Thirteen, I decided. I would have written and published a novel by the time I turned thirteen.I was nine years old and had experienced an acute sense of divine calling one morning while making my bed. I would learn later that November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I have never placed any faith in astrology or horoscopes, but I have sometimes placed casual significance in having a November birthday. Stories could change the world, and I was destined to write stories. People write entire novels (50,000 words) in a month for NaNoWriMo. I could, I reasoned, write a novel in four years, at which point I would be a teenager. Around that time, Christopher Paolini’s Eragon was becoming a wild success in his teens (121 weeks on the New York Times children’s books bestseller list). I was extremely jealous of Chris for beating me to prodigy status.

Twenty-six; in four days I will be twice thirteen. I have not written a novel. I have started many. The initial energy of creativity cooks off like oil in a pan, and then everything begins to stick and burn. Reasoning that short stories might be more manageable, I set a goal this year to submit a short story to a contest or publication each month. I earned four prompt and pleasant rejection letters before I quit and set my sights on NaNoWriMo. 

Five hundred—I set my NaNoWriMo goal at 500 words a day in imitation of Gary Schmidt. I have (grudgingly and guiltily) become more realistic in the goals I set for myself since the age of nine. 

Three foundational lessons in writing I learned from Gary Schmidt, my favorite professor at Calvin College: 

  • Tell no one about what you are writing.
  • Write only stories that are yours to tell. 
  • If you get up at five o’clock in the morning and write 500 words every day, you can, in theory, produce Newbery Award–winning children’s literature. That’s how Gary did it. 

Fifteen days is how long I managed to stick with my writing plan. Anne Lamott famously advised: “How to write: Butt in chair. Start each day anywhere. Let yourself do it badly.” So, I put my butt in my chair, mostly in the middle of the night, and wrote badly, pushing through the painful awareness of mangled plots and bloated passages that will need to be editorially lanced. And then I got busy and stopped. I always stop. And it’s always demoralizing.

Numbers have a surprising tyranny over me, a word person. Twenty-six looms over me with the unyielding apathy of a toll booth or a DMV employee. My life and accomplishments are so average. 

The significance of numbers is ridiculously arbitrary. Is it any more rational to celebrate the achievement of a prodigy for occurring at fifteen instead of thirty than it is to assume characteristics more likely Libras or Scorpios? The books written and accomplishments achieved at fifteen and thirty might be different (and so too may be people born under different stars). But do we place too much emphasis on time and accomplishments measured against it? I sometimes think—in academic and Christian circles especially—our worship of productivity and vocational contribution does much more harm individually even than it does good globally. 

All that (approximately 500 words) to say your worth or mine is not counted in numbers or words. But the jury is still out on the influence of stars. 

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

post calvin direct

Get new posts from Emily Joy Stroble delivered straight to your inbox.

the post calvin