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?

Room for Error

It's okay. The sloths still love you.

It’s okay. The sloths still love you.

I don’t think I’m going to finish NaNoWriMo this year. That probably doesn’t seem like a big deal. Thousands of writers who go into the fray don’t come out on the other side of November with the desired 50,000 words.

Do you see the problem with how I worded that? I made it sound like a battle. Like the ones who don’t reach 50k died, or failed in some way, like it’s the end of the world to not finish NaNoWriMo. I look forward to NaNo every year and I genuinely enjoy it, but whenever there’s a year that looks like I might not make it I start beating myself up horribly. I feel like a huge failure.

But why do I do that, when I wouldn’t view anyone else who didn’t finish like that? If someone doesn’t finish NaNo I just think, “That sucks, but it’s awesome that you tried at all!” and I really believe that. I know so many people who look at NaNo or at wanting to write a novel and think, “Hm, that might be cool,” and then never do it. Sitting down and making a NaNo account or deciding to do it unofficially and even writing a few thousand words is pretty awesome. Thousands of people take that leap every year for the first or second or fifth or tenth time and if they’re at all like me they learn something new about themselves as people and writers every time. Maybe they learn that NaNo isn’t for them, or they figure out that they approached it in a way that didn’t work for them and decide to try again, or they figure out a way to make their win something better for themselves. Isn’t that kind of fantastic and, in a lot of ways, more important than meeting the 50k goal?

So, why do I beat myself up so much? It’s not like I have a perfect record. I just act like I do This is my seventh year. I lost my second year, and not since. I beat myself up every year thinking that it won’t be like my second year. I’ll win this year. Every year, I’ve made it happen. But some of those novels ended up abandoned for good and the win didn’t feel quite as nice.

I talked to a friend about this when it first hit me on November 24th that I had six days and over 26,000 words to write, as well as working on finishing out what has been an incredibly difficult semester. I told her that I don’t think I can finish NaNo this year and that it scares me.

She told me that I should allow myself room for error, and she’s right. I’m still going to go into NaNo probably every year with the goal to win, but I can’t start hating myself because it’s not going how I want it to. Some Novembers I might just have to write at a different pace. Maybe there will be a November when I’ll write 100,000 words. Maybe most I’ll only get to 30k. But it won’t be the end of the world.

I think this is it. I’m declaring this November a loss for me, and I’m going to be okay with it. I’m going to keep working on this novel and whatever pace works for me, and I’m going to turn my attention to my short stories for the Dell Awards. On the bright side, as of this post I have written 4730 words on the blog. That counts for something, right?

To the rest of NaNoLand, I wish you all the luck. Just remember that it’s okay to give yourself some room for error.