There are so many things I’ve not written. There are countless novels, plays, stories, journal entries, screenplays, teleplays, recipes, cookbooks and brochures that I’ve not written. The very small number of things I’ve written is overwhelmingly dwarfed by the number of things I’ve not written.
This is called potential: there’s always more to do, more to write.
More problematically, the number of things I’ve written is even dwarfed by the number of things I’ve started writing and given up. I’ve never written a screenplay, but I’ve started three and quit them all. I’ve written a dozen or so (of course unpublished) short stories but have thought about, taken notes for, and even begun countless more. Almost 10 years ago I helped co-write two different theatrical productions; the number of plays I’ve started outlining must outnumber those at a ratio of 10 to 1.
Last month I added another entry to the numbers of creative projects I’ve undertaken and quit. This was maybe my most ambitious attempt, so quitting it doesn’t really hurt all that much.
My goal was to participate in National Novel Writing Month, something I mentioned in my last post on this site over two months ago. National Novel Writing Month is a non-profit organization that encourages people — adults and schoolchildren — to write an entire novel in 30 days. The target is 50,000 words, which I believe comes out to about 1,600 words per day. I could confirm that math using a calculator, but the specifics are less important to what I’m saying here. Point is, it’s ambitious.
On November 1, I started strong. The idea for the novel had been germinating in my mind for months. I spent much of my Sunday long runs thinking about different passages, phrases, descriptions and events that could contribute. November 1 was a Sunday. I sat down at my computer and started writing. I wrote a little over 450 words before needing to go on my long run. I came back from my run and had to do some errands. At that time, Sunday was my only day off and my only chance to do many of the chores and activities that allow adults to live productively through the week. So I never got back to my computer that day, but I figured if I could just write 50 extra words per day, I’d be fine.
November 2 I started a new job that requires a commute of about an hour and a half. I thought I’d be able to take that time to work on my novel, but it’s hard to write when standing on a train. (I almost always stand, keeping the seats for people whose need to sit is more urgent or extreme than my own.) Also, as happens in life, I decided that there were other things I could do on my commute that made me happier. In the morning I do language lessons and read Le Monde; in the evenings I read.
One week and 465 words into National Novel Writing Month, I resigned myself to quitting my novel. In the past I would have really beaten myself up over this: the last 10 years of my life can be described as a cycle of wanting to do creative work and being frustrated with myself for not making the time to pursue it, with brief periods of hard work intermixed in there. But I (no longer) want to be a famous writer, or even a published one. That’s ego. I want to write because I love doing it, and sometimes things don’t get written because they’re not very good or I’m not very committed to the idea. Other times I don’t write because it’s simply not a priority then. And that’s okay.
Ideas are autonomous things. They have their own souls and needs and potentials. Ones that get nurtured and encouraged can become great; they can leave the mind of the writer or artist and enter the thoughts of strangers, adding value to many people. Other ideas, living quietly in the back of my mind, will still live out their proper and wonderful existences, adding value to my life even if I don’t do anything with them.
This is another novel not written, and there will be many, many more. And that’s just fine by me.