At some point every November I go stand away from the house at two in the morning and drop my head back, face to a fuzzy dark sky. Some years the night is not frigid and I take a blanket out and lie back on the ground, opening my eyes as wide as I can to catch anything streaking across the sky.
The streaks of light aren’t bits of matter but energy; the meteor’s work of breaking through our atmosphere, a body on fire becoming incandescent only after all the chaos and heat and pressure. The light streams overhead, visible or not to me, and vaporizes. Some people might search it out, others won’t bother. Either way, it is still happening.
November was National Novel Writing Month, Nanowrimo for short. Writers just testing the waters of a new idea and those looking for a neat time of self-flagellation embark on a 30-day plan of writing 50,000 words, a respectable number toward a new novel. I’ve done it several times, reaching the goal only once. But this year, well, it was going to be different.
I decided to write a short, 750-word essay each day of November, which I did, for the first five days. And then, it was the weekend, so I thought it’d be okay to take a couple of days off. Then it was Monday and those are tough. Tuesday came and I felt so behind…
By Thursday I was feeling like it was too late to catch up. But I have the great fortune of being in an online writing accountability group that meets Thursday evenings. The time of the meeting had been changed for November, and I forgot the time difference in Chicago, so I was an hour early.
I spent the gift of time reading an article about how training for a marathon is like developing a writing practice: follow the plan, make it stick, build on the day before. My favorite part in the article was how she learned that trying and failing and trying again is a habit.
The days I didn’t do the work are now bookended with days I am doing the work. My angst about not completing 30 essays turned into an attagirl for getting new pages written. I don’t feel like I’m failing. I am trying. And trying again when I need to do that.
I have no fewer than two dozen journals around the house. None are completely full, some have bits of stories, most have a combination of thoughts, gardening reminders, and a few pressed flowers. These aren’t failed attempts at writing; these are my habits that lead to my practice that lead to… well, I’m not entirely sure, but whether it’s a book or blog or a recording of things in my head, it’s the work I’m doing.
I shared that realization with my accountability group and told them I was happy I showed up. Happy they showed up. One of the members said she realized that afternoon the story she’d been working on for three weeks wasn’t going right, and she’d come to the group that night to start over. Maybe others in the group didn’t meet whatever their imagined goals were for this week. But here we are, showing up to write. Starting something new, or starting over, or building on yesterday.
Meteor showers like the Taurids and Leonids are somewhere up there, as bright and constant as ever, even though I can’t see them, doing their work, burning through the sky again and again and again, glowing trails in their wake.
Whether my energy burns a hole in the atmosphere or not, I am incandescent from the effort. From the trying, and trying again, and again, and again.