I had intended to use my final NaNo post to write about something clever–about programs you could use to mix up your writing routine or about how to maintain the excitement in your relationship with your book. And then something changed my mind.
I adjuct at a local university, and to beat the horrendous, California traffic, I’m out the door ungodly early. So, as you can imagine, I’ve made quite good friends with the janitorial staff, who get up even earlier than I do. This morning, one custodian asked me about my Thanksgiving. I told him about my very standard Thanksgiving activities, which involved family and food and an early bedtime, with lots of writing the next day. When I asked him about his Thanksgiving, he told me he’d spent Thanksgiving at Venice Beach with the homeless. He said he served, ate good food, and then played basketball. “Best thanksgiving ever,” he added, as if I didn’t already know that simply by how he talked about his day compared with how I had talked about mine.
You know that feeling you get when you’re suddenly overwhelmed by how selfless other people are? When you recall all the eye rolls and the ‘not that agains’ that make up every family dinner, and you feel like an insolent, spoiled teenager? I felt a little like that. And I still kind of do (It certainly doesn’t help matters any that I’m reading Les Miserables right now, and that a good friend just revealed to me that she, too, was once homeless).
This month, I’ve spent at least 100 hours on my writing, and that’s probably low-balling it. But how many hours have I spent doing things for other people, real life people who don’t live in my books or in my head, who have real needs that cannot be solved by more ink? I’m embarrassed even to type that number, but suffice it to say, it’s in the single digits.
So as we wrap up this last week of NaNo, where we all push to get to our 50k or 60k or whatever our goal, I wanted to just note how many hours we’ve found to devote to our writing, and how many of those hours we could we have spent trying to improve the lives of those around us. I’m not saying we all need to volunteer 10 hours a week or quit our jobs so that we can ‘do it all.’ I’m just saying that we need to make an effort to contribute more than just our words to the world, in the same way we’ve made an effort this month to write. We could volunteer at soup kitchens or at nursing homes or offer ourselves up as tutors. We could donate to good causes. My friend Nick Wilford has started a fund to build a college in Scotland for kids with special needs. But if you don’t have the money for that, at the very least, you can sign the petition to do so.
I know we’re all busy. But we’ve made time for writing. We can make time to give back even if we feel like we’re not at a point in our lives where we have much of anything. If my school’s custodian can spend his Thanksgiving serving the homeless, I certainly can try harder to be better to the worst off.
We all can.