Not only am I incapable of, and not terribly well disposed towards, growing a moustache to make it a charitable #Movember, but then #NANOWRIMO pokes up its clever, superior little head and makes me feel bad about my attempts to write as well.

For the uninitiated, #NANOWRIMO decrees November to be ‘national novel writing month’, challenging those people who have always felt that they’d like to write a novel to write a certain number of words every day in November, aiming to have a novel at least started by the end of the month.

I can make all sorts of excuses about November being a busy month, but really, it’s a whole mixture of things which makes me steer away from #NANOWRIMO just like I gripped my husband’s arm as he steered to avoid hitting a young fox on a lonely country road on the first night of this dark month.

I have always wanted to write. My students know it – to their despair, sometimes, as I put a Word document up on the interactive whiteboard and try to write with them when I set them a task in class. My friends know it, as I sometimes send them links to blog posts and they are always charitable enough to find something nice to say. I know it myself, as I do that thing when something happens in real life, thinking ‘oh that would be great to write about,’ filing away the experience almost at the expense of living in the moment it creates. But there’s something about fiction that I just can’t do. I’ve developed ideas from my own experience or that of others, developed characters from people I know or complete strangers, plotted, subplotted and dreamed… yet when I sit in front of the blank screen or the blank page, it simply doesn’t work. Maybe I just don’t have a good enough imagination; maybe I just don’t have the talent. Either way, the thought of an obligatory month of creative writing for ‘those that can’ just makes me feel even more like a failure, even more than usual.

I always associate November – specifically, the first Monday morning of November – with standing in line in morning Assembly as the Headmaster recited the same poem every year with an expected regularity which I found enormously comforting. It was a poem about November, concluding

‘No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,


It was as though the time after Half Term, when all the leaves from the school’s huge chestnut tree had disappeared, was making a statement of being different from the month before with the glorious autumnal colours and occasional warm, sunny afternoons. Things were serious now: working towards the Christmas exams with no fine weather or beauty of nature to distract us. The poem, by Thomas Hood, includes lines like:

‘No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day…’


‘No inkling of the way – no notion’,

and it amazes and impresses me that our Headmaster had the empathy to use a poem which summed up, so frankly and so bleakly, just how difficult his students and teachers might find one of the darkest months of the year. It wasn’t an era when much was known about mental health struggles… yet he seemed to be telling us he ‘got’ it. As always, he seemed to be encouraging us to persevere and do our best, which was what he always seemed to do himself.

I don’t seem to be able to persevere with things like #NANOWRIMO, though, no matter what I do. And it gives me that particularly contemporary malaise, undefined if not completely unheard of in my schooldays: #FOMO, the Fear of Missing Out. Oh how I suffer from #FOMO when I see friends or colleagues on holiday, even when I know I couldn’t enjoy what they’re loving for a whole range of complex reasons. When I see crowded local wine bars full of revellers and know I’m going home to enjoy gluten free toast and a cup of coffee… my enjoyment of the simplicity of my chosen comfort food undimmed, but a small voice niggling that I should be out enjoying myself in a restaurant which I don’t even much like…

I’m going to do my own thing in November. I’m not going to grow a moustache. I’m not going to write a novel. I’m not even going to write a novel about growing a moustache, a moustache perhaps with #FOMO that it’s only a moustache and not a beard. Instead, I’m going to try to enjoy the things I’m doing, and worry less about feeling left out or left behind the exciting adventures of other people’s lives. I’m going to try fearing less about missing out, and appreciate what is actually really happening in my life. I might feel like a failure, with my lack of narrative, but I’m going to persevere and do my best: even if I feel as though I have ‘no inkling of the way’.

No feeling like a failure, and maybe I’ll write about it, this November. #NOFOMOWRIMO.