Sunday, November 8, 2009

No, No, NaNo

by L.G.C. Smith

I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this year. In fact, I've never done it. I tell myself this is because it didn't exist in my salad days, those crazy years when I wrote fast and furiously, fueled by the desire to avoid the academic world where I thought I would have a career. That right there should have been a clue I wasn't going to make a happy professor. I was also dodging an ever-present anxiety that lent an obsessive-compulsive quality to my writing practice.

Looking back, I know I was staving off depression. Nothing in particular had happened. I was born depressed and anxious. It runs in my mother's side of the family. I thought I could control it by carefully attending to diet, exercise, using positive-thinking mantras/scripts/self-talk, meditation, prayer, taking personal responsibility, letting go of blame and resentment, forgiving rotten and/or clueless people, and so on. All that made me more tolerant and kinder than I had any right to expect given my innately demanding, persnickety, and critical temperament.

Did it help the depression and anxiety? Not so much.

Writing helped. I could shift out of the obsessive-compulsive self-defeating thoughts by going OCD on my books. Instead of fixating on what a lame-assed idiot I was, I would get lost in another time and place, creating characters whose heads I could spend hours in at a time. It was a joy and a relief. I found an arena in which I could function without constant anxiety and self-criticism. I knew I had a lot to learn about writing fiction, and I didn't yet have the skills I wanted, but I didn't torture myself about it.

I've never been so thankful for anything in my life.

Then something that truly warranted depression and anxiety did happen, and none of my strategies alleviated the anguish an iota. Worst of all, writing didn't help. I kept writing, but it wasn't the same.

At the point where all I could do was sit around and cry, my doctor finally talked me into trying an anti-depressant. I'd resisted for years. It didn't help overnight, but over the next several months, while I still had all the same self-critical thoughts I'd had before, I didn't get stuck on them. I went through them. I discovered there was life on the other side of the abyss I'd been mired in. The meds knocked out that destructive obsessive component that had kept me scrambling all my life.

They also changed the way I write. I could no longer automatically rely on the long-term drive that had seen me through a lot of manuscripts, four published books, and a doctoral dissertation. If anything, I was writing better than ever. But I felt differently about my books when writing wasn't the only way to escape my self-inflicted torment.

This change required a lot of adjustments. Every other aspect of my life was better. More productive. Less fraught. My writing wasn't the refuge it had been. It was still joyful. Still creative and fun. But I didn't get lost in it the way I had. The obsessive-compulsive fire burned out.

I decided I had to learn to write differently, because I still loved it. I still loved my characters, and the worlds they live in. I loved telling their stories and figuring them out. I still loved research.

It's taken a long time to figure out what works for me now. Slow and steady works. Every day works. No panicking if it takes me an hour to get half a page. No comparing myself to other writers. I can, occasionally, write four thousand words in a day. When that happens, I'm grateful.

I'm even more grateful at the end of the 300 word days that I can live in peace with myself, not trapped in a vicious loop thinking about what a loser I am and why can't I be more like Lisa/Sophie/Julie/Adrienne/Gigi/Rachael/Martha or whomever.

So I'm not doing NaNo this year, and I probably won't do it next year. Maybe someday I'll be up for that challenge. When I am, it will be very different from when I wrote 150,000 words in three months while in grad school full time and teaching part-time. In the meantime, I write a little bit every day, and it's good. Just wait 'til you see what I've done working the tortoise end of this career.


Gary Corby said...

Wow, what a story. I admire you for getting through it, and I'm fascinated by the relationship with your writing.

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing your story, and god bless those 300 word days.

I'm doing the sprint, but there's no way I'll "succeed." And no way I can lose--I love those :)


Tom Neely said...

We all struggle to find the rhythm in which we create and for most folks who write notes or words or whatever it is, it takes forever to find it. I'm thrilled you found your own rhythm and are finding satisfaction in it's ebb and flow.

Hailey.Juliet said...

Incredible post, Lynn. I think a lot of artists --painters and sculptors and writers and composers-- think that the only way they can be creative is through OC-type creative spurts, rather than the slow-and-steady approach. Thanks for sharing your own experiences.

L.G.C. Smith said...

Thank you all for the kind words. Julie, I was so one of those writers who thought I needed the OC/slightly manic spurts. It's been a struggle to come to terms with one word at a time. Worth it, though.

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