I missed a day earlier this week. I went into Manhattan for an author event—Austin Channing Brown was talking about her new book, I’m Still Here, at St. Paul’s Chapel—and I got caught up in a lot of what she had said, and what I was reading on the subway ride back to Queens, and I kept reading when I got home and then I sort of lost track of time, so it was about ten minutes after I’d gotten into bed and was lying there, waiting to fall asleep, when I realized, “Hey, I forgot to write the #NaNoWriMo newsletter.”
Sorry about that.
And now I’m trying to write this one, and the cat is attacking the back of my chair, occasionally jostling my neck, but by God I’m going to make this happen. After all, I’ve only got this to write, and then one more tomorrow, and then National Novel Writing Month is done, and this close to the finish line we might as well see it through, right?
I’ve talked a bit over the last month about how you develop a writing practice through the choices you make every day, most significantly the choice to write. But there are other choices you can make as well—so, for example, an evening spent listening to a writer who’s doing her best to connect with the world, and to make the world a more just place… that might turn out to be a good writing day, too, and lead to better words in the future than if I had stopped thinking about what I’d just heard to meet the daily quota. Such is the hope, anyway.
If you look back over the last 30 days, you’ll probably decide that some days were better than others. Ideally, you should also be starting to notice that you’ve having consistently better days now than at the beginning of the month. Some of the last few days might have been extremely difficult—endings can be hard to write! But you’ve also been developing the tools to work through that difficulty better than you could have on November 1st, and that should be reflected in the work you’ve produced.
Yet that doesn’t mean you’re not going to have bad days. Years ago, when I was writing career guides for law school graduates, I had a metaphor that I would deploy to discuss how to cope mentally with losing cases: I invoked baseball, where even the best hitters in the game will fail six times out of ten. Or, to give it the slightly more positive spin, the best hitters are still only succeeding 33 or 34 times out of every hundred attempts.
I don’t think things are quite that drastic when it comes to our writing sessions, but I definitely have days when I will look over what I’ve written in the past few hours, and I’ll know I can do better, but for whatever reason I can’t do better at that moment. And the only thing you can really do when that happens is wait until the next moment, and try to do better then.
That’s just as true when you don’t even have anything to look over because you didn’t get anything written that day. On those days, though, you should also reflect on everything else you did instead of writing, and try to find something that could make you a better writer in the long run. Maybe you read something that inspired you. Maybe you went to see an author speak, or listened to them talk in a podcast. Maybe you had a conversation with a close friend or a loved one or a therapist about something that’s really important to you, and it helped you understand that thing more clearly.
Hold on to those activities. Give yourself just enough credit for them that they spur you to go back to the writing with renewed energy, as opposed to treating them as a permanent substitute for doing the work. And if you can’t find those activities in your daily routine, figure out what you can get rid of to make room for them.
Because those are the sorts of things that will make it easier—not easy, but easier—to dig your heels in when you get to the tough parts of your story.