With November only a few days away, I'm hearing a lot of buzz about NaNoWriMo. My only attempt at NaNo was in 2008. It was a stressful experience, and by mid-month I was too far behind to finish in time, so I never did. Still, every year I think about trying again. I have an idea that's been hounding me since the summer of 2012. It's a growing collection of bits and pieces, but an anchor could emerge if I took a leap of faith and actually worked on the thing. You know?
The truth is, I'm terrified of diving whole hog into a novel. Blog posts and short pieces are no problem. I can finish and publish them in a few hours, at most. Quick turnaround, quick appearance of productivity. But a novel would be a marathon. In the dark.
I have a love-hate relationship with Jon Acuff's motivational tome Quitter. The most important question he poses in it is, What do you do that makes time behave differently? Whatever the answer is, that's your life's work, or at least a clue to it. Writing is absolutely that thing for me. When I write, I go down a rabbit hole. I wrote a lot of (terrible) fiction as a teenager, and I can't count the times I looked up in shock to realize that it was 1 or 2 am (and I'd only written a few pages). But that's a luxury I don't really have as an adult with a full-time job. I'm afraid of what could happen to my relationships and responsibilities if I free-fell down the rabbit hole. More than that, I'm afraid of sacrificing for something that, in the end, I might not even be able to show to anyone. Let alone get published. Wouldn't that be a silly waste of time? Is the work enough if it only matters to me?
I'm working through (my guru) Emily Freeman's latest, A Million Little Ways, and this passage that I read last night spoke directly to the issue:
The only reason we would ever call something a waste of time is because we have a certain idea of success and anything short of that idea we label "waste." Or maybe we are adhering to someone else's idea of success and we adopt it as our own. If you are worried that your art is a waste of time, perhaps you need to redefine success in art. Are you becoming more fully yourself? Is there someone else who believes in you or has been inspired because you are living life more fully alive? Are you learning what it means to depend on God in ways you've never had to depend on him before? There is courage in connection - connection with your true self, with the true self of others, and with the one true God. If waking up to your desire is bringing you closer to someone else, if it allows you to be vulnerable in ways you weren't able to before, if it reminds you of your desperate need for God, then your art has not been wasted.
I can't end this post with a commitment to crack down and do NaNo like a woman possessed. But what I can commit to, what I'm increasingly sure of, is that real art takes a long time. Much longer than I wish it did. There are no shortcuts to becoming the writer, or person, you're meant to be. There's no way out except through. The reward is in what you learn and become in the process. My goal is to believe that enough to start acting on it in bigger and bigger ways, to be brave enough to invest myself with no guarantee of glory.