(NB: I’ve noticed I’ve acquired a few new followers since beginning regular updates of this blog. I just wanted to let you all know that I’ve seen you, and I’m so pleased to have you along on my journey. Hi! Hello!)
During my commute in to work this morning, I caught myself mulling over similarities between one particularly daunting experience from my degree program, and a past attempt at NaNoWriMo. I figured I’d jot the thoughts down quickly.
I finished up my masters degree in archives and records management this year. In order to fulfill the requirements of my degree program, I visited my alma mater library and archives’ off-site storage facility. Off-site storage is essential for most libraries and archives due to the volume of materials acquired and accessioned during the lifetime of most institutes. It provides an adequate temperature controlled environment for material that isn’t requested with as much frequency, or material that is too fragile to circulate.
While I was there, the sheer immensity of the space was so arresting that I had to stop and take some photographs. (After obtaining permission, of course.) Please pardon the terrible quality of the pictures; my phone’s camera isn’t the best.
To allow the facility’s staff to store and retrieve materials, each range is constructed with a specially designed rail system to accommodate a forklift. You can see the rails near the ground; they’re the strips of metal next to the orange stripes. While I was there, the facility director asked if anyone wanted to ride the forklift all the way up to the highest point of the range. And while I’m not normally a daredevil, something in me made me put up my hand and volunteer.
So, up I went.
It’s a good thing I’m not afraid of heights, because that forklift rattled and shook unsteadily the faster and higher we went. Turning around to look back down at my colleagues, who from that height I could see but not hear at all, I realized just how far from the ground I was, and how it was only by the grace of a few strips of fabric that I was affixed to the forklift and not falling thirty feet to the ground. I was more frightened than I’d expected I would be, because like I said, I’m not normally afraid of heights–but I was also really proud of myself for vaulting myself dramatically out of my comfort zone in order to experience this new perspective.
Don’t Want To Get Burnt? Know Your Limits, and Play With Fire Anyway
It’s been critically important to my growth as a writer to make myself do the things I don’t want to do. Maybe that’s an obvious statement to make–and doing things that we don’t want to do is a hallmark of maturity in life, not just in writing–but for me, stating the obvious is often the best and most effective first step in constructive improvement to my daily habits, both good and bad. I’m still dogged by procrastination, for example, and I expect that will be something I struggle with indefinitely.
In the fall of 2013, which was my first real attempt at completing a project for NaNoWriMo, I decided that I wanted to write a science fiction novel.
I’d never written a science fiction novel before. In fact, I had not–and still have not–completed a novel of any genre before in my life. I’ve made a number of attempts at starting and finishing novels and other stories, but as of 2013, the most I’d been able to accomplish is about 25k per project, and then a lot of disorganized brainstorming and outline-drafting that ultimately ended in dispirited, resigned abandonment. I knew in 2013 that there was a good chance that I would repeat my previous failures, and for a couple of months, that was enough to keep me from putting any serious thought into participating in NaNoWriMo that year.
I think it is important for me to note here that one of the biggest obstacles to my success was (and often still is) only seeing failure in my previous attempts at writing a novel. I didn’t give myself credit where it was due. It takes a lot of work to construct a story and execute it. Even if the execution is ultimately incomplete, I nevertheless wrote, on multiple different occasions, twenty-five thousand words of world building, plot development, character development, and on each occasion, the stories and character relationships that unfolded before me required time, and thought, and careful consideration in order to be realized. If I could shift my success indicator away from “finished a 50k word novel” and place it somewhere near “wrote something that made me proud,” how would my perspective on my past writing change?
I didn’t finish NaNoWriMo in 2013. But by the time midnight on November 30th rolled around, I’d written almost 40k–nearly twice what I’d ever been able to accomplish on any of my previous projects. And the idea that came out of that project, though it has shifted and changed over subsequent years, feels like Idea Investment to me. I know I’ll come back to it again.
Time to check the radio.
- Beyond Words: What Animals Think And Feel, by Carl Safina (80% complete)
- “Zookeeper,” Welcome to Night Vale
Notes and References:
 I now apply the soft skills acquired through my program as a privacy and security analyst, but I still am very fond of archives work, and archives more generally.