I had such good intentions for Nanowrimo this year. I was going to pull together all the pieces I’ve written about writing and assemble them into a workbook for the writers I mentor through the Horror Writers Association. The book, which I was calling Writing in Cafes, was going to include the homework I find myself giving my mentees over and over, some exercises on how to create a writing practice, and my thoughts on all the turmoil that goes along with an art that requires you to spill your thoughts onto a page without getting too emotionally invested in them.
I spent the first week of November pulling all the stuff I’ve written about writing together. All told, it added up to about 60,000 words, but there was no structure to it. Some of it was repetitive. There were a lot of topics I didn’t cover. I had lists and lists of things I wanted to add.
And there I stalled. On the 9th, I went back to visit my elderly folks in Michigan. The flight out was challenging for someone who hasn’t really left home in the last two years. The plane hadn’t even taken off before the woman in the row ahead of me took off her mask. I had a vacant seat beside me, but the woman on the aisle kept taking off her mask so she could nap. The flight attendants kept waking her to put it back on, but I didn’t feel safe.
And that was a motif for the trip. When I bought my plane tickets at the end of October, Michigan only had 34 people per 100,000 testing positive each day. After I’d been there 3 days, 17,779 tested positive on one day — the highest positivity rate in the country. The daily average of new cases of Covid in Michigan was over 7,000 a day.
I’ve talked before about having a kid with a chronic illness. Over the last 20 months, we have sacrificed so much and held to such strict protocols to keep them safe. In my neighborhood in San Francisco, people continue to walk around outside alone with their masks on. I was horrified but not surprised to discover that none of that held true in Michigan. I was often the only person in a room with a mask on. All around me, people were shopping and eating in restaurants and going to church as if the pandemic was over, even as the news droned on and on about how bad things were going to get.
It was exhausting. I was so tired at the end of every day that it was all I could do to fall into bed with a book.
Flying home was even worse. As soon as the plane took off, the woman at the end of my row had a dry cough she couldn’t get under control. Around the plane, other people coughed on and off throughout the flight. The woman beside me disappeared half an hour before we landed, only to return to her seat with a full-size trash bag she’d gotten from the flight attendants. She coughed and dry-heaved into it until the plane had landed.
I’m triple vaxxed and was double masked, but only today, after my second negative Covid test, do I feel like I’m finally starting to unwind.
Needless to say, I haven’t even looked at Writing in Cafes. It feels horrible, like I’m a failure.
I am trying to cut myself some slack and be gentle with myself. For years, I’ve told other writers that it isn’t important to “win” Nanowrimo, it’s only important that you write. Any work you have done by November 30 is work you didn’t have done before.
If I don’t write another word this month, I’ve still pulled together 60k words of what amounts to a rough draft. I have a much better handle on this project than I had in October. From here, I have something to edit, something to structure — something I can play with.
The lesson I’m learning this year isn’t the one I anticipated, but it’s still useful to know.
Are you participating in the National Novel Writing Month this year? How is it going for you?