As I wrote my 50,000th word this month I was at a coffee shop alone. I’d gone in a few thousand short of my goal, ordered coffee and a peanut butter cookie, then set to work, vowing not to leave until I’d finished. I didn’t. A thrill went through me as I checked the word count. 50,007. I looked around. No one looked back. I smiled. No one seemed to notice. I looked back at my computer. It gave no notice, no indication of what I’d accomplished, of what it had been a part of. No secret hand emerged to high-five me or pat me on the back. The scenery remained unchanged. People coming, people going.
I was listening to Andrew Bird’s Noble Beast.
Part of me wanted to strut to the nearest table, interrupt whoever was sitting there, and say, “you don’t know me, but I just wrote 50,000 words in November. Now, what do you think about that!”
But I didn’t.
Because the truth is that, well, it wasn’t exactly anti-climactic, really, but…OK, yes it was. Only a little, but still.
Finish lines, I’m finding, come in all shapes and sizes. Each school year finishes in a summer, with more time to write and more time with my kids, with longer days and extra sunshine. As a parent of young children, each evening finishes with a quiet house and a cold beer and toys dotting the living room floor. Each year finishes with champagne and resolutions. I hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim in a single day once, and that finish line was dusty and sweaty and achingly satisfying.
But the finish line for NANOWRIMO? Well, it looked kind of like the starting line. A blank page. Waiting to be filled.
No finish has ever looked quite so similar to the start to me. And here my hat goes off to NASCAR drivers. Jesus, those people must be haunted by the feeling that they’re driving and driving and never going anywhere!
Don’t get me wrong. I’m damn proud of what I accomplished. I’m not the sort who can’t put his feet up and tip his cap to himself. I set my mind to something, got to work, tried not to complain or get distracted or make my wife too miserable, and did what I’d set out to do and I like to think I earned the small measure of pride I felt and still feel. And much love here to the folks who created and maintain NANOWRIMO. Initially skeptical, I’ve emerged a believer and would encourage anyone to try it for themselves.
But for me, finishing NANOWRIMO, well, I feel like the joke is on me a little bit because I finished, but I’m anything but done.
First off, Blue Dot isn’t even over yet. I’ve still got, I’m thinking, 7,000-10,000 left before I can put a THE END on this very, very, very rough draft. And then comes the real work of revision, which, honestly, I’m greatly looking forward to but which is its own kind of marathon, so different from the sprint I’ve just been engaged in. That’s a trick that NANOWRIMO plays on you, by the way. It looks like a marathon, but it’s actually a very long sprint. A marathon is about pacing yourself, but NANOWRIMO felt more like I was always in a hurry, trying to get to the next turn. It’s a writing high that way, and sometimes you’re flying along in disbelief of your own pace and stride and how goddamn great the wind feels in your hair. The rest of the time, you’re just trying not to trip and send yourself flying into the grass.
Sure, I want to celebrate, to soak up the moment. Put my 50,007 in lights, take it out to dinner, show it off a little bit and make the neighbors jealous. But honestly, none of that feels quite right. Because the truth is that I kind of just want to get back to work. Is that okay?