Hell is a Blinking Cursor

Or a blank page. A blank page offers infinite possibilities!

I think that’s supposed to be exciting. But, for me, it’s paralyzing.

It’s a lot of pressure.

It’s the pressure to craft a killer opening line within an engaging first paragraph and to then write seamlessly to the story’s conclusion.

When I think like that, it’s over before it begins.

Because writing is messy. It’s spilled tea and split-open garbage bags and “What did I just step in?” and “Is that blood?”

I’m messy.

Let me invite you into my anxiety-addled brain, which prevented me from filling a journal cover-to-cover until this past year, at age 23.

It wasn’t the first journal I ever owned—not by a long shot.

That isn’t to say the journal was my first.

I’ve had many journals over the years. We’re talking a dozen at the very least. Hardcover journals. Spiral-bound journals. Journals with unlined pages. Journals with recycled paper pages. Journals with inspirational quotations on each page. At one point I had a password-protected, voice-activated journal case, for a journal I wrote in exclusively in vibrantly colored gel pens before doing what I always did: tearing out each page I marred with my handwriting, crumpling it up, and throwing it in the trash where it belonged. (Not the recycling bin, but the trash. No second chances! Just be happy I didn’t burn the pages.)

I once read that handwriting is basically the tangible equivalent of a person’s voice, and that would make sense, because I also hated hearing my voice recorded.

A few years ago, my best friend bought me Wreck This Journal, which should’ve been perfect for me. The description reads, “For anyone who’s ever wished to, but had trouble starting, keeping, or finishing a journal or sketchbook comes Wreck This Journal, an illustrated book that features a subversive collection of prompts, asking readers to muster up their best mistake- and mess-making abilities to fill the pages of the book (and destroy them).”

Looking through it now, there’s evidence (lipstick) that I halfheartedly chewed on a page that instructed me to “chew on this” and that I did indeed “color this entire page” using pink, orange, and blue highlighters, and that I even used a page to “collect fruit stickers.” But mostly I left the page instructions unfulfilled and put it back on the shelf, barely and poorly mutilated.

It’s that pressure again.

By asking me, the reader, to “muster up [my] best mistake- and mess-making abilities” I’m inferring that it’s not enough to make mistakes and messes, and that they have to be the biggest mistakes and the messiest messes!

As if anyone would know the difference!
As if anyone has a clue what kind of mess I’m capable of.

This year, I realized that the only person standing in my way is myself. And sure, I’m afraid of fucking everything up and doing it all wrong, but I’ll be damned if I let that keep me from doing anything at all.

This year, I filled out a journal cover-to-cover.

Perhaps before this year ends, I’ll destroy one.

unnamed

 

Quitters Gonna Quit

If you already know what the hell NaNoWriMo is–skim this next part.
Better yet–skip it.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s a writing thing.

The NaNo forum Rules, Regulations, & Other Minutiae gives by-the-book answers on how to do NaNoWriMo.

There are rules for how to become a traditional winner:
1. Write 50,000 words between November 1st and November 30th.
More specifically:
a. 50,000 words of fiction
b. 50,000 words that aren’t the same word repeated 50,000 times.
2. Only words written during November count towards your word count.
a. Prior to November, you can feel free to write up outlines, character sketches, etc. but those words won’t count towards the 50,000.
3. Be the sole author of your novel.

Fifty-thousand words. Thirty days. The math comes out to approximately 1,667 words per day; there are  word count charts that can be found all over the Internet to help you stay on track!

Exhibit A:

nanowrimo_word_count_calendar_by_elianabrooks-d6qooxk
You can validate your word count on the official NaNo website. Then once you’ve accumulated 50,000 words, you’ve won!

Yep. That’s the gist of it.

Okay, you can stop skimming.

STOP SKIMMING!

Okay?

You should be stopped by now.

***

And now we’re on to why this quitter quit!

Things that cause in me a failure to thrive:
1. Being told what to do, and how and when to do it. Basically any pressure at all makes me resistant (the exception being of self-pressure). It’s why I abhor unsolicited advice. It’s also why if at dinner someone asks, “Do you want to try a bite of mine?” or says, “You have to try this” my reactions is, NO THANKS. I don’t have to do anything! Even if I steal a fry off your plate, the second you say, “Go ahead” or “have some more” or “have them all!” I’m all, Oh, no, that’s okay, I’m good.

So at first what I hear NaNo saying is, “Hey, you’re going to write! You’re going to write 1,667 or more words per day! All November long!”

And at first the enthusiasm implied in those exclamation marks gets me, and I’m like, “Yeah, I am!” Because it was my idea to sign up for NaNoWriMo. Because I can write 1,667 words per day. Because I am in no way opposed to the idea of writing a 50,000-word novel in a month.

Except! Inevitably, I will question myself a few days in:

Do I want to write 1,667 words per day on average over the course of the next thirty days? Well, sure, but I don’t want to have to.

2. Feeling obligated. This is where it starts to fall apart: NaNoWriMo dictates that I have to, and I don’t like feeling like I have to do things; I like feeling like I get to do things. Doing the thing that’s caused this have-to feeling in the first place starts to feel wrong.

3. Self-doubt. This is where I give into thinking I’m doing it all wrong. This is where I begin to read every blog I can possibly find about NaNo, where I then uncover even more rules. Rules like, “Kill your inner editor.”

What do you mean kill my inner editor? I like her. She is me.

4. Anxiety. And nothing says anxiety to me like thirty blank squares on a calendar page staring at me like thirty blank Word document pages with thirty blinking cursors, except maybe thirty mostly blank squares with each day’s word count goal typed out in bold.

At this point, it doesn’t matter how many pep talks try to reassure me it’s okay to suck and that all first drafts are shit anyway.

5. Shame. The shame of quitting lasts all of five seconds.

Quitting NaNoWriMo is in no way quitting writing.
Quitting NaNoWriMo is something I can actually do.

Last year, I quit at 34,667 words.
This year I quit at 15,600.

It’s a OSFA-approach, and it doesn’t fit me, and I’m not the only one. There’s an entire forum dedicated to writers who don’t follow the rules: NaNo Rebels.

Maybe next year I’ll join the rebellion.