This year's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, which, through the hard work of founder Chris Baty and others, challenges intrepid writers all over the world to write a 50,000 page novel in the month of November) is leaping, galloping, limping to its close. I'd so eagerly anticipated November 1, because for the first time, I had writing buddies at my side. I also had a decent idea for a novel. But a tiny critic inside me dreaded the actual writing. "You've been editing old manuscripts for the past few years," it said. "And before that, you were freelancing exclusively and weren't focusing on your own work at all. What makes you think you can just switch gears and write a first draft of a novel?"
I raised my hand, like a timid child wishing to use the rest room. "Uh…because…because…I want to?"
"Who cares what you want?" it said. "You have a mortgage. You have a heating bill. Not to mention cable, telephone and…you like to eat, don't you?"
"Uh-huh…once in a while…"
"Organic apples don't come cheap, you know. So what business do you have dithering around writing a novel now? What do YOU get out of it?"
Hey, I thought. I don't have to take this. Especially from some wimpy little inner critic who doesn't seem to know me at all. I felt myself growing taller, and pointed a finger down at him.
"Look, you," I said. "Maybe you haven't noticed, but I've got a bunch of novels in the closet. I've done two NaNo challenges already. And what I get out of it is, first of all, the satisfaction of knowing I can blast through any stupid blocks –that includes you – to write a first draft of a novel, beginning, middle and end. Who cares if it's crap? That's what second drafts are for. And third drafts. And fourth drafts. And it's fun. What do you have against fun, you bitter, dried up old twig?"
"Hmpf," the thing said. He grew smaller, and smaller, until he disappeared.
Thanks to a number of stars lining up in the right order (a light schedule, the enthusiasm and support of my writing buddies, and the pulsing need to get back to my own fiction), I crossed the finish line on November 20. I ran downstairs to tell my husband the news.
He merely responded, "Thank God."
I was disappointed. I'd hoped for "congratulations," or at least something that showed his recognition that this challenge was important to me. But no. From the start, he just thought it was "crazy" to try to write the first draft of the convoluted plot I'd dreamed up in a month, let alone 20 days.
I felt my inner critic smile with glee, itching for another chance to hack me off at the knees. Fortunately, I got over my spouse's lack of response and savored my giddiness, my private shock that I'd accomplished this task, and my secret smiles.
Then, as Bill Murray's character said at the beginning of "Stripes," depression set in. I'd birthed a baby in the form of a 52,000-word messy first draft and soon afterward I developed post-NaNo depression. A kind of void. I'd thrown myself full-bore into this novel…ate, breathed, slept it until my little word-counter flashed green. And then…nothing. The rest of my life, the part I'd shoved to the side so I could devote so many stolen hours to the adventures of my characters, came flooding back. The unanswered mail. The piles of papers in my writing room. The stress.
That was it…stress. I hadn't put it together before, but breathing life into my new fictional world – not to mention all that typing - sucked up a lot of energy. It was good stress, but still it left me depleted.
"You need to heal," said holistic nutritionist Jennifer McKinley. I'd been taking part in a series of weekly workshops given by Jennifer, and the last one coincided with my completion of (and depletion from) NaNo. The agenda that night was a kind of catch-all, and over a potluck of amazingly delicious tidbits (we agreed to each make a recipe from the bounty Jennifer had given us over the 8 weeks) we talked about strategies for getting through the holidays eating healthfully, to keep our energy up and our stress levels down. I told her what had been on my agenda. Including the possibility of a neighborhood cookie swap.
She shook her head. "First priority is taking care of your health."
So when I finally realized what was going on with my body, and my spirit (it's all connected, I believe), I took myself back to square one. While I wasn't exactly living on Red Bulls and Pop-Tarts during NaNo time, I'd slipped back a bit. Too much chocolate. Eating almond butter out of the jar with a spoon. Skimping on vegetables. Not keeping the pantry stocked with healthy, energizing snacks. So I've been focusing on healing foods, like whole grains, beans, kale and other green leafies, ginger and garlic. Scrupulously avoiding foods that sap me, like sugar, gluten, and dairy products. No skipping the daily meditation.
It's helping. Slowly, I'm coming back. And for this next chapter of my life (more to come about that), I'll need to be sharp.
I can hardly wait.
As for next year's NaNo? I'll probably still do it, stealing away for hours at my computer like I'm meeting a secret lover. But between liaisons, I'll take better care of my body, mind and spirit.
No inner critics allowed.