Every year when news of NaNoWriMo floods my feed, I gear up to participate. Although not a novel writer, I figure that a 30-day challenge focused on writing anything – essays, blogposts, book reviews – would leave me with a good haul of writing at the end of the month. And like every year before this one, I find myself on the 30th of the month wondering why my good intentions don’t translate into desired results.
In addition to the usual excuses, this time I have Covid-19. I didn’t contract the disease, but my day job involves research geared towards finding a cure for it. My days are filled with meetings, discussions, troubleshooting, report writing, the list goes on. Certainly not conducive to producing the kind of output desired by serious NaNoWriMo participants.
Instead of berating myself for falling short on a goal that I didn’t fully commit to, I tried to do what was possible. Here are five literary things that I did this November:
Attended the virtual Singapore Writers Festival 2020
Although I missed the vibrant environment of a litfest where everyone you encounter is either a reader or a reader AND a writer, it was good to attend remote sessions after a long work day. Having the link to recordings beyond the festival dates helped me to go back and revisit some discussions like the one with Zadie Smith and listen in on others. But I wonder if purely virtual festivals will ever take the place of in-person events. Writing is a solitary pursuit by definition. Won’t this make it even more isolating?
Spent time at a bookstore and library
It had been ages since I visited Kinokuniya, Singapore’s largest bookstore, a paradise for booklovers. Once again I marvelled at the size of the store with it’s neat stacks of books arranged in the most efficient manner. The enormous selection was amazing but also paralysing with the plethora of choices. I picked up a Bibliofile to help me track my reading and a few gifts for friends. On another day, I stopped at the library@Orchard, a beautiful space with a unique maze-like arrangement with curving shelves of books that seem to flow, like waves. I admired the fiction section which was intuitive but gave up trying to find Annie Dillard and left with Dave Barry instead.
I know it sounds like cheating, but ask any writer and they will tell you. Reading counts.
Between reading Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb and listening to the audio version of Michelle Obama’s Becoming, I had my hands and ears full. Very different, but equally interesting books that I hope to review shortly. I managed to sneak in a few other smaller audiobooks, Reading People by Anne Bogel and Keep Moving by Maggie Smith. Again, two different books that kept me company during my daily walk around my neighborhood.
Met other writers, editors, content creators – both face to face and online
Having had the pleasure of seeing eight of my essays appear in the Straits Times this year, I was looking forward to meeting Susan, the editor who had been super supportive. We finally met for lunch one afternoon and had a lovely discussion about writing and the newspaper business. I also met other writers and content creators for stimulating conversations over coffee or a meal. And of course, continued my weekly online discussions with my friend and co-founder of Story Artisan Press, Nandini.
Submitted writings to new outlets
Sometimes you write to spec, sometimes your writing finds a perfect home much later. Both happened this month. I had been meaning to write a longish piece on a topic relating to home but didn’t get around to doing it until I saw the announcement for an anthology. I managed to get my submission done in time and to my great delight, heard back from the editors about it’s acceptance fairly quickly. I also reworked a previously written draft to submit to a well-known litmag that I had been considering for a while. It will appear online early next year. I hope it will be as well received as The Gentle Art of Lighting a Lamp that appeared in another beautiful magazine, Leaping Clear.
Overall, despite the dismal progress on NaNoWriMo, November did turn out to be a highly productive month, both at work and on the writing front.