Since trialling the workshop that my colleague Dr Ali Wallis and I developed, I have found my own mindset about growing older has shifted dramatically. At the tender age of 72 I have not only started a new business, I have also just completed my first novel. I’ve reinvented myself as a novelist!
After launching The Best Is Yet To Come and running our first two workshops, I read a book called ‘The Happiness Project’. It came highly recommended so I bought it, even though the title didn’t really appeal. As I was packing for a holiday in Tropical North Queensland, I noticed its light, bright cover on my bookshelf and threw it in at the last minute. It turned out to be perfect holiday reading.
In one chapter the author, Gretchen Rubin, explores her passion. She’d like to be passionate about art and music but she’s just not. She realises her real passion is writing and making books, and I felt a jolt of recognition. Rubin discovers a book called ‘No Plot? No Problem!’ by Chris Baty who masterminded a thirty day novel writing challenge in the US called National Novel Writing Month each November. She bought Baty’s book and accepted his challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. Achieving this definitely made her happier.
I was intrigued and inspired enough to download and read Baty’s easy and fun book. I wondered if I could actually write 1667 words a day, every day for a month and if so, what on earth would I write about? But Baty urges his readers not to worry about the content; once we started, he advises, we’d realise that we had already been writing this book in our heads. The characters and plot would emerge.
Baty suggests that, no matter when you begin, pscyhologically it’s best to aim to complete your 50,000 words at the end of a calendar month. If I was serious about taking up this challenge, I had to get started straight away - I only had three weeks of the month, and of my holiday, left.
I started on 9th August, the day after I finished Baty’s book. Before I knew it, I had written more than 3,000 words on the first day. The next day, I easily wrote more than 2,000. It struck me then that, not having to squeeze in my novel-writing around work, social and family commitments, I could actually finish it by the end of the month. I bravely adjusted the daily 1667 word count to 2,500 words to allow me to finish in the three available weeks.
My cheerleader husband completed a giant 1000 piece jigsaw of Central Park while I wrote for two or three hours each morning. We fell into a routine of going out for coffee, lunch or a walk in the Botanic Gardens after I hit my word count each day. This was something I looked forward to after sitting, hunched over a computer. Doing some yoga and stretching mid-writing sessions also helped. Our outings became my daily rewards, which worked well for me as incentives. One day I changed this routine to fit in a morning yoga class and completed my daily writing in the afternoon, but it felt like hard work. It took longer, I was distracted and reverted to my morning schedule for the remainder of the challenge.
I finished writing 50,210 words on August 28th. To celebrate we took ourselves to our favourite restaurant for lunch, Nu Nu’s at Palm Cove. I’m over the moon. I can now relax. It’s written.
Baty urges us to avoid rereading anything we’ve written the previous day, avoid editing as we write, don’t tell a soul what the novel is about, avoid reading the finished book for two weeks and certainly don’t let anyone else read it. He also suggests setting aside a year to edit it. Getting it published doesn’t interest me at present. What I’ve loved most about this challenge is by focusing only on the word count and trusting that the words will come, my inner critic has been silenced. I’ve finally learned how to get myself out of the way!
One writing ritual he recommends is to wear something fun such as a hat (I chose a pair of long orange earrings) when you are actually writing. The ritual of wearing my earrings definitely helped. Second, he urges us to use a one-liner such as “I’m a writing dynamo’ and ‘I’m a Badass Novelist’ to help power us along. I know this works, too. I had also invited a small group of friends to be my cheer squad and sent them updated word counts periodically. They were generous with their encouragement; one even sent a digital fireworks display when I finished! I am very grateful for their support.
Who’d have thought I would actually write the book I’ve always dreamed of writing in just twenty days? Certainly not me! But who’d have thought, back in January, that by September I’d have reinvented myself as a kickass novelist?
I’ve come to realise, as I’ve been pondering this business of reinvention, particularly as we age, that time is all there is to consider. While there’s time, anything is possible. And reinventing yourself doesn’t mean throwing away other things you enjoy being. It may just mean adding another string to your harp!
PS Don’t tell anyone I told you, but my novel just might be about reinvention too