On Winning NaNoWriMo 2018 And Other Hard Things

Maybe this time, finally, I have learned the lesson: stop mealy-mouthing and go do the thing. No mental hijacking required.

Yesterday, I won NaNoWriMo. I crossed the threshold at 50,528 words, the most I have ever written in a single document in my entire life. That includes writing for English undergraduate and communications graduate degrees. For my master’s, I had to turn in a 10-page paper per week for the entire program, which was a year long — but, that was still only 10 pages at a time. Okay, I think my thesis had to be 20-30. Ish. I can’t remember. I’m a dinosaur.

My point — I don’t believe I have ever kept focus on one thing for so long in all my 43 years. And, the kicker? 50,000+ words only got me 1/3 of the way through what I’m slowly realizing is a behemoth of a story on par with Robert Jordan or my beloved GRRM. (I am already preparing for the blood that will flow when I have to cut, and then cut some more. It will be brutal.) But, here’s the thing. I was enthralled by my story. I was swept away by it. I still am. I spent three hours awake past my bedtime last night pinning photos that fit the aesthetic of my story.

I have turned into a teen fan girl. Twee-ing over my own words. The mind boggles.

But isn’t that what all famous/successful/published authors report from the trenches? That they live and breathe their work as it progresses, until it becomes more real than their actual reality? Hey, don’t ask me. I think I read it somewhere in a book.

I really had no idea what to expect from this process. I put my writing chops on a shelf for the last 20 years where they grew dusty and mildewed. I was happy to forget they existed, just another pile of useless trash sitting in my mental attic. So, to take them down again, brush them off and start them up, put fresh batteries in the chamber, tinker with the buttons and make them perform for something as expansive and all-consuming as NaNoWriMo? Preposterous. I was about as prepared for this as that high school kid who ran for governor of Kansas this year. Dumb, but optimistic.

And yet. And yet. I did it. I pushed. I wrote. I let the house fall apart around me and refrained from chucking the previous day’s work into the trash over and over. Somehow I coughed out the right number of words in a semi-coherent order and last night, when my shiny new copy of Scrivener told me my manuscript had reached my goal, I pressed the button to validate. And there it was. The winner’s page.

I felt numb.

Don’t get me wrong. I was thrilled. Ecstatic. Relieved. Truly, truly I was. And, after a few hours and some mindless TV, I actually felt all those things. But my first reaction — the most pure reaction — was utter numbness. It was similar to the feeling I had when I finished my first half marathon. I’d trained and I’d prepared (sort of) for months, wavering between “I can’t do this” and “I totally got this”, and the actual race was exhilarating and grueling and impossible. But the instant I crossed the finish line all I could think about was sitting. the. fuck. down. And when would I get that damn beer they promised? The reality of what I’d just done hadn’t yet settled onto me the same way the sweet girl at the end settled the winner’s medal around my neck. I could feel it hanging there, but my body hurt so bad it just became one more weird sensation to ignore.

Both endeavors, NaNoWriMo and running a half marathon, were absolute, don’t-even-suggest-it, utter no-go impossibilities to me even five years ago. If future me had swept down out of a cloud and shown me a grainy home movie of that time I ran 13 miles or that time I wrote half a novel I would have yelled “fake news!” and kept on trucking. Sometimes I am awed and a little bit nervous about where I get these audacious ideas — or from what, I am not convinced there is not some divine sumthin’ sumthin’ at work here — that I can actually, you know, do hard things. After all, Rational Me, the loudest voice in my head choir, usually has the word “NOPE” playing on repeat.

It’s a good thing that sneaky little twat, Subconscious Me, or maybe Daring Me, tells that asshole to go fuck itself and takes the wheel as I lace up my running shoes or press the sign up button on NaNoWriMo.org.

Maybe this time, finally, I have learned the lesson: stop mealy-mouthing and go do the thing. No mental hijacking required.

Aye, aye, captain.

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