On Finishing

So I finished NaNoWriMo this year, and that’s a pretty big deal for me.

I’ve attempted it more than once over the years. Every time, I’ve fallen behind and given up. There were times when I was wrestling with severe untreated depression, and literally could not summon the will to keep writing. There were times when I’d start strong but have my computer break down and/or eat my novel-in-progress. There was NaNoWriMo 2005, when I tried to write my novel in a Moleskine notebook, because I was a Hurricane Katrina evacuee, and I hadn’t brought my computer with me when I left Louisiana. (I made a substantial amount of progress, all things considered, and maybe one of these days, I’ll go back to that story.)

I’d keep making half-assed attempts, in addition to my usual on-again, off-again poking at unfinished novels, but I could never really envision myself finishing in time. I spent years being really, really bad at finishing things, as my collection of partial manuscripts can attest. And someone who doesn’t believe they’re capable of finishing something will always find a reason not to.

This year, a week into November, the woman who had been the number one priority in my life for years broke up with me. It wasn’t a bad breakup, as far as such things go… as far as any circumstance in which two people who love each other realize they can’t make it work goes, it was actually a pretty good one. When I try to describe the breakup, there are four words I come back to over and over again: She was very kind.

I spent several days drinking too much, crying at the slightest provocation, and occasionally (and always unexpectedly) bursting out in angry muttering, because no matter how kind they are, getting dumped by the person you were planning to marry still hurts like hell.

And then I realized there was no long-distance girlfriend to wait for. No reason to hold off on going back to school until we were married and she got an assistantship that could help me with tuition. No reason to keep telling myself I’d devote serious time to writing when we lived together, when we didn’t have to spend so much time being there for each other online, because we couldn’t be IRL. All my plans for the future no longer applied, and the sudden sense of freedom was as terrifying as it was exhilarating.

So I wrote. I set my chin and started writing again the day after the breakup, only to lapse for a few more days of drinking and crying and distracting myself however I could. And then, I went back and wrote more, and more, and pulled off a NaNo win through some truly frenzied writing in the final week.

My entire world had come apart, and it was something to do. More than that, it was the thing that, once upon a time, I had loved more than anything else in the world. I figured if stories couldn’t save me, I was well and truly fucked… and as far as rebound relationships go, a whirlwind affair with my word processor was probably the healthiest possible choice.

The current draft of Monstrous Things, it must be said, is a steaming pile of crap. I started out with the idea of another retelling of Beauty and the Beast, where both characters are monsters in their own ways, and no one gets transformed into something prettier. Eventually, it became more Tam Lin than Beauty and the Beast, with elements of Der Erlkönig and obscure German undead/shapeshifter critters for flavor. But the problem with telling a love story when you’ve just been through a breakup should be obvious: everything becomes about your relationship. The primary couple has all the arguments the ex and I never had, but which were the elephants in the room for much of our relationship. My narrator’s insecurities are pretty much identical to mine. And despite everything that goes wrong, and the major reservations the narrator has about absolutely everything, they still end up happily married because true love and magic and fate, and stubborn determination to work everything out, and yes, this was what I did instead of going to therapy.

I suspect that when I go back to edit it in January, I’ll end up wanting to set both it and myself on fire. But I’m okay with that.

I finished a thing. It’s a crappy thing, but it has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and can be edited and made better. I proved to myself that I can do it.

Sometimes people leave. That’s life. But stories? Those are always there, if you’re willing to put the work in.

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