…and every time I write that sentence, it’s melodically synced to the song “I’m on a Boat” because I’m a grown up. I digress.
Last November, I was part of the #NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) army. I set out to write 50,000 words in 30 days, which would approximately quintuple the number of words I had formally written since graduating from college a decade earlier.
Two months before I started this adventure, I left my job and got married. Both endeavors had occupied my thoughts and ambitions for months. Suddenly, I found myself with a gaping space to explore. It was exciting and uncomfortable. It was a new sensation to wake up in the morning and genuinely ask, “What do I want to do today?”
My type-A personality kicked in, hard, and I immediately started searching for a new project, a new endeavor. I learned of NaNoWriMo from a dear friend, Dani Hayden, who completed it the year before. We talked about the power of building a daily writing practice, and the deep satisfaction of having a tangible thing to show for your work. Both aspects were incredibly appealing to me. So, I created an account and decided to go for it.
I didn’t write a novel, per se, so I suppose I cheated. I knew that the easiest way to complete the project, for me, would be to write about myself. My 30th birthday was approaching (sneak preview: it’s today!) and I became driven to capture the major stories that shaped my life. I would write an everyman’s autobiography, I thought. Rather than trying to paint my stories as harrowing or dramatic, I would tell them as I remembered them and allow my human experience to speak for itself.
The project was easy in the early staged. I would pick an episode from my life and start writing. I included dialogue and visual descriptions of my surroundings. I wrote about memorable meals and hard conversations. I wrote about glorious victories and bitter disappointments. If I ran out of steam on one story, I left it behind and started a new one. My friend, Alex, suggested ending each day in the middle of a sentence. When I went back to resume writing, I had a story with some momentum behind it rather than starting from a dead stop each time. This was sage advice.
The only day that was genuinely hard was Thanksgiving. I was hosting my family for the first time, as well as four other friends, all in our new home, and I cooked everything from scratch. I do not say this to brag, or to make you feel sorry for me; I’m write this to remind myself that my habit of stubbornly insisting that I do everything myself often creates more difficulty than it destroys. Regardless, at 7 PM that night, after cooking, eating, cleaning, and drinking a few glasses of whiskey, I put on a movie for my family and opened up my laptop. I don’t remember which story I wrote about that day, but I pushed through and made it to 1667 words before collapsing.
I ended up writing 60,000 words over the course of the month. On the last day, I received a congratulatory email from #NaNoWriMo and posted about it on Facebook. Almost immediately, I committed to taking my pile of raw writing and turn it into something finished, something polished.
At the time, I assumed that editing and completing the book would provide me with the same lift and goal-completion energy that writing the book had. I was wrong, but in a really, spectacular way.
The process of editing the book, without my intention, became a massive exercise in self-awareness. In reading the stories from start to finish, I dug deeper to find patterns of behavior, personality traits, and repeated mistakes throughout my stories. There were definitely moments where I was embarrassed for my former self, but mostly I had an incredibly opportunity to reflect on how much I changed over the last 30 years.
More specifically, and poignantly, I noticed something: leading into the end of high school, my capacity for gratitude seemed to take a hit. I went from the always happy, excited-to-be-here kid to the brooding, angsty, and driven person that I more-closely resemble today. I watched the sense of wonder and warmth from my childhood fade over time. As someone who comports himself to be generally happy and gregarious, it was jarring to find evidence to the contrary. In my own words, no less.
As the book continued to take shape, I seized on the opportunity to do something about this realization. I started a daily gratitude journal. I started meditating. I worked with a life coach. I used the insights I derived from this project and turned them into actions that made my life substantively better.
The last three months have been some of the best and most fulfilling of my life. Not just because of the novel, but because I’ve been able to bring my focus back to the present and, ironically, think less about myself. Yes, you read that right. The practice of writing a whole book on myself actually prompted me to focus much more on the other people in my life.
My goal, now, is to share this book with the world in hopes that it spurs other people to practice the same self-reflection that I did. I’m so grateful that I stumbled into it, and I think that the practice can help so many people.
So, if support that mission, get my book. Read the dedication. Skip around. Use it however you want. It’s even free for the first week, and thereafter I make $.35 per copy because Amazon requires a minimum price. If you read the book and something strikes you, reach out! My e-mail address is at the back of the book and I would love to hear from you.
In the meantime, regardless of whether or not you read my book, I hope that this article has encouraged you to take a few minutes today and reflect on who you are now, and how that has changed over time. You won’t regret it.