In 7th or 8th grade, Home Economics was a required class. One of the projects required was an awful, blasted sweatshirt that would try to take the title of Bane of My Existence. As a class, we reviewed how the sewing machine worked and studied the meaning of pattern markings. We learned about the wretched task before being set loose to work at our own speed. I watched as, one by one, my classmates completed their garments. Still, I sat with the too soft, cheap, obnoxious red fabric in pieces. It's not that I did nothing during our class time. I was, in fact, doing the same thing every day - beginning the project.
As the deadline for completion grew closer, so did my anxiety. And my mistakes. Every little mistake I made sitting at that ancient, sadistic machine put me back to the beginning of the task. One tiny wrong stitch put on my brakes. Panic set in. I started staying after school to finish. Still, no progress. Finally I fessed up to my father. On the brink of tears and enveloped in shame, I told him I was going to fail home economics because I was incapable of sewing sweatshirt pieces together. Rather than the confused fury I assumed would be his response, my father laughed. He asked me why I hadn't finished. I told him about every wrong stitch, every miserable failing.
"What do you think is more valuable in this case," he asked, "being perfect or finishing?"
I whined something about the teacher grading every stitch. Being afraid of not getting an A.
"Just finish it. If it's not perfect, learn from it. The worst thing you can do is give up because it's not perfect."
I finished the sweatshirt. It was not perfect. I did not get an A on that particular project, but I did get a valuable life lesson - not trying is worse than trying and failing. There is always something to be learned, a path for growth.
November is national novel writing month, also known as NaNoWriMo. This will be my fourth year as a participant, potentially my 3rd time as a "winner". When November 1st arrived, my outline was finished. My nerves were shot. The self-doubt had arrived. The beginning is always the most excruciating part. As tough as the initial jump in can be, I always finish with a reminder as to why I do it. I love to write. I hate the anxiety of beginning; I love the rush of getting in a flow. I love that heady feeling sitting at my desk when I realize I just spent time transported into the storyline, completely leaving the real world around me as white noise. That feeling is why I do what I do.
As of day 5 this year, I'm already behind. Why? My struggle with the beginning, of course. Added to my frustration is the knowledge that whatever I initially put on the page, it will be edited beyond recognition before stamped as completed. It could be complete gibberish. All truth, my beginnings usually are. It's more of a warm-up exercise. So if it really doesn't matter what I write at all, why is it so hard? I don't know, it just is.
Except this year. My beginning is actually interesting. I feel like I'm resuming a long-paused chat with these characters rather than dealing with bumbling introductions and awkward conversation. It's familiar. Engaging. It's really, really fun on top of all the frustration. It's different than previous years.
In previous years, I broke out of my intro anxiety and made up the word count in the heart of the month. The end of the month was a rush to finish, a symbolic accomplishing of a goal rather than the satisfaction of a truly finished first draft. I'm curious to see if the same happens this year. My characters are taking over much earlier than usual and my pace is steady. I don't feel I want to get ahead of this wave. I want to ride this crest all the way to shore and see where I land. Perhaps I was already "warmed up" on November 1st because of the freelance work. Maybe it's Maui. Could it be I've finally grown into talent after years of perseverance? Possibly it's just one of those times in life when all 7s pop up. Whatever it is, I love it. I may finish this draft by the end of the month, I may not. But I will finish.