Draft Zero, Life, Writing

On NaNoWriMo and Failure, Or: How I’m Learning to Embrace My New Writing Process

It is November 28th. There are three days remaining in November, which means three days remaining in National Novel Writing Month, that time of year when thousands – hundreds of thousands – of writers try to plunk down 50,000 words in the span of a single month.

In years past, I have diligently hit the daily goal of 1,667 words and reached 50,000 with little to no problem. Maybe I missed a day or two here and there, but I always made it up.

Those years, unfortunately, appear to be firmly in the past. In 2016, I wrote 22k for NaNoWriMo. In 2017 I was finishing edits on book 2, so I didn’t bother. And this year I’m on track to hit 20k on a new story. Not even half the official goal.

Perhaps those years will come around again. Perhaps in another time.

But that time is not now, and if there is one thing I’ve learned from this past year, I can mourn my past and What I Used to Be Able to Do and try and fail and try again to meet those old standards, but after all that effort I’ll still be no closer to my goal. All that does is leave me feeling defeated. Less than. Worthless.

My life has changed quite a bit since my first NaNoWriMo in 2001 and my writing has, too. Things changed most drastically in 2016, with the birth of our daughter, but the fallout from that has been gradual. I clung for a long time to the idea that Things Would Return to Normal and I just had to keep trying to reach the goals I’d had before, keep trying to do things as I always had. If I just kept doing the same exact thing, eventually it would succeed, yes?

…hmm, isn’t there some quippy adage about doing the same thing over & over again and expecting different results?

This period was prolonged by the fact that I was working in a world I’d already built, with (relatively) established characters, mythology, history, plot, etc etc et cetera. So it was easier to keep reaching, to de-prioritize my own health, to get up early and stay up late and have very little time to read or really do anything outside of housework – because at least I was still hitting my word count each day.

And I was! Until I wasn’t.

This summer was the first time I hadn’t met my own personal deadlines in a very long time. And I kept not meeting them. But I pushed on regardless.

I turned in Book 3 and then… well, I didn’t so much as crash as fall apart. At first it was a deliberate & planned falling. I read instead of writing and it was amazing, don’t get me wrong. But a consciously quiet month off turned into a not so consciously quiet two months off turned into three.

Not for want to trying. When November rolled around, I decided I’d participate in NaNoWriMo. That would be the kick in the butt to finally get back to writing like I used to. As I did over the summer, I set my daily writing goals and I tried to hit them. But when I didn’t, and I fell further and further behind, I just felt like a failure. I was plagued with doubt. What had happened? What had changed? Why did it feel like I had no time anymore?

As I cut another morning writing session short because my daughter had just woken up, crying, and needed me, I finally realized

My life had changed.

So shouldn’t how I write change as well?

I am not the person I was five, three, even two years ago. I am not in the same situation, I don’t have the same amount of time or energy or brainpower. The background processing I used to do throughout the day on my characters and plots is simply gone, taken over instead with the innate ability to know exactly where my daughter is and what she’s doing at any given second of the day. It has simply become impossible for me to write as quickly as I used to. All that processing has to happen in front of the laptop now, in the spare minutes I can find and gather in the morning.

And while I might mourn the last of that past self – so much time! how did I never realize how much time I had? – I wouldn’t trade where I am now for the world. But that means accepting I am the person I am now, and that no amount of wishing or planning or goal setting or staring covetously at other people’s free time will change that.

Perhaps it’s about time I meet myself where I am, now.

In 2016 I wrote 22k words for NaNoWriMo: a failure. I went on to write another 20k words in December and another 16k words in January and finished the first draft of a book that comes out in less than four months.

This year, I will probably hit 20,000 words. I can’t write 1,667 words a day anymore, but I can write 500. I can write 1000.

So I will keep writing, 500-1000 words a day, throughout December. And I will keep writing, 500-1000 words a day, throughout January. And I will finish a first draft. It won’t matter in a year that it took me three months instead of one month to write that draft. The time will pass. The only thing that will matter is that I wrote a book.

I wouldn’t call that failure.

5 thoughts on “On NaNoWriMo and Failure, Or: How I’m Learning to Embrace My New Writing Process”

  1. Jeez, I wouldn’t call that failure at all! You’re amazing! I am childless and I still only write about 500 words a day (on a good day!) Also, your website is very pretty.

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