Words, words, everywhere, yet none that seem to fit.
Words, words, worthless ware… NaNo’s hard. I quit.
Struggling with the English language? Finding it difficult to suss the perfect words from the inept, not just in your novel, but in your explanations of NaNoWriMo? You’re not alone. Here we are, more than three weeks into this crazy adventure to which we have (once again and with masochistic glee) subjected ourselves, and if you’re anything like me, you can’t help but consider how insufficient our vocabularies can be. How clumsy and inadequate our phrasing in describing this yearly ritual to anyone in the normal world, where staring at a blinking cursor with your hands in your hair is seen for the demented exercise it certainly is. How are we to explain why our socks don’t match, why we haven’t showered in four days, or why our families are giving us such a wide berth that friends are left questioning whether “WriMo” might be a euphemism for someone with a heavy meth problem?
We can say it’s a test of will. We can call it weary madness and ambition and SO MUCH COFFEE. But that doesn’t cover it by half, does it? And what of the secret to winning? If you were asked to condense the key to this month-long affair into a single word, could you do it?
Luckily, removing language barriers is one of the unspoken perks of being a veteran. (Not really, but take the journey with me anyway. It’ll be fun.)
The story of NaNo begins, as all stories do, with hope. Forelsket for a budding plot. (Norwegian – the euphoria of first falling in love.)
You attack your novel with meraki. (Greek – doing something soulfully, putting part of yourself into your work.)
You socialize, reaching out to WriMos past and present to discuss whether you’re a planner or a bricoleur. (French – someone who begins a creation with no plan, adding bits as they go.)
You may even be marked as a member of the seigneur-terraces. (French – coffee shop dwellers who occupy tables forever, spending little money.)*
In week two, the novelty of your novel starts to wear thin. You catch yourself staring at a jumbled mound of words, feeling waldeinsamkeit. (German – alone and lost, as in the woods.)
Desperate to infuse your dud of a novel with a bit of pizazz, you change tack – killing a character or introducing a bold new subplot – and only later recognize it as verschlimmbesserung. (German – a supposed improvement that only makes things worse.)
By day twelve, you’ve made an art of boketto. (Japanese – gazing vacantly into the distance.)
By thirteen, you’ve put on a bit of kummerspeck. (German – “grief bacon,” weight gained from emotional overeating.)
You set aside the novel and head to the gym, swearing to get back on track by zeg. (Georgian – the day after tomorrow.)
Zeg passes as a gâchis, with no advancement in your word count. (French – an opportunity wasted as a result of ineptness.)
You fight to rekindle the excitement you had for your plot when November began, but it feels like cavoli riscaldati. (Italian – “reheated cabbage,” an attempt to revive an unworkable relationship.)
Deflated, you enter week three, when you see yourself in the mirror and are overcome with litost. (Czech – a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.)
You begin to think that maybe all of this is beyond you. Maybe you shouldn’t have committed to something so big and demanding. Maybe, deep down, you’re nothing more than a luftmensch. (Yiddish – a social misfit, an impractical dreamer with no sense.)
You scream. You pull your hair. You lie face down on the bed in toska. (Russian – a state of great spiritual anguish.) **
It is there, in your wretched state, that you consider giving up. Enough is enough. Who writes a novel in a month, anyway? Meshuggeners, that’s who. (Yiddish – crazy people/men.)
Just as you are inventing every excuse to make your surrender a forgivable one, something stops you. Something slight and simple like komorebi. (Japanese – sunlight filtering through the leaves of a tree.)
That something makes you feel like a petty korinthenkacker for ever having considered quitting. (German – “raisin pooper,” someone so caught up in trivialities that they spend all day… ahem… pooping raisins.)
That something reminds you that the time is now, that you don’t want to one day wake up in torschlusspanik. (German – the fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages.)
That something is the unassuming-yet-elegant heart of NaNoWriMo. The one word that is explanation, goal, and key combined.
That something is sisu. (Finnish – strength of will, determination, the unique courage of choosing to carry on in the face of great adversity, even when you know you may be doomed to fail. Guts beyond words.)
You want to know the secret to NaNoWriMo? The secret is to keep going when you know you should quit. The secret is to care more about getting to the end of the scene than you do about making your word count. The secret is in remembering that, whether you end this month with 50K or 50 pages, you’re going to finish something you might never have started. The secret is to recognize that the words don’t matter so much as what they say when you’ve put the language aside. The secret is to give a toss. Not about this contest. Not about the book you’re writing. Or about your ability to stick it out. The secret is to give a toss about yourself and your commitment to this crazy idea that maybe you can tell a story that no one else can.
So write what you know. Write what you love. Make mistakes. Fall down. Get back up and call it art. Have determination. Have sisu. The end is just around the corner. You got this.
* There is no shame in this.
** There’s a little bit of shame in this.