Confessions of a NanoWriMo Failure

I'm a failure. A big fat failure. I'm so sick about my failure, I write this post distracted. Don't expect pithy sentences or clever metaphors. Expect cliches, danging participles and archaic expressions. I'm too upset to even try to impress you.

Yes, it's a real thing.
Why am I a failure and what are my excuses?

Read on, dear reader.

It's all because November is over, which means National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWRiMo, (the silliest acronym ever created by people who are supposed to be good at this stuff), is also over.

And I have failed to reach any NaNoWriMo victories. Any!

I know I shouldn't take it so hard. Failing at NaNoWriMo doesn't mean I'm a failure at writing. I wrote two novels before I had ever heard of NaNoWriMo. I wrote my third manuscript (currently being shopped to publishing houses by my hardworking agent ... stay tuned!) without participating.

And yeah, "participating" is a weird term to use about writing -- the most solitary of all activities known to man. I mean, I DID write during the month of November -- I do that every year. But then somewhere along the way (and I'm not looking it up) someone decided that November would be a good month to challenge writers to complete a novel or, alternatively, to write 50,000 words in one month. 

And thus, my failure. Because never underestimate the ability of an insecure writer to feel bad about not doing something that they didn't know they were supposed to be doing in the first place.

But to fail at something, don't you have to try?

Yes. Alas, my pitfall and my failure. I decided to try* this year. 

So how badly did I fail?

Monumentally. At the beginning of November, my WIP (work in progress for you non-writerly folk) had an unimpressive word count of 11,600 words. As of today, December 2, my word count for the same WIP is ... (drum roll) ...

14,291.

Yep.

That's a gain of less than 3,000 words. To put it another way, that's fewer words than some writers (including me) often write in ONE DAY.

Thus, my failure.

I just have to say, I never thought this was a good idea -- not from the first time I heard about it. Writing an entire novel in a month? Come on! Who has ever done that successfully, right? I mean no one who writes GOOD stuff, anyway (insert condescending sniff here).

Then I found out that Marissa Meyer wrote her Lunar Chronicles series as part of NaNoWriMo.

What? Are you kidding me? 

Nope. Not kidding. In fact, she wrote her first 70,000-word draft of Cinder in two weeks. Two weeks!

Ugh. I'd hate her if I didn't love her so much.

So then I started feeling insecure again (it's a daily thing) and also competitive (a rare thing). I'm not sure what the chemical combination of 365 parts insecurity plus one part competitiveness looks like with one of those Styrofoam ball models, but I'm pretty sure it's ugly and also has my photo on every molecule. I'm also pretty sure that when heated or cooled or left at room temperature but combined with 30 helpings of Jen's life, it implodes.

Because that's the other thing about NaNoWriMo that annoys me almost as much as it's name. November? Really? Whose brilliant idea was that? I'm pretty sure it wasn't a mom whose kids have an entire week off for Thanksgiving. Or anyone with kids at all, with all the upcoming holiday performances and fundraising and bake sales and decorating and food prep. I'm pretty sure he (yes, I'm pretty sure it was a HE) also wasn't gluten free AND dairy free, which means no quick dinner of burgers or pizza while Mom hammers out another chapter.

All excuses, I know. Writers write. (Now is the time for your condescending sniff.)They don't whine or fuss or make excuses for why they are not writing -- they WRITE!

Yes, I know writers have to sacrifice other stuff to get their writing done. Almost all of us have day jobs, for example. And I've given up every hobby I ever loved, my sanity, the wherewithall to mail a birthday card on time, and more than a few fringe friendships in pursuit of the next story rattling around in my noggin. Not only that, but to be a successful writer these days, you need a PLATFORM, which I build (so I'm told) by writing blog posts like this one (so please share!) and engaging in social media (like, like, like!), pulling me away from what I really want to do: slam the door on all responsibility and distraction and write my next beloved story!

But I am not Ernest Hemingway. I don't want to sacrifice all my relationships while I tap a vein and bleed all over my typewriter. I'd rather write a novel in (let's just estimate here) a year instead of one month and keep my husband as well, thank you very much.

I'll spare you most of my other excuses since they involve glitter, glue guns and binge-watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix when my characters refuse to talk to me. (Who can blame them? I leave them in very stressful situations while I take my daughter to the orthodontist and such.) I may love my excuses, but I don't let them, you know, excuse me from what I know I need to do when faced with failure.

So, starting now, I plan to square my shoulders, put on my Pollyanna smile and do the following to get over this NaNoWriMo set back:

1. Review my excuses for any traces of legitimacy

That's right. Because, guess what? November is never going to be a good month for me to write 50,000 words. Maybe it's better for me to analyze my year more realistically. Keep writing every day, but understand that some months are not going to be as productive as others. That doesn't mean I'll throw in the towel next November. Maybe I can use NaNoWriMo 2017 to...

2. Do other writerly things

Sometimes I write slowly because I'm not as well organized as I could be. If I don't have time to get much solid writing done during November, I can still continue working on my outline or sketch some deeper backstories for my characters. I can get some research done, cull my notes, narrow some plot paths and keep the momentum going. I can't afford to let a looming sense of failure to grind my productivity to a screeching halt. That means I need to continue to...

3. Assess my writing patterns for strengths and weaknesses

So I'm not a fast writer. I may not ever blast out an entire novel in one month, but I have other strengths and I need to take advantage of them. Keep doing what works and try and do better at the things that don't. For example, I know a lot of writers who write entire drafts before going back to edit. I've never been successful with that. I always want to edit as I go, which isn't at all efficient, but necessary when I come up with changes that redirect my plot. (I'm kind of a big picture plotter while also being a scene by scene pantser.) What I've found works best for me in the past is to strike a compromise. Write four or five chapters and then go back and see if it works before moving on. Different writers use different methods and that's okay, as long as I ...

4. Resist distractions

J.K. Rowling said she lived in squalor while writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. She had no time for cleaning, only writing. I admire (and am horrified) by her resistance to distraction, and even though I won't be skipping my necessary chores, I also need to fight the urge to put down my writing to, say, color-code my sock drawer or watch the entire series of LOST in the name of research.

5. Find balance

On the other hand, I can't function if I feel like every moment I'm not working on my novel is a wasted one. I need to read, to relax from time to time, go to a movie now and then, have coffee with a friend. Writing is not 8 to 5, but it's not 24/7 either. Setting my routine is like setting a budget. It creates freedom more than restraints.

If you love NaNoWriMo and find it a useful tool in pursuing your writing goals, that's wonderful. Keep it up and congratulations. But if you're like me, another NaNoWriMo failure, don't lose heart. Think of all your favorite authors who managed to write their beautiful works without it.

Either way, I would love to hear what helps you succeed as a writer. What tools do you use? What works and what doesn't?

In the meantime, I'm getting back to my WIP. I think I at least have the next scene figured out.

*Even while I "tried" to participate, I failed to take advantage of all the tools and inspiration that can be found at nanowrimo.org. Check it out for yourself to see if there's something there for you.

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