Keeping #NaNoWriMo in Perspective

I’m writing this slightly after 1:00 A.M. Wednesday morning. It’s supposed to be the Tuesday installment of this week’s #NaNoWriMo-themed newsletters. But I spent nearly ten hours yesterday afternoon at a polling station in Brooklyn, observing the proceedings to make sure the New Yorkers in that assembly district were able to vote freely. I’m not going to lay a big trip on you on how vital democracy and civil rights are, because you ought to know that already. But it was a good day, and it felt good.

Honestly, it was pretty easy work. For the most part, all I did was look up addresses for people who thought they should be on the voter rolls but weren’t, and more often than not it was simply because they’d gone to the wrong election district table, and they were registered in the proper district. A few people had slightly more complicated problems, which boiled down to them being at the right election district table but somehow not included on the voter rolls; that required them to fill out provisional ballots, and I saw that those were handled properly. And then, at the end of the night, I watched as the voting machines were shut down, the tallies calculated and the results printed out, and the flash drives that were attached to the ballot scanners were removed, sealed up, and delivered to a police officer for safe transfer to the Board of Elections.

The polling station was about an hour’s subway ride from my home in Queens, and then another hour or so back, and of course I had my own voting to do first thing in the morning. So I knew I was going to have trouble finding time to write yesterday. I thought there was a chance I might get home early enough to type something out before midnight, especially if I thought about it on the ride home, but things didn’t work out that way—partly because I hadn’t really seen any election results yet, and I really wanted to see how things were going.

Now, you could look at that as finding an excuse not to write—but, at the end of the day (literally), I did buckle down and start writing. This might not be the best newsletter you’ll read this month, of course, but I’m not half-assing it, either. I’ve been thinking carefully about what I want to say, and it’s this: Yes, the trick to being a writer is writing, but writing isn’t the only thing we do in this life, and there will be days when you may need to make a deliberate, conscious choice to put something ahead of your writing. Maybe it’s a personal commitment. Maybe it’s a civic commitment. Whatever it is, do what you need to do. The writing will be there for you when it’s done.

(And try not to feel guilty about temporarily “abandoning” your writing. First of all, you’re not abandoning it; you fully intend to resume writing as soon as you can. Second, guilt about not writing will not only undercut your ability to fully focus on whatever it is you need to do at that moment, it’ll linger when you ultimately do go back to writing, and undercut your efforts there for a while, too.)

I hope that, if you were eligible to vote in yesterday’s elections, you took advantage of that opportunity. And I hope that, if you’re taking part in National Novel Writing Month, you were able to squeeze in some writing time as well. If you couldn’t, or you didn’t get as much writing done as you’d hoped, though, don’t worry! There’s still more than three weeks ahead of us. You’ll find your time, and you’ll claim it for your writing.

And now I can hear Stacey Abrams conceding from the TV in the other room, so I’m going to sign off for now and go rewind the stream a few minutes to give her my full attention. I’ll see you again… well, later today, I suppose!

(UPDATE: I wrote too soon! I’m glad to say that was no concession speech on Abrams’ part, and we shall see what happens overnight—maybe the Georgia governor’s race goes to a runoff, depending on how the final votes line up.)