I flamed out at 16,265 words.
Truthfully, I declared National Novel Writing Month defeat a few days before that when I wrote a nasty email to one of my main characters and told her she was lame. "Who cares about you anyway?" I wrote. "You're just a whiny bitch of a mother."
I tried to hang in there for a few more days and my work sessions consisted mainly of me inhaling chocolate as I sat slack-jawed at the computer, tapping out dreck so horrid it made my brain hurt and crying. I did a lot of crying, most notably in the coffee shop with my face buried in my fleece as Kent sat next to me, a pumpkin custard shake in hand.
I cried hot tears of anger and shame when I told him about the email I wrote to Mary, a character very loosely based on me.
A friend suggested the writing exercise as a way to break through my writer's block. Just zip off some emails from one character to another or from the narrator to a character, she said. And so I did. My characters traded emails, some of them funny, some informative or revelatory. My narrator wrote only one: to Mary. It was short and vicious. "You're a lame character."
As I shared this with Kent, I realized I wasn't talking to Mary. I was chiding myself. "I'm just a housewife playing at being a writer," I said from behind my fleece.
Here's the thing: I've never understood all the handwringing among many bloggers about whether they're writers or not. I've always thought, if you write, you're a writer. Because I worked as a reporter, for terrible pay, I suppose I've never had the illusion that writing was anything other than an unglamorous, often lonely, thankless slog by people who adore words, stories and the craft of storytelling. Wanna join the club? Sure! Welcome!
And yet, I was wallowing in the same quicksand of insecurities.
I loved my characters for about a week and thrilled at the ritual of writing every day. I was blown away when I sat at the computer, totally uninspired, and saw scenes unfold behind closed eyes. And then, I got tired. I caved to frustration. I ran like a toddler at a haunted house from my inner critic. A pretend writer suffers an existential crisis in a coffee shop. I'd become a pitiful cliche.
"Tobias told a stranger he loved me," I said to Kent, still not looking out from the sweatshirt. "At least I'm doing one thing right."
The proud mother of four kind, interesting, creative, beautiful kids? I know it should be enough. It's just that sometimes, I need more.