This morning at 6 A.M. I validated a 50,000 word rough draft of a fiction manuscript for National Novel Writing Month (NanoWriMo). While I am proud of myself thousands if not millions people around the world write 50,000 words or more in the month of November. My ‘winning’ this contest is not the reason for this post.
After I won and posted about it to my facebook page, I got a question in my inbox about how one writes a book. Well after I made clear that I wrote a draft that would need a lot of editing and rewrites, and care before it could be called a book. We talked about passion and how passion is important but what makes writing is sitting butt in seat and DOING it.
This month has been hard and busy, November usually is. Birthdays, holidays, politics, other deadlines, anxiety, bouts of depression. Life happens at full throttle. This month in particular has been incredibly difficult emotionally and mentally. As a young black woman writer wading through everything that is happening in the world around me my first inclination is not always to pick up my pen. my inclination is to do the opposite. On November 9th I lost all desire to write. It didn’t seem important, after all I’m not ‘really’ a fiction writer. Non fiction is my wheelhouse but I wasn’t writing that either. I didn’t feel like writing anything because I was hurt, angry, upset and feeling like the country I live in had proven to me once again how it felt about me.
All of those feelings were and are valid and this is not an attempt to minimize any of it. Over my time of not writing I felt my despair more acutely, more deeply with each passing day. I felt fear and panic and then guilt for not doing the thing that I know I should be doing. Writing has always been an revolutionary act and a change agent in every country in the world, in every movement and every time. Now is no different. In 2015 Toni Morrison wrote in a brilliant essay for The Nation in which she was depressed and unable to write in 2004 after George W. Bush’s reelection a writer friend said to her “This is precisely the time when artists go to work.”
Remembering that perhaps the greatest writer in 20th Century literature needs to be reminded that this is the time we have to write is telling. If it were easy we would all do it no matter what happens but that’s not the truth. The truth is times will come when the hardest thing to do is to sit our butts in a chair and write, to create to change minds, and policy, to encourage, educate, and inform.
How we do that is to make it a practice, we will not be perfect everyday but to strike a balance between being gentle with your mental health and being firm with yourself sit butt in chair and write. It seems simple but it is for me the single most difficult part of this calling we have but to quote Alice Walker “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”