This was supposed to be the triumphant, glittery update about my almost-finished novel with three days to go to ‘pens-down’.
I made a whole production out of it. I told all my family and friends what I was planning to do. I wrote a blog post committing to it. I had about a gazillion notes in my phone with ideas and plot-lines and references and mood boards. I spent hours
daydreaming planning out how I would pace and describe everything.
And then I woke up four weeks later with nary a word written.
This was supposed to be my first year participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I’ve gone into the specifics of what that is in the post linked above, but the basic idea is that writers all over the world (excuse the national in the title, Americans haven’t really clued into this whole global digital age yet) set a goal to write a novel (at least 50000 words) and have it completed by November 30th, while resisting the temptation to overthink and self-edit throughout the process. It’s supposed to remove the perfectionistic barrier that keeps most artists from simply creating and give a bit of an external motivation to finish what we start.
I’ve been wanting to participate for years, but I’ve always had excuses. In 2013 I was doing my elective in Emergency Medicine, and it gobbled up all my time as a 7-7 gig. In 2014 I was rotating through Obstetrics and Gynaecology (my least favourite clinical rotation) and just trying to stay afloat. In 2015 was studying for and writing my surgical final exams, something that required 100% of my time and attention. This year was supposed to be the year. I had a week of leave that would be a no-go-zone since it was family time, butevery other waking hour outside of work was fair game.
My arch nemesis and perpetual sabotager (that’s not a real word) reared her ugly head.
That’s right…I’m talking about Procrastination.
I’ve never been very good at doing unscheduled work. Studying was easy because if I didn’t study I would fail and I had no money to repeat courses/years. Internship is easy (lol, jk) because I have a contract and bosses and a salary that all require my attendence and participation. Writing for leisure…eh, ke Dezemba boss.
That’s initially why I gave myself goals. I won’t disappoint you with how few of them I fulfilled. It’s entirely possible that I overestimated myself and my creative capacity, but I think it’s something else entirely.
When I wrote out those goals, I was in the middle of an incredibly fulfilling clinical subrotation. I was doing work I loved, with people I liked, in an environment I could tolerate. Every day was challenging and motivating and I was excited to go to work each day to do it all over again. Then I went on leave and returned to a different subrotation, one I’d been in before that I knew instinctively was no good for me. I tried to be bouyant and positive in the beginning, but it was soon clear that the entire subrotation is bad for my health. I dread going to work every morning and I come home feeling drained and uninspired. I would stare at my computer or my notepad for hours at a time, and then, feeling guilty about the time wasted, throw myself into planning to write. Now, generally, I’m big on plotting and planning. It helps me pace my writing and foreshadow things subtly but effectively…but…
THAT’S NOT WHAT NANOWRIMO IS ABOUT!!!*
My point is, I made a mistake setting creative goals in advance of knowing what my emotional and psychological well-being would be like at the time the goal would need to be tackled. It’s like planning to record music when I’m rotating through obstetrics…laughable and pointless. I know the rotation doesn’t suit my personality and that neither does mediocrity, so I’m going to be pulling on every ounce of my reserves to be competent despite hating every second of it. That leaves me with less internal bandwidth to tackle my neglected interests.
Clearly, I need to plan my creative pursuits around my expected state of general well-being, at least until I can leverage some of my financial planning to give me freedom from doing things that damage that well being. And since so much of my well-being revolves around my work right now, that’s going to be the key consideration.
So, What Now?
I’m still going to write the novel. I’ve deferred the goal to December (soft) and/or January (definite) and have made the decision to treat it just like I would have in NaNoWriMo. No self-editing if I can help it, 50000 words in 30 days. The reason the time period isn’t clear is because the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. I already know how big a role my work life plays in my motivation to create. Knowing this, and knowing that ke Dezemba boss and I have twice as many overtime shifts and twice as much work in a department I’m not keen on, it may be better for me to treat this month as a “trial with no pressure”. If I don’t write anything, too bad. If I do, very good. But January I’ll be in a different department that I don’t absolutely loathe (unless I end up in a certain subrotation that I do absolutely loathe) and I should be able to knock out a complete, if completely terrible, first draft by then.
Why Are You Doing The Thing Where You Announce It To The Internet When That Clearly Didn’t Work Last Time
I’m a firm believer in honesty. I’m anonymous, so I don’t really owe anyone any transparency and you’d never know what was real and what isn’t regardless. But it’s not in my nature to sugarcoat. I can’t just post about how I’m this creative person and I have all these grand plans to bust out of full-time medicine in ten years without highlighting that the hardest part of my plan actually won’t be the saving and investing part. For any creative person with a “day job”, there are a million other more nuanced hurdles including mental and creative fatigue, anxiety and insecurity, and the neverending quest to make our hobbies real. As in, one can’t just say they are a writer, or a painter, or a musician, or a photographer. One has to actually write, paint, make music, photograph. And not just occasionally so that you sound interesting at the dinner table, but consistently and thoughtfully, until your investment in those hobbies can justify taking the risks necessary to turn them into more than just hobbies.
It’s a little messier and more complicated than I would have liked it to be, but the first step to solving a problem is admitting there is one. Hopefully I won’t be writing a reboot of this post at the end of January. That would suck.
*In my defense though, and it’s a feeble one, I have written quite a bit this month. Less than 50000 words of course (more around 20000) and definitely not in novel form, and maybe it’s writing I was planning to do anyway so nevermind it clearly doesn’t count.