Last Monday, the last day of October and the day before I began this challenge of writing 50,000 of a first draft of a novel in 30 days, I wrote myself a list of what I had in my corner to support me through November.
The first was time. I do not work full time, so I have those two magical hours a day to write in the morning as long as I am willing to get up at 5.30. And, yes, I am willing.
The second was place. I have a study and desk where I can write, free of clutter and full of inspiration, overlooking a window (I cannot work when I am facing a wall). I know I am incredibly blessed to have this space, what Auntie Virginia dubbed A Room of One’s Own. But I also have the means to take myself out for a coffee when I need a change of scenery to write too. A Room not of One’s Own can also be a necessity.
The last advantage that I thought of was my strong writing hand. For the last fifteen years I have written three A4 pages longhand in half an hour every day. The connection between my mind and my hand is strong. I was sure this would come in useful during November’s writing marathon.
I thought being armed with these three facts would keep me strong throughout any early wobbles. And on that first day I definitely felt nerves before I began writing. All I could see was the mountain ~ how does a person write 50,000 words in a month, that is 1,677 words every single day? And what I actually meant by this was ~ how does a person write 50,000 words in a month, without blood sweat and tears? My desire to remain unscathed was as strong as my desire to get this draft down on paper. Changed? I can accept that. Harmed? I cannot.
So on that first day as I sat in the coffee shop, pen in hand with the weight of all my promises weighing down on me, there was that sliver of a possibility that I might not start at all. Could I do this? I didn’t know. And not knowing if I could complete a task before I started it was what weighed the heaviest upon me. Thankfully, despite this uncertainty I knew I had to try. The project already had me in its hand. Even if I didn’t embark upon the good ship NaNoWriMo, I would continue to live in the story’s grip, until I committed it to paper. And that’s what led me to put the first word on the page: knowing that I needed to take control and establish that I owned the project, and not the other way round.
After 80 minutes I had my first 1000 written. I felt calm and it felt like the words were flowing from something deep and centred already within me. It felt like I was coming into my own creative rhythm. It was a good start.
As the week unfolded the writing was good and right on target for my word count, but what was taking its toll was the rest of the stuff that makes up a life. I easily get to feeling resentful of working and living against the clock. But it was the novel writing that felt like the most calm and connected part of my day. There was no ease in the rest of my working week ~ it was all pow, pow, pow! But I held on to the thread and picked up my pen at the same time every morning and settled in for two hours of writing.
The list of things in my corner did turn out to be a comfort, especially my ability to write longhand with ease. I’ve not seen the value in my daily journalling as a writing practice before, as its biggest benefit in my life has been its positive impact on my mental health. But honing the skill of sitting and writing down what is on my mind, without fuss or hesitation, has meant I have been able to take full advantage of the writing time available to me. And I’ve had no hand cramping problems either!
Then on Friday night I watched Carol ~ the film version of Patricia Highsmith’s first novel. Highsmith is one of my all time writing heroes. As an English teacher who sometimes has to mark confusing sentences for hours at a time, the first thing I want to read when I’m done is a Patricia Highsmith short story (thankfully there are many). Her concise sentences are like a long glass of water to a mind parched of beautiful, clear language.
But watching Carol? I was so incredibly moved because freed of the captivating language, it was the story I watched on screen, and I realised the lead character of Thérèse was so clearly Patrica Highsmith rendering a version of her own young self. A young self who was deeply changed by the act of falling in love as a young woman. The novel I am writing is a coming of age story too, and in a way I am writing my own Carol. We write about what haunts us and what we can’t shake loose. The film’s eloquence was showing how much we can learn about ourselves through the mirror of another person that we fall for, even if we never really end up with them in any way that looks meaningful to the rest of the world. Just for Friday I felt like Patricia Highsmith was my twin writing flame. But it’s a memory I’ll hold on to for the rest of the month.
November is the dark before the celebration month of December, and I am spending it with my face turned towards this first draft. It feels like the last year has already passed and am I building a bridge to the next. It’s this bridge that I’m building that will support me through November and let me cross over to the new year that lies ahead.