Cafe Aphra's Alternative NaNoWriMo has been getting some great feedback from a steadily increasing number of writers. People have been telling us how they've been more committed to their writing through setting their own targets. These conversations are less about how many words we've written and more about our reflections upon our writing practice - how and where and why we write. We've been celebrating and sharing our writing and our reflections upon writing via this blog, the Cafe Aphra facebook page, through emails and face-to-face conversations.
And this all makes me feel more guilty about the fact that I have fallen off the bandwagon. It's not just that I've slipped. One minute I was there, sitting among the trombones and the music boxes and all the other bits and bobs which would be part of any halfway decent bandwagon, and the next minute I'm all alone watching everyone else share the bandwagon's journey over the horizon.
There are many excuses I can offer: I've had ongoing problems with my eyesight so it's been difficult for me to work online and my computer has been going through an unexpected adolescence which has involved tantrums and sulks and all the histrionics that one might expect from a teenager; I've had endless visitors and childcare crises and I've been left with both biscuit crumbs and small children hiding behind my sofa. My tumble drier started smoking, the house rabbit ate the edges of my notebook, and my dog tried to eat the edges of my landlord's handyman.
But however many excuses I can offer, the relevant thing is that I haven't been writing these past few days. Not a page. Not a sentence. Not a word.
My writing has been through dry spells before. My husband tends to notice before I do: whereas many a loving spouse might ask their wild-eyed wife if it is her 'period', the corner of my husband's mouth merely twitches with resignation as he observes that 'maybe I should do some writing'. This dry spell is different though. I've been able to look through the emails and comments of the other people who are writing in Cafe Aphra and I know that I'm not alone in the struggles that life throws our way. It's part of the process of being a writer. Our writing practice is as much about navigating the challenges of the everyday as it is about the content that we put down on the page.
And being party to other people's struggles is a good way of putting one's own challenges into a different perspective. A few days ago, I was feeling very sorry for myself. To keep with the metaphor, I fully expected that the bandwagon should turn about and come back for me; after all that's what friends do, right? And then I received an email from a friend within Cafe Aphra. Her email resonated with the words of Oriah Mountain Dreamer: "I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine of your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it." She didn't want the excuses or the reasons why I wasn't writing. Our emails bounced back and forth for a little while, and then she went back to her writing and I realized that what I need to do isn't to focus on cleaning up the biscuit crumbs and mending the tumble drier and worrying about the computer. I need to pick myself up, brush myself off, and chase after that bandwagon. I've got a notebook and an ink pen and a new pair of reading glasses. I'm ready to climb back on board.
"We are what we repeatedly do, excellence then is not an act, but a habit."