On Writing

Tackling My First Novel (for the fourth time)

This will be my fourth year participating in NaNoWriMo.  I’ve never “won” NaNoWriMo but I’ve always learned something from it.

What is NaNoWriMo

In addition to being a really hard word to say without sounding like you’re drunk, NaNoWriMo is a month-long writing challenge that millions of writers participate in from around the world. It happens in November of every year.  Writers commit to writing 50k in a month. They have support boards, emails, motivation and even local meetups to help inspire and motivate you along the way.  To write 50K words in thirty days amounts to about 1,667 words a day, every day for the duration.  A healthy but still challenging writing goal for many is to write 1,000 words a day and like exercise, take a day off once a week. This is a lot more writing per day, plus no breaks. It is like sprinting through ten marathons. In short, it’s really fucking hard.

My History with NaNoWriMo

The first year I participated in NaNoWriMo, I learned it’s much harder to complete than you might imagine. As a single mother working full-time, it proved to be way too hard for me to commit to and I didn’t even last a week.  Once I missed my first target, I was out– and relieved to be out.  I continued to scan the emails that came from NaNoWriMo with a hint of frustration that I was out but also amazement that people were still in it. I also learned more about the month. I learned there were people who started without even an idea for a book and there were writers who sat down on day one with the entire book already complete in their minds.  There were people who were just winging it hoping the story would take them on a journey and those who had the entire plot and each twist and turn completed in their notes.

My second year participating, I knew going into it that I wouldn’t be able to complete it. I had family coming for Thanksgiving; I had a huge deadline at work; I had a cold that delayed me from even getting started, but I went with it anyway.  My only goal was to write as much as I could while feeding off the enthusiasm of the month.  I tried to write every day or almost every day.  Being half committed seemed like a great idea but it also made it easy to quit sooner than I might have if I’d created a bigger goal for myself.  I dropped out about ten days in with 9,000 words written. From that, I salvaged about 4,000 words and put them into a short story.

Last year, I wanted to commit to the whole thing and go for the gold with a 50,000-word goal. I stuck with it for almost three weeks but only wrote 18,429 words. I struggled with going back and revising my work, with changing the plan for the plot. I even decided about a week into the month that I liked a different idea better and went with that.  Then my kids got sick, then the holidays happened, then my lack of discipline and ability to make up really impressive excuses got the better of my goals and I quit.

The worst part about it wasn’t that I quit.  The worst part is that I did absolutely nothing with the 8,429 words I wrote last year. I may as well have just thrown them away. Maybe I did. I don’t even know. They might exist in some ridiculous folder deep in the bowels of my laptop but I wouldn’t know where to look because I never looked at them again.  The exhaustion of the month, the shame of quitting when I knew I should have kept pushing through, plus the fact that I dread editing made me cringe and block the whole thing out of my mind.

But here I am again. This will be year four of me trying to Nano. Why do I do this to myself? Here’s why:

I’m stubborn

I must love the suffering and struggle because I am drawn to it every year.  It is still yet to be determined if my stubbornness will be a virtue or my downfall but since I”m not dead yet, it is still up for debate and I’m still here and still me. So here goes.

I want to write a novel

I really want to write a novel. I want to get it finished, publish it and hold it in my hand.  I’ve spent the last three years focusing more on essays than fiction despite fiction being my true creative love.  I’ve been distracted by the willingness of readers to read my essays and engage with me over them.  My essays are usually 1,500 words, with some as short as 750 and others as long as 3,000 but even so, they are compact and tidy and for as difficult as they feel in the moment, compared to fiction, they are easy. There’s a simple beginning, middle, and end. There’s a point. There’s no subtlety, no complexity and most of all, there’s no outpouring of emotion. It’s just the facts, or just opinions, or just an observation.  While organizing the ideas and getting the words on the page may take some thought and discipline, it doesn’t take anything of my heart. While I may be sharing some opinions with the reader, I am not sharing anything that I wouldn’t share with any stranger who asked.

Fiction is different.  Even though the stories are made up, the emotion, the pain, the love, and suffering are real.  The kinds of conflicts I explore in my fiction are things I would not want to share over a beer or a cup of coffee.  The doubts and wants of my characters are open wounds, still bleeding. But it is moments like these, feelings like these that made me love reading books in the first place. And it is the crafting of these moments and sharing them, and letting them connect with a reader that makes me want to write.

Change is Necessary

This year I am going to approach NaNoWriMo differently. The pain and shame of failing three years in a row has finally convinced me that this year, I need to do something different.  I want to finish, but more importantly, I don’t want my time to be wasted.  I have decided that while in spirit I am a pantser if I ever want to be a professional, I need to be a planner.

I’ve started outlining my novel. I’ve started developing the characters.  I’ve started to envision the setting.  I am writing all this down in notes that I hope will serve me well in November when I sacrifice myself for my art! (<–I wrote a much more dramatic sentence here and deleted it for fear someone would take me seriously lol).

Be My Buddy

If you are also planning to do NaNoWriMo, I would love to share in your pain by being your writing buddy or screaming and crying with you on Twitter or Facebook.  If you’ve never heard of it before, I encourage you to check it out!

Here is my NaNoWriMo author page.  I will be updating in October when the planning starts!


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