In November of 2011, I participated in my first ever National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is this: Write 50,000 words of a novel in the span of the month of November. It was a bit of a last minute decision to jump in, and not only did I participate but I actually “won” by completing my 50,000 words. That’s not to say it was all amazing writing – much of it is less than fabulous – but it’s remarkable how hard it is to just crank out that first draft. Once you have something to work with, you can edit, revise, hire other people to edit and so on, but while the story exists only inside your head there’s nothing you can do but WRITE.
I set the book aside after NaNoWriMo and have picked it up a few time over the years, but each time I found myself stuck on a small but vital detail. The story hinges on the protagonist’s ability to travel between the real world and multiple dream worlds and I couldn’t figure out how to describe the primary dream world, which is essential to the second half of the book. I had many ideas and thoughts and tried and forced and pushed but the way to tell that piece just wouldn’t come.
Last week, a very new friend sent me a text essentially asking “what are you doing this weekend.” Fast forward a few days and I found myself driving to Boston with him for the weekend to participate in a Sacred Harp all day sing (and yes, I had to Google “Sacred Harp Singing” because I had absolutely no idea what he was asking me to do). At 11 pm Friday night, I found myself curled up in a twin bed in a stranger’s apartment, having traveled there with a friend I have known for only a few months, and only just recently have started to hang out with outside of choir practice. I was amused at my conservative risk taking – several people knew where I was and my sister lives very close by so I could call her if I needed anything – but also was pleased I was trying something new and outside my comfort zone.
Lying half asleep in that bed, letting my mind wander without much direction, I suddenly sat up straight and dove for my writing notebook. At a time when I least expected it, I figured out how to write the dream world so it would connect to the real world in the way I wanted it to. Interestingly (or perhaps not so) it was a simple solution: I had been embellishing to a degree that the dream world was feeling forced and contrived. By letting it go and by lessening the specificity I found the gentle solution I’d been looking for.
I think this is often a tendency for me. I try to force things to fit and contort myself in the process so even when the pieces are linked together, I’m bent so impossibly that nothing is comfortable. I need to take a deep breath, step back from whatever is going on, and make sure I’m doing the right thing. Am I happy with this situation? Am I changing myself in a way that is healthy for me or am I bending over backward to meet someone else’s expectations or wants? If I just let things be and let them evolve, the answers will come to me; the solutions of what to do next and how to make this work will come if I don’t force them.
Today I’m letting go of trying to force things to fit. Whether it’s a story I need to tell or whatever is next for my life, I need to take a deep breath and just let things happen. I can still go for what I want in life and not shy away from making things happen for myself, but I need to let go of forcing things to fit, when they don’t.