Last Year, I Lost Faith in NaNoWriMo. This Year, I’m Getting it Back

2013-Participant-Facebook-ProfileLast year was my seventh time participating in National Novel Writing Month, the mad, worldwide dash to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Last year was also my second time not completing NaNoWriMo.

When mentioning that I was doing NaNo for the seventh time, I kept getting similar questions and comments that all boiled down to: In six years, how many novels have you completed?

The answer was one. One draft, which has been entirely trashed and restarted half a dozen times. It certainly never made it to anything like a final draft or publication. I had never been ashamed of that before, but suddenly I was. I looked back on six years of half-finished (if that) drafts of novels, ones I’d never gone back to, that were just sitting on my computer. I started to wonder if I had been wasting my time and if this was some sign of being an amateur.

I made the choice not to finish NaNo last year, in part because I was busy with school, but in even larger part because, after years of loving the pursuit of those 50,000 words, my excitement had given way to fear and shame.

I wasn’t going to do NaNo this year. As November approached and the NaNo tweets and Facebook statuses started appearing, I scrolled on past and thought, “No. Not this year. Maybe next.” I was still scared. I was still wondering if it was worth it.

But I was also feeling the desire to jump back in. There’s this buzz that comes with NaNo, this joy and excitement. One of my favorite parts of NaNo is knowing that I’m making this attempt with tens of thousands of other people all around the world. I love competing with my friends, obsessively checking their word counts as I up mine, texting them late at night to say, “Hey, my word count is down. Wanna do a word war?” Everyone was gearing up for that without me.

With a few hours to go until the start of NaNo, I decided to take the plunge again. I remembered a novel that had barely gone anywhere yet – just some ideas, characters, a couple thousand words – and decided it would be the my NaNovel this year. I watched the seconds count down to midnight EST.

It’s day 6, I’m at 9202 words, and I could not be happier.

Because here’s the thing: It’s true that I’ve only produced one completed draft out of NaNoWriMo, and it wasn’t even viable. It’s true that I have written some truly shitty words in November.

But you know what else I’ve done? I’ve learned. I’ve learned what works for me and what doesn’t. I’ve learned that I can write 2000 words in 20 minutes if I use Write or Die on kamikaze mode. I’ve learned the kind of novelist I am. I know that I like having outlines, but I often hate writing them and I kind of love it when the story just comes to me. I’ve learned that novel writing does not come easily to me, not like short stories do, and I have to work three times as hard to make the plots and characters make sense. I’ve learned that I can write quality pieces quickly. I’ve learned that I can write shitty pieces quickly, too.

Maybe I won’t complete NaNoWriMo this year. Maybe I’ll hit week three and burn out. Maybe I’ll finish by week three! That would be cool, but I’d also kind of miss that frantic, last-minute “oh god let the NaNo site not crash so I can confirm my win” panic. It’s part of the fun.

Maybe I’ll really complete this draft and it will go to amazing places.

Maybe I won’t.

That’s not what matters. That’s not why I love National Novel Writing Month. I love it for the experience, for the writing, and for what it has taught me and will continue to teach me about myself.

I may not publish any of these novels, but I’m happy, I’m learning, and I’m writing.

What else do I need?

Tuesday Reads: The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman

In blood as in drought or in poverty or in flame, Oleander was Oleander, and there were still crops to be sown and meth to be harvested, pies to be baked and pigs to be prized, bargains to be hunted and farms to be foreclosed, cherries to be popped and hearts to be broken, worship to be offered and sinners to be shaped.

I didn’t know that The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman existed until the day it was released, and my Twitter feed was flooded with love for The-Waking-Darkit. So many people were telling me to read it that I immediately bought it on my Kindle. What can I say? I’m vulnerable to literary peer pressure.

I’m glad I did it. It’s horror YA (which I now seriously need more of, so send recommendations my way) about Oleander, a small town in Kansas. One day, for reasons no one can understand, twelve people jump right off the deep end, and commit murder-suicides. In Oleander, they call it the killing day – and a year later, when the town is finally starting to heal, a tornado rips through the town and brings the insanity back with it.

Violence rules Oleander, with murder becoming not only common but accepted – particularly when it’s righteous, Old-Testament style. A man suspects his wife of cheating and drags her naked out into the streets to be stoned. Parents beat their gay child near to death and no one blinks an eye. A group of high school jocks turned vigilante seek out anyone breaking the town’s new, barbaric rules – or that they just, you know, hate – and punish them.

Reviews will tell you that if you like Stephen King, you’re going to like The Waking Dark, and I agree. The thing that’s scary about The Waking Dark is not that the town starts committing these awful, inhuman crimes. The scary part is that they’re only showing the darkest part of humanity. Nothing they do is out of the realm of imagination – and if you read Stephen King, you know that’s how he rolls, too.

If you like horror, you need to read this book. And yeah, if you like Stephen King, you really need to read this book.

Medium: Kindle
Stars: 4/5

YA Dystopias to Read While You’re Waiting for Catching Fire

It’s finally November, and Catching Fire is twenty painfully long days away from being released. If you’re like me, just thinking about it is getting you into a dystopian mood, but maybe you’re not up for a Hunger Games re-read and you’ve already read Divergent by Veronica Roth (though hopefully you aren’t going actually crazy over the ending of Allegiant). You want something different.

I’ve got you covered. Here are some great YA dystopian novels that you not know about.

Layout 1I already reviewed Coda by Emma Trevayne, and it’s so awesome that I’m going to suggest it on this list, too. Another bonus: Though it has romance, it doesn’t have the obligatory love triangle we’ve come to expect from our YA dystopias, and you might find that refreshing.

Across the Universe by Beth Revis is one of my favorite trilogies. A spaceship from Earth carrying hundreds of across-the-universecryofrozen people is headed to a new and better planet. A teenage girl in cryo who was traveling with her parents is taken out fifty years too early on a three-hundred year trip. How is this dystopian, you may ask? Well, the spaceship was also carrying unfrozen people, who spent the next 250 years living and having families and creating a society. They’re headed by the dictator-like Eldest, and freedom? Not well-known to them. And there are so, so many more secrets to discover.

Uglies_bookOkay, okay, if you’re a regular YA reader, you probably know about Uglies by Scott Westerfeld – but if you’re new to this YA thing, you might not. And you should. It’s a future where everyone gets full makeovers and become pretty – but pretty comes with a price.

There’s no way I’m the only person who somehow didn’t read Shade’s Children by Garth Nix as a kid, right? SoShade's_Children for all of those people out there who also missed out on this book, go read it. It’s a future without adults, where kids fear for their lives and are kept as slaves, and where a few (lucky?) survivors rely on a sentient machine to survive.

the-forest-of-hands-and-teethFinally, if you want a little zombie action with your dystopia, check out The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan (which I’ve mentioned before). The first one is definitely more on the dystopian side than the other two. It’s set in a secluded society in the woods, post-zombie apocalypse. Said society backtracked a couple hundred years thanks to the nuns that run the place. But then our protagonist, Mary, starts to discover that there’s more to her peaceful world than she thought – and, well, we know how well that goes in dystopias.

What YA dystopias would you suggest? Feel free to also suggest some post-apocalyptic books that aren’t necessarily dystopian.