“Slowly I Turned”: NaNoWriMo, banzai!

I’m reluctant to use the word ‘irony,’ mainly because it has been so abused in common usage as to have lost most of its impact. At the same time, I hesitate over the word ‘paradox,’ due to a similar objection: it is wielded often enough, but seldom by people who have more than a vague idea what it means.

To speak simply, this blog about hindrances to the writing life has itself become a hindrance. You see, this is November. November is National Novel Writing Month. National Novel Writing Month, when abbreviated to NaNoWriMo, is a 30-day challenge to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in its first-draft form. This year, I am participating in that challenge. You can, I am sure, grasp my problem. Right now, I could be working on my NaNoWriMo novel… but I’m here instead, blogging about this whatever-you-want-to-call-it. One of my inner voices is stomping around the room, yelling, “Gaaaaah!” at this very moment, all the more so because I and my body refuse to descend to its level.

There’s a good reason why I’m here, however—otherwise I wouldn’t be, obviously. This phenomenon has drawn my attention to a larger version of itself that overshadows my entire life. When I decided to start an experiment in self-publishing back in 2004, back when The Keeper House Unending was still A King in Exile (as some of you may remember), I learned that the writing life takes me seriously when I take it seriously. In fact, the more seriously I take it, the greater a hold it takes on me. That makes sense to me. Full immersion into anything is a much more powerful experience than a temporary dabble. Of course.

But then comes the backlash. Try what I may, I have not found a way to make the writing life wholly mine. That part of me remains a shadowy alter ego, coming out mainly after dark and on weekends. The daytime ‘me’ hardly seems a real creature by comparison, but this is the ‘me’ with which I am saddled most of the time. This is the ‘me’ who pays my bills by working a decidedly uncongenial job in a difficult environment; I can’t very well put that ‘me’ to death and go on living myself. So the writing life remains, by and large, an unrequited infatuation for me.

Here’s where it gets difficult: when you take someone else seriously, but they refuse to return the compliment, all you wind up with in the end is pain. I suspected this for a long time, but it never really came home to me until this summer. I spent most of the spring and summer working on a nonfiction piece that, frankly, I didn’t enjoy writing. I wrote it because I felt I needed to do so. After I finished the manuscript and put it to rest, I was at a loss. There was a project on which I had been working beforehand, a seed that had lain dormant for several years before coming alive last year. I tried going back to it, but I couldn’t. It had lost its momentum and had to be put away again. Other than that… there was nothing.

I didn’t write anything for several weeks. For me, that’s highly unusual. Normally I have anywhere from two to four projects in varying stages of development. The dry spell shook me a little. It was as if the pain of the writing life—yes, any honest writer will tell you that this life can and does hurt—so far outweighed the pleasure of it that I couldn’t work up the fortitude to start back up again.

I think that’s why I took up the NaNoWriMo challenge. With the discipline of a 30-day timetable behind me, I took a completely new project idea and decided to plow onward with it, regardless of emotion or motivation. Now that I’m in it, I can’t get away from it—and nor do I wish to. Writing is one of those foundational aspects to my identity. When I try to walk away from it, I’m not myself anymore. Okay, yes, it makes me a wee bit crankier when I go to work, knowing that (in some parallel universe somewhere, perhaps) I could be sitting at home and using the productive midmorning hours to do what I love instead of to persevere through something I endure at best. I’m trying not to let that get in the way of a respectable work ethic. I’m also presently trying not to let it get in the way of daily housekeeping, so if you’ll excuse me, I need to wash dishes and check laundry before I let myself get caught up again.


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Fantasy novelist and essayist H.M. Snow, author of the Last Book of the Kings series and the novella Faerie Tales for Travelers.

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