Two years ago, I wrote about doing something that terrified me. After taking the first step towards where I am now by starting this blog, I whispered the words that had been buried deep inside me for a very long time: “I want to be a writer”. Not only that, but I wanted to be a “real” writer, the kind that told stories and actually had other people read them. So I signed up for NaNoWriMo, planning to finish a novel that I had been working on in some way or another since I was eighteen. At just under forty-thousand words (the goal of NaNo is 50K) I didn’t “win” or finish the novel that year. The spare, nonsensical draft that resulted from that attempt was filed away on my hard-drive to gather proverbial dust (I had not yet learned the magical skill of revising and rewriting). The following year, I tried again…with even less success. My 2012 NaNo novel never really made it off the launching pad, but for a very interesting reason.
It wasn’t simply that I was busy. That November, I was in the middle of my heaviest course load while also working a full-time job, which would have been reason enough to fall behind on my word count. But what really took me away from that year’s novel was another thing that scared the living daylights out of me: my first writing class. I may not have succeeded in my first foray into the world of novel-writing, but that little whisper inside had grown a bit louder. “I want to be a writer,” I mumbled with an apologetic shrug, and soaked up every critique, comment, and word of wisdom uttered in my vicinity. Still scared, still intimidated by all the “real” writers out there, I wrote my exercises for class and hoped to earn my tough-as-nails professor’s approval. It never quite happened and instead I learned to develop a thicker skin, to take in advice on my work without taking it to my fragile heart. And then a magical thing happened. In bidding me goodbye at our final class—held at his apartment with copious amounts of wine and good food (yes, grad school is sometimes awesome—he hugged me and told me that it had been a joy to watch me blossom as a writer. I may have cried just a little bit…or that might have been wine tears.
Corny as it sounds, I had blossomed in that class. And I immediately signed up for another class the next semester. That class led to the first seeds of the novel that I’m working on now. It also led to Greece and the ridiculous adventure of writing in paradise. That trip turned the seeds of a novel into a plan and the ability to say with level eyes and a steady voice, “I want to be a writer…I am a writer.” And that confidence led to finally, two years later, on my third try, winning NaNoWriMo.
The draft that I have now is a lot like Frankenstein’s famous creature. It’s pieced together out of spare parts and brought to life by a spark of energy. It hasn’t quite got its legs under it yet and has no idea how to control all its moving parts—hands, what do I do with hands! But it is, impossibly, magically, alive. And unlike Frankenstein’s creature, I’m not about to abandon my baby. I may hack it to pieces and stitch it back together in a painful, bloody makeover. But it’s for its own good. Also, I’m not quite sure how this motherhood thing works, so it’s a good thing I’m talking about a novel and not a human baby.
I could say that the reason I won this year’s NaNo instead of collapsing before the finish line is because I had more at stake than bragging rights. I could say that NaNo was just a tool for the bigger goal of completing a draft of my master’s thesis project. But I think even if I had decided to stick with a straight research project and kept my writing separate, I still would have won. Because after a year like this one, after two failed attempts, having built a community of fellow writers who inspire and support me, and raised my voice above a whisper, I have something that I never had before when it came to my writing: confidence. I sat down at my computer on November first and knew that I could do this. I could absolutely, without a doubt, write this novel. The question was whether I could do it in thirty days, and after finding out that the daily word goal of 1,667 was approximately an hour of good work, I was pretty confident I could do that too. More importantly, I was confident that whatever beastly creature of a draft that emerged from this feverish stage would become workable and even good after many passes of editing. My first NaNo, I condemned my Frankenstein draft to the darkest corner of my computer because it was terrible and I didn’t have a magic wand to make it pretty. I still don’t have a magic wand. If I did, there are probably a few things I would do before making over a crappy first draft. My bank account and non-existent six pack come to mind.
Winning NaNoWriMo is like winning the AL East in baseball. It’s tough, maybe the toughest part, and definitely something to celebrate. But it’s not the end, not even close. You have a champagne bath, clean up your bruises, soak your sore muscles, and tape up your injuries. Then you call in reinforcements and push on towards the big goal. If you won NaNo this year, congratulations. Don your winner’s shirt, bask in the glow of the holiday season and give those typing fingers a much deserved break. And then come back. In January, February, or even next week. Survey what you’ve accomplished, and then suit up to go another nine innings. Winning is just the beginning.