

It is all encompassing.

When you participate in NaNo for the win, you live and breathe NaNo. To write 50,000 words in 30 days, you have to average 1667 words per day. (And, remember, you're not just putting any old words on a page here, you're creating a whole other world...and you're hoping at least most of the words aren't total crap.) That's a fair amount of work, especially if you have a job or a life or young children who aren't in school all day. You have to work writing time into your regular life schedule, and you have to immerse yourself in what you're writing. Which means you become obsessed with the whole thing. It also means that it's really hard not to talk about it all the time. (Because, seriously, you want to talk about it All. The. Time.) Consequently, I feel the need to apologize to everyone who had to be around me last month. I probably should even apologize for this blog post, which is really just another excuse for me to talk about NaNo and writing. I'm like a needy child. Sorry.

Anyway, this year's experience was a little different from years past. First of all, I wasn't starting a new novel, I was finishing the one I started during NaNo 2015. Second, I had done the most extensive prep-work yet: outlining, plotting and researching--even more than last year. This meant that the writing seemed to come a bit easier. Which meant getting in my word count each day wasn't as difficult. Which meant I actually finished two days early. I've never done that before. Plus, by year four, I feel like I'm just plain getting a little better at it.

But none of that is really what I want to talk about.

NaNo, for me, is about so much more than writing 50,000 words in 30 days. It is a kind of celebration of writing. It marks the anniversary of when I really started to get serious about writing as an adult, about going after a life-long dream. Because here's the thing, for as long as I can remember I've wanted to be a writer. I've wanted to write stories since, well, since I could write. And it was a dream that lived mostly inside of me, until four years ago.

I really hope to one day get one of my books published. But let's be real here, there's a pretty decent chance that that will never happen. (It's really hard to get published.) I hope it does happen...I believe it will...but it may not. Which means I have to reconcile spending lots and lots of time and energy on something that may never come to what our culture would traditionally accept as "fruition." And some days that can be tough.

When I'm alone, it's not so bad. I'm lost in my work and it feels like that's all that matters. But when I'm out amongst the people, it can get tough.

Person: So, what do you do?
Me: I stay home with my kids...and I write.
Person: Oh, you write? What books have you published? Anything I might have heard of?
Me: Well, I haven't actually published any yet, but...fingers crossed.
Person: Oh, well, um, good luck with that. (wonders why I call myself a writer when I'm not published yet and looks awkwardly for subject change)
Me: (feels suddenly like a failure despite trying to go after my dreams) So, how about this weather?

Our culture does not support going after your dreams unless you actually achieve them. Only then are you a success story (especially if you make lots of money when you achieve them). No wonder so many of us focus on the destination rather than the journey. (And why we're all so amazed by things like the Tibetan monks who do the sand mandala paintings--hours and hours of work to create something so beautiful, only to sweep it away to symbolize the impermanence of life. ...Wait, they do what??)

And it can be hard to go against popular culture in any way. I can think of lots of examples, some big things, some being a stay-at-home mom, for example, (especially after having a career)...or, hold onto your hats here, being a stay-at-home dad! There's so much pressure to do it all and be it all...have the family and the career and be awesome at everything. Or it can be things like: choosing to homeschool your kids; choosing not to have kids (or not to get married); choosing not to join the uber-prevelant and super-competitive "busyness culture"; choosing not to buy into the pretty/sexy girl culture...the list of ways we can, and do, buck the system/go against the grain/stand up to pop culture is never ending. So I'll stop my random brainstorm there. Because I do have a point. (Thank goodness.)

It can be hard sometimes to do what is right for you when it isn't what fits neatly into the culture you live in. But it's so, so, so important to do it anyway. Life is so short, you must do what you were put here to do and you must do it your way. You must live the life you want. Even if it's not what your parents want or what your friends think is cool or what fits within the narrow strokes of what our culture has painted success to be.

And this is what NaNo does for me: it provides a sub-culture that supports my dream; it validates  what I spend so much of my time on, even if I haven't reached the imaginary finish line; it doesn't judge or get awkward, it just gives me a safe place to create my own kind of sand mandala; and it gives me other writers who, like the monks who pray around those painting the mandala, support and encourage and send good mojo. And that counts for a lot.

Until next time, go buck the system and live the life you choose. Do what makes you happy. Follow your dreams. And don't worry about what others think.

Namaste, my friend.

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