You Are What You Believe
Hello, it’s November, and I’m taking on the NaNoWriMo challenge again.
NaNoWriMo is a weird little shortie for National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write 50,000 words of a story in 30 days. There is no prize beyond the fact that you did it. Maybe you have the beginning of a novel that someone will read someday. Or maybe it’s just a document with the word “really” repeated 50,000 times. But really, that’s all.
Some people have gone on to sell the novels that were born in NaNoWriMo. Some have become bestsellers, movies. One, in fact, The Night Circus, is one of my very favorite books, and I didn’t even know it was a NaNoWriMo project.
My own novel began last year as a smug little challenge to the challenge. “I write all the time, every day. I can surely write 1,666 words a day for 30 days.” I started that first day with a dream, or maybe it was more of a day dream, and then I struggled with the rest, because it became 50,000 words of the story of what happens when you lose a true friend, and it is very close to my own experience. I worried that it was too close, but in my heart I believe that it’s worth exploring: revising, finishing, sharing with someone else or maybe many someone elses.
I believe it.
That is the theme of the day. Belief.
As part of my own creative therapy, I’ve been reading books and articles about the process, kind of a daily devotional. Typically I sit with a glass of wine and the book or my phone and I savor the words and the moment until a golden nugget of truth strikes me. I scribble the quote in raspberry Sharpie at the top of my notebook page, preparing my canvas for the next morning.
I also starting doing Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s meditation podcast series again. This morning, Chopra introducing the meditation with a short bit about how your beliefs create your identity. When you ask yourself, who am I? You are tempted to answer with tags and labels, he said. “I am a 44 year old woman,” I can answer, among many other things. He suggests that you write down a list of the ways you can be labeled, the roles you play in your life. Then review it, consider what you believe about each of those labels. Do they truly define you, or do you reject them, feel harmed by them, that they have done you a disservice in your life?
I naturally take to this kind of exercise. It reminds me of the post I wrote last year on this site’s 10th anniversary, in which I basically did this exercise, but using the 10 years of content that I had written:
Overall this blog has told the story of my evolution as a person. It is here that I found myself, truly. I grew up. I finally identified myself, and for my nature, which craves definition and at least the illusion of control, that knowledge is comforting. Click anywhere in these archives, and you will find me: I’m a stay at home mom, a fangirl, a social media junkie, a music lover, a working mother, an advice columnist, a party planner, a chef, an editor, a spokesperson, a comedian, a worried daughter, a grieving friend. I am one of these. I am all of these. I am none of these.
This morning, considering Chopra’s words, I thought of that post, and the image I created to illustrate it:
But still, I wrote them all down, all the labels I could think of that I use for myself, and even ones I can imagine outsiders using to describe me. I considered them, and kept the ones I liked, and they had these qualities in common: family, belonging, group, part of something bigger, making something good for the world.
That’s what I believe. That’s who I am.
And that is how I feel about my novel. Before this I have referred to my novel as my “novel,” because typing the word doesn’t make it feel worthy. I never attempted anything so ambitious all at once. It took me eleven years to write this enormous blog. How could I create a novel in one month?
But my writer friends scold me for withholding my validation of my “novel,” so I begrudgingly, and with a little wince, call it a novel.
Chopra’s meditation was a morning exercise. For my “daily devotional” (I can still put that in quotes, because it’s a phrase I am totally stealing from religion to use for my creative work) today I read a blog post by my friend, the NOVELIST Julie C. Gardner. She wrote today about how we hesitate to name ourselves the way we truly want to be. The shying away from letting our beliefs be who we are.
Why are we so afraid of saying who we are, what we want, what we’ve done, what we still hope to do?
Let’s stop that right now, shall we? I’ll go first. Or better yet, let’s go together…If you run, you’re a runner, no matter how slow. If you write, you’re a writer, even if no one reads your words.
You should read the whole thing. It’s exactly what I mean. I stopped breathing, almost, so moved by knowing this feeling, so lucky that this person gave words I can cling to as I worry that my “novel” isn’t good enough, or worse, that I am not good enough for it.
It’s day 3 of the new NaNoWriMo, and instead of writing a whole new novel, I have created a custom challenge for myself – to revise the first one, to finish it, to make it into the book that I believe it can be.
Today the words I scribbled in my notebook are Julie’s:
Our dreams are waiting for us. Our hearts will survive the risk.