Well, I “won” NaNoWriMo again. I think this makes my ninth victory in twelve attempts (I can’t double-check that because the NaNo site is not loading properly right now LOL) For this NaNoWriMo I was a rebel — I wasn’t writing one novel, I was writing a series of interconnected short stories. Or, that was the intention. As it turned out, some of the stories were less connected than others.
I’m kind of an old hand at this NaNo thing, but this year seemed especially difficult. I knew it would be going in — part of the reason I decided to do NaNo this year was because I had so much going on in November that it was ridiculous for me to add NaNo to the mix — but I didn’t realise just how very tough it would be. Things like the results of the American election and an unexpected weekend away added extra bumps along the way. Some of the biggest obstacles I had to deal with were 100% internal and included a ginormous helping of impostor syndrome right around the middle of the month.
If you get a bunch of writers/editors/publishers together and start them talking it soon becomes clear that things aren’t always shiny, and what you see on social media is only one of many facets of our lives. As the quote says, “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” With that in mind I’ve been making a real effort to peel the curtain back now and then, to acknowledge the struggle from time to time.
Some writers don’t go to conventions or writers groups or whatever so if we don’t talk about this publicly on occasion they might not benefit from those ventfests I enjoy from time to time. They might not get that they aren’t alone. I’m not looking to be Debbie Downer, but I think it’s important that we be real about this stuff.
A small group of friends and I have banded together to work through Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story“. Right smack dab in the middle of my most recent bout of impostor syndrome I was working on the latest assignment for that group — to write a story about an old woman doing some task while thinking back to something in her past. I used that assignment not only to add to my NaNoWriMo word count (every bit of fiction counts!) but also to work through some of the stuff I was feeling. Now that I’m in a much better state of mind, I think it’s kinda funny so I thought I’d share it here.
And know that when you’re feeling badly about your work, or like an impostor — you are not alone. I think we all go there from time to time. I certainly do.
Exercise Six: Part Two
I can’t feel my legs. This is ridiculous. No person should have to sit on a commode for so long their legs fall asleep. I mean, it can’t be healthy can it? Isn’t this how blood clots happen? I don’t want to strain too much either though, not only because it won’t help but also because, can’t you cause a stroke that way? Doc Reyes is already all over me about sodium and blood pressure and blah, blah, blah. I’d do everything he said if he promised my bowels would work properly again.
I shift my feet to try and encourage blood flow. It doesn’t work. I stomp them and the notebook I had balanced on my knees tumbles off and slides across the tile floor. Of course it does. Any fool could have seen that coming, what was I thinking?
“Dang it!” I swear. I reach for the book but it’s snugged up against the bathtub where I can’t reach it.
I could stand and get it but I’m almost certain I felt some movement in my bowels just now and if I make any big motions (like standing) that might stop.
Oh to have the bowels, or even just the bowel movements of my younger self! That’s the second thing on the list of things I didn’t properly appreciate in their time. Being able, inspired, to write, that’s at the very top.
I snort and wave dismissively at my notebook. I’m tempted to have a little tantrum and toss my pen at it, but I haven’t quite given up hope of retrieving the book and getting some writing done. Because I still write, even if it does feel more like dentistry these days.
My mind goes back to a time I didn’t do so much of my writing in this room (no matter how appropriate that sometimes feels). Was it really forty years ago? Is that even possible?
I’d been so young then, so naïve. Positive I was going to pen a bestseller—a series of bestsellers! There would be book tours, movie deals and a handsome fan who fell in love with my words before he ever even met me. We’d live in a big country home with a passel of kids, a dog, and maybe even a friendly ghost. Our story would end with the words happily ever after…
I’d written all the time back then. I didn’t go anywhere without my notebook and favourite pen. In fact, I’d been writing on the dreary January day I met him. I was writing in a crowded café, right near the door. Each time it opened I was hit with a blast of cold air. The person would apologize to me, shut the door. stomp the snow off their boots onto the mat and join the line for coffee.
He’d done the same thing. I only noticed him because of his scarf. It was a replica of the one Tom Baker’s character had worn in Doctor Who. Tom Baker was my favourite back then. Despite his scarf catching my eye I’d looked back to my writing and become lost in it again—choosing exactly the right word to evoke the proper mood, painting scenes with letters—when his voice interrupted my flow. “May I join you?”
I pass gas. It’s loud already but the bowl amplifies the sound tenfold. “Oh, excuse me!”
I say it reflexively which is ridiculous. Not only am I in the absolute most appropriate place for wind, the house is empty. Dude passed on eight years ago and our kids moved out long before that. It’s funny how habits become ingrained. Things like saying excuse me in an empty house, or continuing to write even though it’s all been rubbish since Dude left. Died, I correct myself, then correct it again. No. Left is the right word.
I stretch my leg out, get a toe on the notebook and slide it back until I can pick it up. I’m going to be stuck here a while longer, I might as well keep putting pen to paper in the meantime.
That’s what he’d always called it, even after we’d saved up enough money—things were tight back then—to buy a second hand computer. Then there was no pen, no paper, but he still called it putting pen to paper. If I close my eyes I can still hear him, still see him standing in our bedroom doorway…
“Are you going to come for dinner?” he asked.
I squinted in his direction. The room was dim and after staring at my computer monitor for so long my eyes struggled to adjust. I couldn’t see the details of his face but my imagination was more than able to fill them in for me.
“It’s dinnertime?” I asked. It felt like I’d only just sat down to start writing, could the hours really have passed so quickly?
“Past it,” he laughed and gestured. “C’mon, I’ve made your favourite.”
“KD and hot dogs?” I asked, saving my work without looking away from him. It was a holdout from when I was a kid, but then it had felt like haute cuisine. As a grown-up, it was handy that I’d developed a taste for it because it was about all we could afford. I stood up. My muscles protested the change after spending so much time in one position, but they quickly adjusted.
They’d been so much better at that then, I think. Now, even though my time here has finally been productive, I know when I stand it’s going to be in stages. I’ll spend the first few minutes bent over like a witch in an old-fashioned fairy tale. It’ll be twenty minutes before I’m walking upright with feeling in my legs again. And that’s assuming that my sciatica decides to cooperate which is about as likely as the Stanley Cup coming back to Canada.
I try not to be a bitter old woman. I had a good life—no bestsellers or movie deals, but a few publishing contracts. And we’d had the house, kids, dog and ghost. It didn’t seem fair that Dude had gone so much sooner than me, but we don’t, none of us, get everything we want in life.
I put the pen and notebook aside and grimace. Though surely, I think, toilet tissue that doesn’t feel like sandpaper isn’t too much for an old lady to ask?
Before writing this I complained to Jo, “I am really tempted to write a story about a woman taking a crap. Because crap!”
Dude is a placeholder. I hate coming up with names and wasn’t in a mood to be bothered when I wrote this LOL