I have this phrase that I paste on the top of all my writing projects, one that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as we come closer to the end of the year and into the holiday season: “write for the story, not the novel.”
There are two reasons I write with it at the top. First, to remind me why I write in the first place.
If I was writing for the novel, I would write one word after another whether or not it all made sense just for the sake of pulling it all into a book at the end. The book being a good one wouldn’t matter, not in this case. Writing for the novel means just getting the job done.
For me, that shouldn’t be the goal. My reminder sits at the top of the page to say that if I’m writing for the novel, I have to slow down.
Writing for the story is different.
That means paying attention to the words I’m pulling together and making sure that it’s the story I want to tell. All of the pieces have the be in place and the characters have to be whole, otherwise, the story falls apart piece by piece. Without paying attention to the story I’m telling and remembering why I’m telling it, the story slowly caves in on itself from the plot to all the tiny reasons people fall in love with stories in the first place.
Writing for the story means telling the truth and remembering why I’m writing that story in the first place.
Lately, I’m realizing that I haven’t been making space for writing my stories— both metaphorically and literally. I think a lot of us haven’t this year.
Since November is the National Novel Writing Month, I usually start or continue writing projects to match the goal of writing 50,000 words within those 30 days. This year though, I didn’t even start counting; between work, essays, and other projects, I never made it to my writing. I made no space for it.
As this year has gone on, instead of paying attention to what would be on top of that page, I feel like I’ve spent more time writing for the novel rather than the story. My focus and time have gone into the necessities of getting the work done, graduating, working, finishing applications, completing to-do lists, staying on top of healthcare, and so much else that felt necessary. All of it got done, yes, but I think that’s about as far as I got.
Has anyone else felt that way?
Whether it’s been feeling less productive, connected, inspired, entertained, or a myriad of other in-betweens, a lot of us have had quite the year and we’re coming down to the end of it. The closer I get, the more I realize that at least for me, a lot of what I’ve been doing has been just to get the job done without remembering why I’m doing it in the first place.
But as the reminder goes, I find myself writing for the novel rather than the story, I need to slow down. And I know I’m not the only one.
Unfortunately, without the three-week winter break of the quarter system, I have to find other ways to make more time. Whether you’re working from home, the kids are out of classes, you’re on a break, or something else entirely, all of us come to a point when our priorities have to get shifted in order to put our needs first. After all, there will always be something more to do, won’t there? So we need to adjust.
It’s been a hectic year and there are only so many things within our control; for me, this blog is one of them. As I always remind people to take care of themselves, taking breaks to hit the refresh button and step back from the burnout is one way to do so. Getting away from the rush of work and schedules every once in a while is good for a person.
I, however, usually do not follow my own advice and I think it’s about time I did. However you celebrate the holidays, I hope you all can find a way to step back and take some time for yourselves in whatever that looks like to you. I can’t imagine what the burnout from this year holds and for a lot of people, the time has both flown by this year and also felt like an endless loop.
I’ve been looking forward to the holiday season as something to dive into just to feel a little bit less like a watch that’s been losing time.
I always say take care of yourselves, so this time I’m going to actively take my own advice by slowing down. Hopefully I can into the holiday season and end the year writing for that metaphorical story I mentioned.
Now through to the beginning of next year, I’m choosing to focus on the things I can control, and for me, that’s where I put my time. That means taking a short blogging break for the next few weeks. In a way, I’m doing my best to hold onto the good things around me and write for my story, not my novel.
Because when it comes down to spending time with the people around me or doing the work that matters to me, I would like to enjoy it.
I hope maybe you can too. See you next year.
PS. If for some reason you’re really going to miss me, you can find some of my older December posts linked here, here, and here. Feel free to come back to them in the coming weeks with the calendar. Until 2021, take care.