2019 came in like creeping death and left with a lingering burn very like the heartburn I suffered after Christmas dinner. It wasn’t fun, and it wasn’t productive. Despite that, I picked up important lessons, and I’ve already laid the groundwork for a better 2020. Here’s what I learned.
I Can’t Run a Mile by Staring into the Distance
NaNoWriMo came as a kick in the pants this year. It never arrives with grace, but it landed on November 1st, 2019 with a vendetta. I spent the first half of the year wading through life-draining side effects of a long-term condition, looking towards the end of the year with hopeful plans about finishing a novel and submitting some shorts. The second half of the year smashed those plans with surgery, recovery, and a wave of fresh side effects from new medicines.
Looking back, I had minutes and hours to spare. I could have – should have – spent them writing rather than surfing YouTube and filling notebooks with outlines and goals to be completed later. NaNo did not care. It hit me like a train as a realized I was not equipped to finish a first draft in one month the way a runner realizes they’re not equipped for a marathon after months of playing couch potato. It taught me a brutally honest truth: those outlines and dreams will never blossom into finished projects until I start giving them the time, attention, and work they require.
I Am Still Learning
I’ve worked as a ghostwriter and freelancer for several years. With a few novels in the rearview but no personal sense of achievement, I fell into a serious case of imposter syndrome. I have a Bachelor’s in writing. I’ve worked as an editor and a writer on everything from YA novels to steampunk blogs. But I have not pushed my own work under my own name in a very long time, and I felt like I must not have published anything because I was quietly faking it all along.
Maybe I am. Who knows? I wrote an entire article about imposter syndrome earlier this year, but the biggest lesson I learned from the whole experience was that I am, and always will be, a student. My writing improves every year. Fresh techniques and hard-earned lessons change the flavor and flow of my words I would never have thought to implement a year back. And that is all okay. Imposter syndrome sucks, but even that heap of suck came with a silver lining. The dejection turned into the good kind of humility, and I learned to treat myself and my writing the way I should have from the start – as a work in progress.
The Best Thing Is to Relax
I did not win NaNo this year, and I don’t feel bad about it. My projects grew, words made it to the page, and several new plot bunnies came roaring in to disrupt my progress, so I have more ideas waiting. I finally understand Tolkien:
“Little by little, one travels far.”J.R.R. Tolkien
Tea appears on my desk when it’s writing time, and while I do make myself write, I don’t drive myself to panic with unrealistic deadlines and the biggest, heaviest dreams I fear I’ll never fulfill. Right here, right now, I relax with my tools and my tea and I get busy doing what I’ve wanted to all along.
I Need to Write
It isn’t a matter of wanting to write or even showing my work with someone else. I just need to spend that time soaking in my own thoughts, spinning words that may or may not be crap as the clack of my ancient laptop’s keys lulls me into a meditative state. That isn’t to say I have nothing to share, that I don’t intend to publish certain pieces down the road or let individual snippets coagulate into an editorial, but just writing in and of itself is magic, and I should do more of it, regardless of deadlines. I’m learning to not only embrace but actually celebrate this need. It’s an addiction I’m happy to indulge.
Sometimes life sucks, and life as a writer doesn’t make it any easier. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, though, and as I continue to evolve, I will learn to be a better writer and a better person. That’s all we can really ask from life, and I plan on traveling far this year in the manner Tolkien, master of great journeys, advised.