The stacks of paper displayed in the photo to your left is what you wind up with when you channel–or, should I say, crank out–a novel at a NaNoWriMo-like pace. Ten years ago, 50 pages were born in one YA writing class, and 50 more spilled out in another. Seriously in the thick of the YA fiction writer community, it was not a question of if I would finish this book, but when. My story had already piqued the interest of a couple agents and some bestselling novelists. As someone who had been writing fiction since I was eight, it would have been just plain foolishness not to take advantage of the creative opportunities and inspired flow this one plot idea was bringing me.
For a couple months, my flow of fiction was stymied while I gathered up the courage to break up a dysfunctional relationship I had been in for a couple years. My two cats were basically held as ransom by my ex. He knew how much I adored my little girl and boy Bengals, so he figured if he put down his foot to claim them as his, I would not leave him either. I would be lying if I said that wasn’t part of the reason I kept flip-flopping over my decision for several more months.
However, I finally got myself moved out of the house we shared, and I wound up back living with my parents. Witnessing my heartbreak over losing my best furry friends, they agreed that I could adopt a kitten, despite their dislike of animals as pets in general. In a moment of inspiration, I committed to writing fifty more pages in my novel to earn the privilege of bringing new felines into my family. Thinking this would take me a month, at least, I surprised myself by writing more than 50 pages in a week. What can I say? I was fueled by anticipation, excitement and my desire to immerse myself in the kind of love that only an animal can provide.
Alexei turned out to be the perfect writing companion. He’d sit on my lap, or force me into proper posture by prostrating himself behind my back, as I typed away furiously on the computer. He’d look up at me with soulful eyes when I questioned whether to keep going. Purring and gently pawing at me, his love and affection energized the body when I was fatigued, refueled my confidence when it was lagging and reminded me of my worth when I felt beaten.
The next major dash came toward the end of that same year, when I met a woman at a writer’s conference who invited those of us in attendance at her breakout session to submit a draft of our novel to her publishing company. “It doesn’t have to be a complete or perfect, final draft,” she said in encouragement. “Just show me your best work.”
I took the bait–and the challenge–writing and cobbling together what turned out to total more than 200 pages. The novel was in no way finished. There were several huge scenes missing altogether. Dialogue of my two main characters started to sound stilted and coalesce as the story dragged on. My printer acted up, causing half the pages to format oddly, and it refused to display page numbers. Was it better to just wait until everything was right, or did I just take the leap and pray she appreciated my earnestness and recognized the diamond in the rough?
For good or for ill, I took the leap. A couple months later, I received a curt letter and my full manuscript returned to me unmarked. She took issue with the title–which was not a grammatically correct phrase, but made reference to an exact album title, fyi. I honestly don’t remember if she wrote anything else, but I took it for the rejection it was. Even knowing I had sent my novel baby off far too soon, I took to heart the utter lack of interest and regard in my characters and their promising, fictional lives.
While I still hammered away at the book over the next year or so, the overflowing fount of inspiration that had generated the first 200 pages of story began to trickle dry. As Novembers rolled by, I took advantage of NaNoWriMo challenges to dip back into my story, but I was always derailed before the end of the month, whether by illness, job obligations or sheer overwhelm and exhaustion. Eventually, my heart was no longer dwelled in the world which I had created.
Being a writer of many genres, the last several years have been dominated by newswriting, academic writing, essays and opinion pieces, poetry and even a children’s book series and a couple of plays. A little over a year ago, I realized that my years of writing about relationships and my journey toward better health–on my blogs and across multiple media platforms–had spawned a significant body of work. I took my husband’s suggestion to write a book about how I learned to take the reigns over from chronic illness to manifest better health of my body, mind and spirit. So I’ve been immersed in the emotionally exhausting, yet ultimately fulfilling, work of memoir, while also continuing my ghost writing and enrolling in more yoga teacher trainings.
But then the realization of turning 40 began to weigh on my heart. What were the things I had dreamed of accomplishing in my past, yet hadn’t in my present? What were my great passions that weren’t getting a lot of love lately? How could I transform the end of my 30s into a period of celebration and anticipation? Rather than wallow in regret over the past, how could I instead look ahead to 40 with excitement, joy and fulfillment? My answers: completing my first novel and being a published novelist; writing fiction; and using NaNoWriMo, which falls the month before my 40th birthday, as the catalyst for creative fecundity.
It was time to confront my past in order to come back to my creative center. Thus, I returned to my old novel about twins and remembered why I fell in love with them in the first place. Inspired by my original work, my rewrites and the newer material I had written in spurts over the years, I began writing as if I were discovering the story for the first time. Inevitably, I have bumped up against old holes in the plots, questions about the storyline–like which twin’s perspective is stronger to start with, which conflict should lead and which should develop later in the story? Yet I am trying to approach with curiosity and the sense of adventure, rather than with fear and the sense of dread.
Instead of writing completely anew, I dug out my old manuscript to identify what is gold, what was plain rubbish and what deserves a second (or third or tenth) chance. I have to admit sitting amongst to the piles of scenes I first wrote so many years ago, I felt great overwhelm and an insidious desire to just chuck it all. But then I found the voices, the scenes that started it all, and they still warm my soul and stir my heart a decade later.
Today, I write without my feline companion by my side. I sift through what’s stellar and what’s shit on my own. But it helps to know I’m not alone in the struggle to confront self-doubt and creative stuck-ness. Thousands of other writers are facing down their mental demons and opening up their hearts to channel the gifts of the muses, this month, this week, this day. May our writing dreams help fuel us through the rest of this writing month–and beyond.