There’s a slice of conventional wisdom that admonishes you to do something every day that scares you.
I’ve never been a big fan of this saying. I don’t believe that a state of perpetual trepidation is any guarantee of a more productive and fulfilling life. It pretty much only guarantees high blood pressure.
There’s something to be said for challenging yourself in small doses. Calculated risk-taking, if you will. Most of us have a Thing we want to do, and for whatever reason–fear of failure chief among them–most of us do a whole lot of other things to avoid doing the Thing. Not to say that if you never pursue your Thing, or if you never make money doing it, your life will be incomplete. There are so many paths to contentment that it’s absurd to think that missing one means you’re doomed to deathbed regrets. I find that concept, like the one of a single soulmate, kind of illogical.
There can be a lot of joy exploring something kind of scary that you always wanted to do. One Thing I’ve always wanted to do is write. Cushion Cut, and its predecessor Against Type, was started at least partially as a channel for this. I started writing in elementary school because I couldn’t find anything I wanted to read. As I got older, I wrote trying to get at some kind of universal truth, either observed or my own. There was a lot of terrible and delicious writing that came out of this epoch.
Today, I mostly see writing as an extension of my identity as a storyteller – a cousin of the kind of storytelling I do as an actor and in my daylight career. I’ve talked before about how I wrote two short plays — those are some of the only completed works in my canon. Everything else (that isn’t on this blog or graded) is in fragments. I attempted to write a novel in my early twenties that fell victim to outdated technology. That was such a discouraging turn of events that I gave up on fiction for a long time.
I guess the story has still been slumbering somewhere in my unconscious. Because when some friends invited me a few months ago to arrange a writer’s retreat, and I sat down to free write some ideas, it came back up. It had picked up a lot of other random debris snowballing towards my prefrontal lobe, but the essential core was still there, like an itch. That is to say, persistent and really freaking irritating.
So when we finally had the retreat earlier this month, and I started putting a scene together, it started to resurface. It felt good to be writing, and I’m not in a show right now, so the time seemed right to do the Thing.
So in honor of today’s horror-filled holiday, I announce to the world today that I am committing to participate in National Novel Writing Month.
I’ll be using the worldwide digital event to write a full length play (yes, I’m not technically following the rules but it’s long form fiction so close enough). The scary part isn’t really making the commitment, but telling people about it. Taking the chance that people are going to ask on November 20 – and 11th, and 6th – how that play is coming. And that I’ll have to either tell them about my story or make one up on the spot.
Speaking of cheating: I have a sidepiece. A couple of weeks ago I had a vivid dream, what I secretly call in my head an adventure dream. Unlike most dreams which don’t make sense and are hard to remember, this one stuck with me. It also had a clear beginning, middle, and end. The timing seemed too fortuitous to not to turn it into a story.
So as a warm-up I’m fleshing out the dream into a short story. It was supposed to be done today, but 17 pages into it it’s still sputtering out of my fingers. So I’ll be using NaNoWriMo, which starts tomorrow, to work on both pieces. Traditionally you’re supposed to have ambitious daily wordcount goals, but I’m rusty so my goal is very simple: to write for at least five minutes one one of the pieces every day. Supposedly if you take the time to write for even a few minutes, the human compulsion to achieve will kick in resulting in some actual progress. The idea is that, by December, I’ll be somewhere close to two sh!tty first drafts. It may never come to anything, it may never even see the light of day, but I will have done the Thing.
It’s not going to be easy. Unlike doing a show which forces you to be social, writing does the opposite. Not only is it a solitary activity, but it requires you to become completely immersed in a world that isn’t your own. Even the most normal person on earth can get a little bonkers digging around the confines of their skull for hours every day. And this may alarm some of you, but: I’m not really a normal person.
What I’m saying is, if I seem weird next month? Just give me chocolate and invite me someplace.
So what’s your Thing? Anyone other NaNoWriMo participants out there?