Your True Self: Where is She?


Written by Brittany Veenhuysen

I am my best work - a series of road maps, recipes, doodles, and prayers from the front lines.
— Audre Lorde

“I want to write a novel,” admitted Aaron. He was staring sheepishly at me over his pint of cider three years ago, just after I asked him to name the thing he wanted to do most. “Is that stupid?”

“No!” I exclaimed. We had recently met at work and discovered that we shared an English degree. He struck me as someone with a creative edge like me, also working a technical corporate job. He raised his eyebrow, skeptical at my enthusiasm.

“I want to write one too,” I confessed, with equal sheepishness.

Writing a novel doesn’t sound like a serious adult goal. With self-publication exploding, it seems like everyone and his dog is writing a book. It felt good to get this weird ambition out in the open, however, and we agreed that by writing a novel, we might finally experience our true selves, something that seemed so elusive in our jobs and in the humdrum of daily life.

It was Aaron who, months later, introduced me to Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), an international event that takes place each November. It’s quite brilliant – you sign up for the challenge, which is to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, and you can update your word count on the site. You need to write around 1,670 words a day to finish.

In the first few days the writing comes easy, but it becomes incredibly difficult as your initial concept gives way to the grey expanse of possibility. Aaron had attempted a brave foray the previous year, but threw in the towel around the 8,000-word mark.

We signed up for that year’s challenge, and, about halfway through November, decided we were terribly mistaken about our true selves. After hours of staring at blank screens, ditching fun plans to sit in the dark and write, pounding out 300 words during our coffee breaks, and feeling generally depressed and terrible about our writing skills, we had another after-work drink.

“I don’t think I want to write a novel,” said Aaron, “I think I want to have written a novel.”

We laughed then, but I thought about it later and decided it was true. We had a concrete goal, and we even had a strong feeling backing it, to experience our true selves. We just sucked at doing the steps in between. We were over here, and our completed manuscripts were over there, out of reach. I found myself thinking: can’t we just skip to the part where we attend book signings, and carpal tunnel syndrome is our biggest concern?

Since then (it’s now my third attempt at this damn challenge) I’ve realized there are two ways to approach the brute work, whether you are marketing your business, losing weight, or yes, writing a novel.

  1. See the work as a necessary evil, full of strife and suffering, all in the name of “Getting There”. “Getting There” is a blissful land where apparently, our happiness lies.

  2. See the work as The Whole Point. “The Whole Point” is often described by other people as “the challenging and rewarding part of the journey”, which although true, annoys me.

I’ve always imagined “the challenging and rewarding part of the journey” as a video montage.

I’m sitting at my desk. It’s morning, and I am scribbling away determinedly. Cut to afternoon, when I’m balling a piece of paper and throwing it out the window. Cut to evening, when I’m rubbing my face with exhaustion. Cut to the early hours of the morning, when I’ve been struck by some epiphany and it’s full steam ahead. An uplifting musical track lets the viewer know that Good Things Are Happening.

Even as I try to imagine the steps, I’m still skipping them.

So for me, the work is The Whole Point. Aaron and I weren’t wrong during that first drink. By expressing ourselves creatively through our words, we do experience our true selves. We just thought our true selves would arrive in the form of a manuscript.

In reality, my true self shows up during those hours of frustration, struggle, searching, and hair-pulling. I write funny and profound things that surprise even me. I also write things that made me cringe at my own ineptitude. These are all my true self. When I write, I experience my true self in every thought and word.

Your true self is not a thing with fixed attributes, it is an ever-transforming, ever-renewing process.

The people we want to become are not snapshot images of our moments of success, but a flowing and changing kaleidoscope. The moment I finally let go of the 50,000 words and the manuscript and instead embraced the writing process, the challenge suddenly became fun in its own right.

It’s November 20th today, and I’m still pulling my hair, sighing in frustration, staring at blank pages, and occasionally writing something. So far, I’ve written 32,562 words.

But who’s counting?