Fifty thousand six hundred forty words
How do you measure, measure a month . . .
Measure in Noes . . . . .
Adapted from "Seasons of Love" from the Broadway musical "Rent" (With apologies to Jonathon Larson)
Well, I did it. With 50,640 words, I crossed the National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo.org) finish line. I completed the competition, like thousands of others, winning nothing more than a PDF'd certificate and bragging rights.
But I won so much more.
This is my first "Nanowrimo," and, in my estimation, you cannot finish Nanowrimo unless you fully embrace the second syllable of the quasi-acronym -- that is, the word "no." In order to make time to work on my novel, which has been kicking around my head and in various short stories for more than nine years, I had to say a lot of "noes" to a lot of people and things:
No, I won't be cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year, but I'll bring a bottle of wine to yours if you invite me.
No, I can't attend the neighborhood association ordinance committee meeting.
No, I won't be coming to family games night -- but I'll catch you the next time around.
No, I won't be driving to Oregon with you for your birthday, but here are the car keys -- knock yourself out with the satellite radio.
And with each "no," I became a more conscious consumer of my own life. For the past few years, I've carried more than my fair share of the burdens that come from living connected to others, through calamitous events, occurrences not of my choosing, and some bad choices I made. With each moment that I failed to say "no" and reclaim some of my life for the pursuit of my own goals and dreams, I started living less consciously, less aware of the choice I had effectively made to trade off time from my life to make others happy, even if I didn't achieve my own goals and dreams. Not acceptable.
I found that once I started saying "no," not only did it get easier to say "no" more often, people starting respecting my "no." They stopped trying to negotiate with me or reason me out of my "no." The more often I said it, the less I had to say anything more than "no."
I also found that when you state your goals and dreams to others, they often will put aside what they're doing to help you. Let them. Lord knows you've probably done more than your fair share for them. Once I explained Nanowrimo to BMNB and why finishing it mattered so much for me, he put aside some of the things he was doing in order to pitch in and keep the household running in my absence. Because he knew it mattered to me. He's a gem, I tell you.
Finally, I learned not to "waste my pretty." I came across this aphorism from the MySpace page of actress Terri J. Vaughn, whom you may remember from the "Steve Harvey Show." Her website features a documentary she directed on black actresses entitled, "Angels Can't Help But Laugh," and in it, one the actresses dispenses this advice she received from one of her elders: Don't waste your pretty. Whatever your "pretty" is -- a gift with children, sculpture, dance, corporate mergers, whatever, don't waste it. Don't waste your pretty. I think writing is my gift, and I'm determined not to waste it.
So, how many of you are "wasting your pretty" because you can't seem to say "no" and make your dreams and goals a priority? And don't give me that "I'm too old" excuse. Anna Julia Cooper, the noted African American woman scholar, earned her Ph.D. from the Sorbonne at the age of 65! She then had the audacity to live for another 40 years, leaving this world at the ripe old age of 105. No matter your age, don't waste your pretty, even if it means saying "no" to things that get in the way and don't really serve you.
I received the following message from the folks at Nanowrimo upon completion of the competition:
So it's official.
Our word-counting robots have analyzed your November novel, and they've delivered their final, binding assessment: Winner.
You did it! You did it! You did it!
This was, without a doubt, one of the hardest years on record for NaNoWriMo participants. At some point in the literary marathon, most of your fellow writers fell by the wayside. They lost their books to work, to family, to school, and to the hundreds of other distractions and interruptions that tend to shutter creative undertakings like NaNoWriMo.
But not you. Not this year.
This November, you set out with the ridiculously ambitious goal of bringing an entire world into existence in just 30 days. When the going got tough, you got writing. Now you're one of the few souls who can look back on 2007 as the year you were brave enough to enter the world's largest writing contest, and disciplined enough to emerge a winner.
We salute your imagination and perseverance. The question we ask you now is this: If you were able to write a not-horrible novel in 30 days, what else can you do? The book you wrote this month is just the beginning.
From here on out, the sky's the limit.
Indeed, it is. With a trail of "noes" behind me and my goals and dreams ahead of me. I'm thinking of doing "Scriptfrenzy," the television and stage script version of Nanowrimo, held each April.
Whatever your pretty is, don't waste it. Even if you have to tell a whole lot of people "no."