Two weeks ago, the family and I took a drive up to New York State to visit my sister-in-law in a quaint town that overlooks the Hudson River. I was stressed about the drive, since keeping kids relatively quiet and entertained for three (or more) hours in a car ain’t easy. There’s a lot of snack-eating and answering questions and trying to find soothing music and convincing them to take a nap, all of which makes me need a nap myself.
The thing I found surprising on the drive, though, was how peaceful and serene it was, mostly because we were able to gaze at the vibrant oranges and auburns of the trees along the way. Fall had come early and quickly, and it showed off as we snaked along back roads, under tree branches, beside mountains.
Flash forward to a week or so later. Hundreds of thousands of people without electricity. Gas in scarce supply. Houses flooded. Injuries, deaths. Nature, we are constantly reminded, has many faces.
I drove down part of the same highway today, and most of the trees are bare, their colors muted. It looks like late fall now; the height of leaf-glory is gone. The leaves won’t look electric again for another whole year. And who knows? Maybe not even then. We still don’t know what else climate change has in store for us.
What’s to learn? Nothing lasts. Everything changes. People die, foundations fall.
All we can count on is art.
This is why I decided late in the day yesterday to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, as participants call it), the marathon for the writerly soul.
Not long ago, I would have insisted I wasn’t ready to write a novel. When you spend so much time writing short stories, making sure every single detail counts, you can’t even imagine trying to start something so big, so vast, so complicated and layered. But now that I spend most of my days editing other people’s words, I am hungry for the opportunity to tread full-force into the untethered world of my imagination, to not care about excess or punctuation or focus or clarity. In the not so distant past (read: the day before yesterday), I was simultaneously writing and editing at the same time, agonizing over sentences, reading my lines so many times I barely saw them or understood their meaning. I have come to realize that a writer’s shoes and an editor’s shoes are mightily different (both equally valuable), and NaNoWriMo gives me the chance to wear my writer’s shoes a little longer, to not worry about lack of precise word choice or unrealistic dialogue or a metaphor that doesn’t work. Instead, I get to keep moving forward. Blindly. Happily.
Practicing writing is important, but I know that it doesn’t make perfect. It makes better. Eventually, it makes art. Writing what Anne Lamott calls a “shitty first draft,” getting things down without judgment or self-consciousness is exactly the kind of thing that can help a person (me! me!) enjoy the process of writing rather than the outcome. There’s pretty much nothing to be scared of in this venture. Because seriously? No one can write a great novel in only one month. And if they do, they should just shut up about it.
Do you think I can make it to 50,000 words by November 30?
It doesn’t matter. I’m going to try.
Image: Forest Floor by De Lambo via Flickr.