The Gift From the Allied Field

Right now my love-hate relationship with National Novel Writing Month is tipping solidly into the “love” column. Last night I finished my daily installment at exactly 37,000 words for the whole manuscript. The story is a hot mess and I skipped over basically the entire middle of the novel, but it’s a story I’ve wanted to tell for years and years and years, and I have a good feeling this will clean up into something really cool (and salable!).

Beyond the product of the story itself, I love how NaNo forces you to confront your fear of the blank page. It doesn’t matter how much you’re in your head about the writing itself, you have to put down about 1,700 words a day for 30 days. (There’s even an agreement you sign at the outset.) The beginning of each day’s installment usually feels rough and tentative, but once you get into your flow, it’s amazing how many words end up in your document before midnight. (I seem to do all my writing between 10 p.m. and midnight, which I wouldn’t actually recommend, but racing the clock to log your words before midnight helps in ways that word sprints or word wars on Twitter don’t seem to for me. Comparing your total against a handy wallpaper word count calendar has also been great; I’ve been using this typewriter one.)

But NaNo has been helpful in another way. Earlier this month, I left the job I moved to New York for. It’s been a big change, but I’m moving closer to the career path that most excites me, one that involves a lot more talking to people and writing about them. I’ve been thinking about what NaNo has taught me over the years: Break the big task into manageable bits and celebrate your accomplishments, because the small ones do add up. For instance, I spent a day or so retooling my RealName.com as a genuine portfolio site. I got anxious about spending so much time fiddling with clips selections and choosing templates, but when it was done, I felt confident about what I’d put together. I’d reminded myself that I have a lot to offer, and I can back up that potential with proven work.

In the past few weeks, several friends of mine have moved on to great opportunities at great publications, and from the outside, it’s seemed like those just fell into their laps because they’re great journalists and great people. But they’ve all put in incredible amounts of work and time, and I’m just starting, so, you know: it’s okay to not immediately field dozens of job offers from your dream outlets when you’re an unknown factor. I know it can happen, though. I’ve seen the end result.

Off to the races, self — 50K and freelance both.

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