In case the turkey- and pilgrim-themed decorations at Walgreens haven’t tipped you off, I will tell you: it’s November. In fact, November is clipping along, and along with it, National Novel Writing Month, which is already a third of the way through. Which means I have no business working on a blog post, which the other eleven months of the year is something I find
excuses pressing reasons to put off, but tonight am using as an inspired tool of procrastination. (My Official NaNo Word Count Goal of the Day has also already been met, thanks in no small part to the gift my NaNo-ing cousin made me of some Trader Joe’s French Roast coffee, yum yum.)
Week Two of NaNoWriMo is notoriously among the more challenging. As faith (or, worse, interest) in your story begins to wane, your characters refuse to get off the couch and go do anything, and you begin to realize that “fifty thousand” is a dastardly synonym for “one million trillion.” Clearly nobody but Superman and maybe Anne Lamott could produce such an absurd ton of words in thirty days, which is suddenly revealed to be the most microscopic measure of time ever. And since there is no visible means by which to achieve this once-friendly goal that now taunts you from afar, there is little point in typing more than, say, fifteen words a year.
Or so it seemed the other day, as I crept along towards my goal of 5,000 words with honest-to-goodness snails in our fish tank looking out and laughing. I have never succumbed to a pacing problem before — this is my eighth NaNo, and I always barrel out of the gate like a champ, packing away words against an eventual slump like a literary chipmunk — but this year a Honolulu trip, ordinarily all but forbidden to my seniority, popped up on the Third, and I had to take it. I had to say goodbye to the International Marketplace, for one thing — the much-beloved tourist trap about which I wrote last year’s NaNo novel, and which has ripped my Hawaii-loving heart from my chest and flung it into the middle of Kalakaua Avenue, dancing atop it as it flops about by announcing its December closure. And of course I had to run around with my cousin. And ransack the Don Quijote. And float like a noodle in the infinity pool and commune with sea turtles and sit in a rocking chair at the Surf Rider and generally pack my day to the gills before working the all-nighter home. In other words I did everything a guy could possibly do in three days besides sleep. And, of course, write.
So I had a lot of catching up to do, and the words were flowing at a rate that suggested I’d hit the 50,000-word mark shortly after I celebrated the Centennial Release of Crazy Like Fox (now available in paperback, plug plug). Until, during an extended whining break, I remembered it: my Secret Weapon. That trustiest of all word count obliterating garments, my “Write On!” t-shirt. Gifted to me on the eve of my very first NaNo by my best friend, himself a writer by calling as well as by trade, my “Write On!” t-shirt has seen me over every hill and across every valley of the National Novel Writing Month experience, urging me forward even — especially — on the days when no other motivation can be unearthed. I noticed it even in my first year, and it has held true in the years since: when my spirits flag, I have only to don my “Write On!” t-shirt, and the dam breaks. The words come to me almost faster than I can type them, and shit starts happening. People say stuff. Then they go places. They sabotage and kiss and berate and fellate one another, and I document it, eyes wide, fingers flying. The other day it had taken me almost three hours to write two thousand words, every one of them harder to extract than the one before. I had three thousand words to go, and the sun was hurtling towards the mountains, intent on setting; I had one day off between trips, and it seemed that I would, indeed, spend the entire thing in my desk chair, gnashing my teeth, ignoring my husband, beseeching my recalcitrant muse in vain. Then I stumbled across the presence of mind to put on my “Write On!” t-shirt and, I’m not even lying, cranked out the next three thousand words in like a hundred minutes. I met my 5k goal, caught my word count up to the pace car, and got to write about kissing.
Did my friend charm this shirt before he sent it to me? During a seance over a bubbling cauldron with eye of newt and all that — frankly, I’m not saying he didn’t, but it’s not his style. But he’s known me for almost my entire life — certainly for most of the fun part — and has been in creative cahoots with me from the early days. By sending me The Perfect Care Package the night before I started writing my first novel, he did indeed imbue the process with magic. With the knowledge that someone who knew exactly what I was made of had the confidence that I could succeed at such an undertaking; someone who had traveled the twisting road of Life as a Writer — sometimes up, and sometimes down — alone and without fear had sent me the closest thing to a guide book that he could find, not only to wish me well along my way, but to give me the push off the front step that every such journey requires. When I put on my “Write On!” shirt, I know that someone believes in me. I am reminded that I’ve done this before. That I know where I’m going and I know how to get there. That you have to slog through the self-doubt and the internal criticism and the I-don’t-wanna in order to come out the other side; in short, that this shit won’t write itself.
During November, I write in all kinds of places: hotel rooms, coffee shops, airport boarding areas, my bed. I write in my uniform, I write in my favorite hoodie, I write in the altogether. But the thing is, I have to write, and on the days when I can’t, I reach for my “Write On!” t-shirt. Because it was gifted to me with love as a sign of faith. And because believing that it is lucky is kind of fun and gets the story moving. And because the world is a big and mysterious place, and the words really do just spill out of me the minute I put it on, and maybe the dang thing is magic.
Track my 2013 progress and read the occasional unedited excerpt throughout November here.