Writing–Where I’m At with NaNoWriMo

November is coming, and we all know what that means. Halloween candy binges. Christmas decorations everywhere. Frantic preparations for a gigantic holiday feast. Men growing facial hair to raise awareness about their prostates. And writers everywhere going insane trying to finish a novel in a month.

Which one of these am I going to be doing?

I don’t like candy, and I don’t have a prostate.

So this leaves me with a dilemma—decorate for Christmas and feed my family on Thanksgiving, or write a novel.

Sadly, I can’t do it all. That’s my biggest problem with National Novel Writing Month. They couldn’t put it in August, the one month with no national holidays? A month more than one hundred days away from the holiday frenzy?

But what about that great idea I’ve been working on? How will I ever get it done?

I suppose there are other ways to write a novel—the one day at a time method. Two pages a day. Take a year to write it and a year to revise it. But, part of me thrills, if you do NaNo, the novel will be done on November 30th!

Don’t believe the hype. NaNo is a slog. It is the ultramarathon of literary grinds. Especially for slow writers such as myself. Maybe there are people who thrive on the challenge, just like there are sickos people out there who love to run 100 mile races (you know who you are, and you know you’re crazy, even if you’re going to live fifty years longer than I am).

I ran a ten mile race once. It felt great—up until mile five. Then it was like pounding nails into my knees for the last half, and I limped over the finish line and collapsed in a heap. I sat in the car for the five hour drive back home, and couldn’t walk without pain for a week. You should have trained for it, people said. Oh, I did, I argued. And I’m convinced the training is what set me up for failure. My knees were running low on their warranty to begin with, and I used up all their miles in the weeks before the race.

There’s no training for NaNo. You can plan and outline, of course. But you’re not allowed to start your novel ahead of time—that’s considered “cheating.” But when winning is the equivalent of printing of a certificate that says “You win,” who’s keeping score? If the goal is to have a novel by the end of it, I say do whatever it takes.

I’m not going to risk a repeat of what happened with my ten mile race, though. No way—no ice packs and ibuprofen for this girl. No training. No pre-writing. Not because it would be cheating, but because it would wear me out. I’m going to eeeeeease into NaNo.

Today, I’m going to consider signing up. (I want to, I do. There’s the euphoria of starting…of hitting 10,000 words…and then the crush of realizing you’ve stared at your computer for an hour and only typed three sentences. GRRR!!!)

Tomorrow, I might actually look at the website. (But the camaraderie! The pep talks! Hitting the halfway point!)

Maybe by next week, come November 1st, I’ll actually do it. I wouldn’t want to risk burning out too soon. (Like when you realize you’re three quarters through your novel…and you have no idea where to take your plot next.)

But if you see me putting up Christmas decorations and baking pumpkin pies before Halloween, you’ll know why. (I know I put that box of ornaments somewhere down here…)

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Letting Go: The Freedom of Failure

I’m doing National Novel Writing Month, and I’m proud to say, I wrote over two thousand words today. I’m also ten thousand words behind. And it feels great.

It’s taken me a long time to be able to say that.

I started the month with as much enthusiasm, drive, and determination to win as any WriMoer. Winning is good, right? Everyone loves a winner. Except my husband, it turns out. For some people, writing 1,667 words a day comes easily. For me, some days it does and some days it doesn’t. On the days it doesn’t, my family pays the price.

So nine days in, I took a day off. Then my daughter got sick, and I took off some more. I went through what any writer goes through when she isn’t writing. I got grumpy. I watched my fellow WriMoers pull ahead and meet their word counts with ease. One even wrote 75,000 words in two weeks.

Bah. Those aren’t tears of frustration, really. They’re tears of joy.

Then, I did something really drastic. I took a day off to write an outline. And I realized I needed to re-write the first third of my novel. So I broke all the rules, and I did.

Re-writing? During November?

Yeah.

Because I’ve spent a year trying to re-write a NaNo novel before, one that I pushed through without a plan, and I know how painful it is. So learning from my mistakes?

Yeah. The hard way.

There’s no way I’ll win this November. But I have 20,000 words of something that I didn’t have before. Something that’s a lot better than nothing.

It’s not winning. But now that the pressure is off, my family’s happier, I’m happier, and I like where my book is heading. I’m looking forward to December, Keep Writing Your Novel Month. And January, Finish Your Novel Month, and February, Start Another Novel Month.

That doesn’t feel like failure.

It takes a certain kind of bravery to write…

I wrote this the other day when I was feeling dejected. (The book I’m in the middle of tearing apart and putting together is Timber Howligan Book Two. Book One hasn’t even been published yet.)

My solution to the revision blues? NaNoWriMo. Today I finished Chapter One of Timber Howligan Book Three. I realize at the end of the month I will have yet another novel that needs, you guessed it, revision. But this month? I’m just going to write. Writing is THAT MUCH MORE FUN than revision.
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Artwork by Ava Byroads

It takes a certain kind of bravery to write. To open oneself, dig out the words, and lay them out to dry, like underwear on a line. Glaring. Full of holes. Pinned by nothing but flimsy hopes and rusting plastic clips, against the winds of others’ curiosity.

Even worse, against their indifference.

All the writing blogs, all the founts of inspiration, everywhere you turn, there’s chin-up advice about writing. Word counts. Butt-in-chair time. Two pages a day makes a novel in a year. Etc. Well, guess what: Writing is easy. It’s a walk through the metaphorical rose garden, a lark through the loosestrife, a dance in the daisies, compared to revision.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has done this before that the process includes self-doubt. And yet, when the doubts came, I was surprised. (This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me.)

With doubt, came paralysis. I froze, and I drowned. I’m not good enough, and I’ll never be. Worse, I stopped wanting to be. I regretted the time already wasted. All those hours, poured into a project no one will ever read. (Except, a voice whispered, your son…who loved it. And begged for more.)

Thousands of words written and erased, only to leave the book’s soul stranded between revisions…better to abandon it, than break it even more. (Unless, a voice whispered, you tackle it once more, and find the true story. It’s in there. It always has been.)

Easier not to try, than to try and fail, or face rejection. (But you know, the voice whispered, that each rejection has made you try harder. Only you can give this story life. You are its God. How can you forsake it?)

Oh, you had to invoke the deity argument! Fine, I’ll keep at it. I’m too far committed not to. I’m not a quitter. I’ve got a picture of Timber Howligan, tall and proud, staring at me from my desktop now. His green eyes are challenging me, every day. If he’s strong enough to tackle the life of a secret agent cat, I can tell his story with all the heart and honesty he lived it with. It’s a simple tale of friendship, bravery, and one cat discovering he can be more than he thought he could be. The words are there.

I just need to rip myself open and find them.

Why I Will Love Camp NaNoWriMo (A Prophetic Love Letter)

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Two days. Two days! That’s how long I’ve been 40, and how long I have until Camp NaNoWriMo starts. Perfect time for some goal setting.

My stated goals for 40 were: “Recover from being 39” (which, frankly, kicked my butt), “Swim another 100 fly” (hopefully this time without injuring shoulder), “Publish novel” (I didn’t state which one), and “Take life as it comes” (seemingly at odd with list of goals).

My first novel, Timber Howligan-Secret Agent Cat, was the product of last November’s NaNoWriMo. Without its goal of 50,000 words in 30 days, I wouldn’t be able to say “Hey, I wrote a novel!” (To which people say, brightly, “Have you published it?” and to which I mumble, “No….but I’m trying.”)

What I learned last November is that I can write 1,567 words a day. Barely. Eventually, it turned into work. When it did, the creative side of my brain flipped off, and I slowed down. The days that took the longest to write also took the longest to edit. The days I whipped out in an hour and a half were the most fun to read and needed the least re-working.

How do I have more of those hour and a half days???

Last year, I hadn’t yet figured out that writing is a creative activity: I tried to force it. I’m a little OCD that way, and too goal oriented. I believe in showing up every day to write. I believe  inspiration comes to those who show up. But you can’t squeeze blood out of a stone, and everyone needs a recharge, especially when you’re in creative mode. Recognizing when you’ve stopped being productive is important.

So my goals for this Camp NaNoWriMo are less imposing: What I love about it already is that I can set my own word count, so I picked 1,000 a day, knowing I could easily achieve that and still have fun. I will allow myself to take a day off here and there without feeling guilty. My goal is not to “win”, but to make progress on my novel (Timber Howligan Book 2–IN SEARCH OF A TITLE!).

I went back to a Pep Talk I saved from Scott Westerfield last November. He reminded us WriMos that life is messy, and the real world is gnarly, but that’s often where inspiration comes from (in other words, “it’s not always about writing more words or drinking more coffee”).

I do plan to write lots of words. I will drink lots of coffee. But to make the most out of my writing time, I’m going to let my novel get messy and complicated and hella fun for the next month.

Then I’m going to tie together all the loose ends and, come August or September, let the left side of my brain out of its cage.

Wish me luck! And if you’re feeling inspired, maybe I’ll see you there!