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.

Writing

NaNoWriMo with a Baby

If you’ve ever had a baby or been near someone who had a baby then you’ve probably heard the phrase sleep when baby sleeps. Sounds simple. Almost sounds luxurious when you think of how much a baby sleeps.

Which is all well and good, except there comes a point when you want to do something human and prove to yourself (and your cats) that you’re more than just a baby feeder/diaperer/sleeping apparatus. So I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. I have a novel to write, that doesn’t want to wait for me or baby, and I can finally write again, so why not? I should have plenty of time.

Ahahahahaha.

See, the thing about newborns is that they’re deceptive little creatures with powers over time. One moment you’re feeding baby and it’s 7am. The next you’re still trying to get baby to sleep an it’s 9am. Where did those two hours go? You have no clue. Then it’s 9.30am and baby’s asleep and you think, finally I can write!

Except: you really need to pee, you haven’t eaten in six hours, you’re dehydrated, the cats are dying from hunger, and omg is that smell you?

If you’re lucky, you have a snack at hand, a water bottle, and someone else to feed the cats. The shower can wait. You can get some writing in!

If you’re unlucky, you scramble to meet your basic requirements of survival and then it’s 10.30am and, oh shit, baby’s eyes just flew open.

Occasionally, you get a longer stretch. And then it comes down to a different choice because, remember, you’ve been repeating this same 2-3 hour cycle for weeks now and you. are. beyond.¬†exhausted.

Sleep when baby sleeps? Or… write when baby sleeps?

It’s a fine balancing act. Too much sleep and you start to think you’re a normal human being again. And, well, you don’t get any writing done. Too much writing and you don’t get enough sleep, but the hallucinations from sleep deprivation fuel your creativity and plot. They also fuel your loved one’s reasons for an intervention.

So each time the baby sleeps, I have to choose. Sometimes it’s an easy choice, sometimes it’s not. But no matter which I choose, I’ve had to lower my expectations. Just like I will probably not get more than five hours of accumulated¬†sleep¬† each day, I will probably not reach 50k this month. But that’s okay – 5 hours is better than 4, 3, 2, or 1 and whatever amount of words I write will be better than nothing.

Has anyone else tried to write with a newborn? Succeeded? Failed? I’d love to hear your tips!

OIBM, Work In Progress, Writing

November, November

october-32

It’s NaNoWriMo season! In years past, this month would have found me stocked up on candy corn and bursting with plot. Alas, PCOS means I really shouldn’t be eating pure sugar and the events of the last two months have conspired to drag out the draft zero process of this WIP. Instead of candy corn and plot, I have kale and 20k words to go – which, we can work with.

I may not be doing NaNo as it was intended, but by golly, that draft will be finished this month, rain or shine, job or no job –

Speaking of which, I will again enjoy full employment as of tomorrow. Hoorah! Aside from the joy of a regular paycheck and learning something new, I’m also looking forward to having a set schedule again. These past few months of (f)unemployment have been necessary in showing that, surprise surprise, I don’t manage huge gobs of free time very well. I write much better in the corners and edges of life, not right front and center. I write much more when I have a job than when I don’t, which isn’t that surprising.

So on top of having less free time, I’m looking forward to writing more. 20k will be easy peasy. I’m going to harness NaNo’s energy to get that done asap, and then lock this draft away and turn to another story that has been scratching at my thoughts: rewriting City of Wraithes into something much more exciting and awesome.

Here is my current progress on OIBM, a YA fantasy ruckus about magical girls, the apocalypse, and exactly whose fault it is:

Fun Recent Google Searches: How to do a fireman’s carry. Looks easy! I doubt it actually is – now I just need to trick a friend into letting me try it on them…

Average Words Per Day This Week: Ugh, not even gonna look this time.

Number of sinkholes introduced to the story: 1