December 1st is the first day I’ve been back at it. At just half past November, I found myself grinding away at story ideas while simultaneously losing the struggle to maintain the basics of life. Unnumbered unmentionables were gathering against me.
In order to preserve a mote of sanity and physical health, I threw in the towel. Now, about two weeks later, I’ve returned to the blank page. I just wrote about five-hundred words and I did so knowing that I made it over my mountain of laundry, through my son’s birthday, and past tree cutting. Sometimes, to get to our best work, we’ve got to take back our time.
Did I win NaNo? Nope, not even close this year. In fact, as the month went on I found myself ignoring my word count entirely. Every time I took the measure of my progress I felt increasingly defeated. Other writers were posting redonkulous numbers. “I wrote 415k; now I’ve got to edit,” that sort of thing. Relative to this variety of madness I guess I’m just not much of a writer. But I know better, if you hope to hike the whole trail, you’d best be sure your pack has what you need.
A sprint to the end of NaNo would have killed the sure and steady progress I have otherwise been making on works in progress, and, at least, I knew this much about myself. So, I took the time I needed. I played too many video games, got caught up around our house, went for walks in the woods, built a kayak storage stand, and even made a worthy contribution to summer bicycling tour plans.
Writing is as much a habit as it is a vocation, once you’re invested in the pattern it can be difficult to give it up, even for a short time. When word count becomes a way to keep score, I find that my motivations are modified. Abridged. I write in anger, not mindfully, because I’m unable to discern my creative urge from the competitive one.
And when I pause to think about it I know that I don’t want that badge. During the past couple of weeks I’ve thought about this a lot, I know one of the marks of a mature author may be an ability to understand when the words aren’t working. Perhaps more importantly, why those words could never work. For this reason this may have been my last NaNo.
Ernest Hemmingway once wrote that he moved beyond writer’s block by writing “one true sentence.” He elaborated on this dictum in A Moveable Feast.
Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.
As I take on the burden of ink once more I do not despair. I will write one thing I know to be true and follow it up with the next.