November 5, 2020 § 25 Comments
In November, 2004, I joined NaNoWriMo for the first time. The goal was the same as it is now: write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. To prepare, I read No Plot, No Problem! by NaNoWriMo’s founder Chris Baty. I took its philosophy to heart: I didn’t have to know what I was doing. I just had to fast-write a draft and allow my creative subconscious kick in, thus preventing anxiety about “writing well” to stall my progress. I looked forward to releasing control of craft and letting the story travel wherever it wanted.
NaNo writers connected through the message boards where we exchanged encouragement and tips for getting those 50,000 words down. Our chats also revealed the tension pervading the United States as we prepared to vote for either John Kerry or George W. Bush for president. Most supported Kerry, hoping for less nationalistic, more socially progressive policies. I, like many, held my breath, voted, and hoped for change.
Three days into NaNoWriMo, George W. Bush was elected. The mandate for change had not materialized. Many writers found themselves overwhelmed by sadness, anger, and even despair. Some dropped out, unable to see the point of fast-drafting a novel while the country veered toward an ever more right-leaning agenda. Uncertainty and fear about the future clogged their creative energy.
I was among those struggling with an emotional crash. The thought of writing my first novel, which I’d so anticipated, sparked an existential conflict: I wanted to write, but I couldn’t find a reason to. The whole project now appeared trivial. Whatever powered my creative mind had been short-circuited. I was empty. I wanted to forget everything, lie on the couch, and sink into the distraction of TV.
But I was stubborn and I hated to lose. I couldn’t bear the thought of December arriving with no draft, no sense of accomplishment, no banner on my NaNo profile declaring me a “winner!” How could I finish, though, trapped in this fog, the question why bother pulsing in my mind?
Baty’s strategy—no plot, no problem—had guided me through my first 4000 words. Perhaps I could expand that idea to help me through this confusion. If I could write a book flying blind, not knowing the plot, could I write a book without knowing the answer to why bother?
A mantra came to me as I considered how to work through creative stagnation: write anyway.
Write when it seems pointless.
Write when my mood tanks and my work is mediocre.
Write when I don’t know what I’m doing and I believe no one cares.
Write when everything seems unknowable, unpredictable, even frightening. Trust my subconscious and its desire to create without needing to justify it.
The idea was simple, but the follow through was difficult. I scribbled WRITE ANYWAY on a sticky note next to my laptop and sat down at my desk. Distractions called to me—the ease of television, the comfort of a good book, the clear purpose of a few loads of laundry. I managed to type a word, a phrase, then a sentence.
The first few paragraphs I wrote on November 3, 2004 came as easily as yanking teeth out of my head one by one. This sucks so bad, I thought.
I looked at my sticky note and refocused: this sucks so bad, but write anyway.
I was surprised at the little emotional boost I got. I still remember that day, thinking George W. Bush is president but write anyway.
The world is chaos but write anyway.
I’m scared but write anyway.
When I hit 1667 words, I sat back and breathed. I felt lighter. Energized. I did it. The immediate act of writing had carried the power to de-stagnate my emotional state and refocus my creativity. I didn’t need to fix my mood first or have anything figured out. I didn’t even need a reason.
Writing tethers me to the world in a way nothing else does. Today is November 2, 2020, and I’m still coaching myself: I don’t know who will be president, what’s happening to my country, even what will happen to me. But I’m going to write anyway. It’s my remedy for despair. It’s how I will survive.
Amy Grier earned her MFA at Lesley University. A singer and classically trained pianist, she has taught music and English in the U.S. and Japan. Amy has a master’s in East Asian Studies from Washington University in St. Louis and one in Literature and Writing from Rivier University. Her prose and poetry has appeared in Poetry East, eratio, Streetlight Magazine, xoJane, and Dream International Quarterly. Her memoir-in-progress, Terrible Daughter, is about surviving childhood with a mentally ill mother.