Something different is happening for me in the lead-up to NaNoWriMo¹ this year.
I’m not looking forward to it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to do it, but the high-energy anticipation that gripped me in previous years is absent this time around. In its place is a hollow dread, a nervousness, a feeling that I might just flub the whole thing.
There’s always a little of that and, I suspect, a lot more writers have it than they might care to admit. There’s always the possibility that life will throw you a curveball and you’ll find yourself needing to abandon NaNoWriMo in favour of not having your life collapse around your ears. I’m not talking about that.
What I’m talking about is more insidious.
Read on, if you care to…
Creativity isn’t something I approve of.
‘Approve’ is too weak a word, you see. I crave it; I love it. It’s something that I need in my life to make it feel truly worth living. The capacity to generate new, original things is a deep-seated pleasure for me. I have suffered from depression for as long as I can remember (I was four years old in my earliest verifiable memory) and it impacts on every part of my life; creativity is one of the few things which chases it away… usually.
I don’t claim to be a particularly good writer. I prefer to write and let people decide that for themselves. Considering the incredible breadth and span of human entertainment there’s always something for everyone out there. My work tickles the fancies of some; others will, no doubt, find little in it to interest them. That is, of course, absolutely fine. Why wouldn’t it be? I certainly don’t want anyone else telling me what I can and cannot enjoy; I see no reason to impose expectations on others. Am I a ‘good’ writer? Some think so. Some certainly don’t.
Certainly writing isn’t something I’ve always felt I was good at. I have, however, always felt that writing is something I can develop. Of all of the things I’ve tried in my life, I’ve long felt, writing is something that I simply know I can get better at.
A lot of people who don’t suffer from chronic depression probably don’t understand the significance of that. Many do but for the sake of those who don’t, I’ll try to explain.
When someone suffers from an invisible disability like depression, something that isn’t obvious to others but drags at and poisons everything in the afflicted person’s life, an extremely prevalent and common feeling is the sensation that there’s simply no hope of ever gaining skill at anything.
“No matter how hard I try,” the train of thought goes, “I will never be good at this. I will never be halfway decent at it. I will always be bad at it and everyone who sees it will always know I am bad at it. So… What’s the point?”
What, indeed, is the point?
It isn’t true, of course. There are many skills in the world; if you have the patience, the time and the tools to practice those skills you simply will get better. That’s the nature of the human brain. Eventually something will stick, and then something else, then another thing falls into place. You might learn quickly, you might learn slowly, but you will learn.
To know something intellectually, however, is not the same as understanding it emotionally.
As a result the capacity to feel, even in the depths of depression, that there’s something – even one thing – that you can improve at, that’s an absolute boon. It’s a blessing and it can become a lifeline.
What do you do, then, when the lifeline isn’t where you expect it to be?
It’s difficult to explain the anxiety I feel this year because it’s not easy to pin down what might be causing it. The bulk of it, though, tends to go like this:
“I’m going to mess it up this year. I’m going to try, nothing’s going to stop me trying, but I won’t make it. And if anyone’s paying attention they’ll see I’ve failed and I won’t be able to just disregard it. Even if I win I’ll lose because I’ll get through NaNo and then put it aside and do nothing with it. But that won’t matter because I’ll mess it up to begin with.”
At this point the thought loops back on itself and begins again.
This year I’m facing the start date of NaNoWriMo with, as you can no doubt see above, a certain level of trepidation. I know, intellectually, that I can do it. There’s no doubt that I can churn out 50,000 words in one month; I’ve done NaNoWriMo for several years now and every year I’ve actively participated (I didn’t in 2012) I’ve managed to scrape in over the line.
But the pre-NaNo thrill is gone this year.
A lot of stuff has happened over the last couple of years, plenty of it within the last nine months alone². Medical woes, fears of losing loved ones, pressures on all sides, political concerns, money concerns and more. To add to that I’m fast approaching my 39th birthday; I’d be disingenuous indeed if I didn’t admit to a certain amount of midlife crisis right about now. At this time in my life that insidious question – “Why bother?” – is loud and clear in my head.
Part of me is defiant. There is a little piece of me that will not give up. That’s the part that’s pulled me through the rough times (and times have definitely been rough). That’s the sliver of ice that spits in the face of Death and says, “Come on, then.”
That is also the part of me that is going to force me through NaNoWriMo. Not despite my fears, no – because of them.
I don’t expect to enjoy NaNoWriMo this year – but I will still get it done.
And then… Well, then I’ll see how I feel after I find myself on the Winner’s Goodies page.
¹ National Novel Writing Month, a rather misleading title considering the event is has been international for many years now – and also because you don’t need to be writing a novel to participate. You can find the NaNoWriMo website, and all relevant information, here.
² No, I’m not pregnant.