Finishing and Winning – Did that really happen?

 


Last post I talked about how I wasn’t going to do Nanowrimo due not only to my mixed feelings about it, but also because of the lack of time I have to use both hands on something as “frivolous” as writing.  But I couldn’t help feel the itch of my novel prickling beneath my skin, my characters voices whispering beneath the noise of the real world, asking when I was coming back to them.

It was then I had my epiphany.   I use voice-to-text for almost all my text messages these days and have begun using it for emails as well. I do this of course because of the whole no hands business. It is much easier to talk to a phone than to  attempt to text with the baby needing my hands and my focus. So it was November 1, and I thought well, why not use voice to text to work on my story?? Granted it would take a couple of extra steps to “complete” the process as I didn’t think I could use my wonderful writing app that I love so much, but I know Google docs well, and I had obviously already discovered that I can voice to text email.  So I figured I could email myself and transfer the words later.

Every morning since July, (OK almost every one, I’m not that awesome) I have been taking my baby girl out for a walk in her stroller.  We typically do about 3 miles a day walking coffeefirst thing in the morning.  She’s a morning person and I am not so in order to stay awake during her “happy hour” instead of lying on the bed wishing I could go back to sleep, we get up and go out.  This has also helped me lose weight and allows me to speak to other adult human beings, even just in passing which helps me a lot mentally.  But I digress.

So, again, its November 1.  I grabbed my headphones on the way out for my walk, plugged them into my phone, and started an email to myself.   I decided to skip the bits of my novel that are hard and that I’m a little stuck on right now and jump ahead to where I knew I could simply tell the story,  and I began telling it.   I got home that day, transferred my email to a Google doc and checked my word count.

I was over the recommended daily average to make it through NaNoWriMo!

I couldn’t believe it. That felt so good.  I knew I would still have problems with the averages and the goals, but getting back into my story was so wonderful I decided to go for it – I was joining the rebel camp.   For those of you that don’t know, being a “rebel” simply means you’re not following the original prescribed guidelines (Brand new novel, 50k goal of pure writing), but you are still joining the challenge of making massive, dedicated progress on your novel.   It means you can continue work on something you’ve already started and really that you can set your own goals, even though you won’t technically “win” if you don’t get 50,000 words.  So I decided to set a goal of 30,000 just for myself and keep going.

After that first day I was on a roll and found that I was coming home with over 2000 words a day, every day.  I didn’t want to get my hopes up at first, but it looked like I might actually be able to make it.

As most of you know, a phone’s AutoCorrect is far from perfect and sometimes downright absurd.  Once in a while when I had to re-awaken my phone after pausing to order my coffee or something, I would notice that my words were not being transcribed completely accurately.  I made a choice though.  I decided to soldier on, taking care with my diction and pausing my speech when there was a lot of background noise (it wreaks havoc on voice to text).  And I chose to keep going, without stopping, without editing, without worrying.  I simply told the story.

On November 22, 2017 I came to the point in my story where I actually said The End.

the end

Yes, I reached the end of my book.  I actually wrote the final chapter.  I had also written just over 45,000 words during the month that far. I didn’t quite know what to do with myself that day.  I was so excited and kind of weirded out at the same time.  I still had about 4500 words to go to make me a NaNoWriMo winner and I was looking forward to doing since it was now pretty much a sure thing.  But I also didn’t feel the pressure to get there. I don’t know if that’s because it was a sure thing or if it’s because I wrote my book, so who cared?

Arriving home from a completely unproductive Thanksgiving holiday and ready for my walk the next Monday morning I wasn’t quite sure what to do. Sure there were gaps in my story and I knew I needed to start there but my momentum was shot, and I had to go back and fill in spaces in a chunky funky manner.

In the end I muddled through.  I filled in small spaces in the story until I made 50,000 words.  I did it.  I won.   But it felt… anticlimactic I suppose is the correct word.  Though I am not sure that really covers it.

Maybe it would have felt bigger if I The End and 50k coincided.  I mean that is the point of Nano right?  But that would not have been real.

Maybe it would have felt better if I had had someone to share it with and be excited with.  The Congratulations email from the Nano site just did not do anything for me emotionally.  My friends were excited, by text, but that was all I had.

So I won NaNoWriMo 2017, and I wrote an entire novel.  And it was amazing.

I think.

I´m sure.

But it was 2 (crazy) months ago now and I am barely getting this post out, let alone finding time to work on those difficult bits to make the book complete.

I don´t really know how to feel.

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NaNoWriMo – Friend or Foe?

I wasn’t going to do NaNoWriMo this year.  I didn’t think I could find the time to write and in fact, I had been feeling kind of anti-NaNoWriMo. 

2015 was the first year I did it and there were pretty intense emotional highs and lows. 

I started my first novel, finally!  I got 30,000 words into it.  I was actually putting my story down on the page.  That part was thrilling!

Wordcount

My stats

But I “lost,” by a longshot, and I don’t handle not reaching my goals well.  30,000 out of the 50,000 word goal made me kind of crazy. Watching the bars on my chart not meeting up to where they were supposed to be, I hated that. I am too much of a self-critic to be able to handle falling behind like that.  I would try to make myself feel better about it by telling myself it was an arbitrary goal and didn’t ultimately matter, but then I would get mad and rebel and not write anything for a few days. That doesn’t exactly help with progress.  So then I would try to write some more, but despair about how far behind I was getting whether I was writing or rebelling.  Ugh.  

So yes I got some of my book written and I’m super thankful and happy about that, but it also made me really hard on myself, and that’s not terribly healthy.

 

camp nano

The other thing I don’t really understand about Nanowrimo is the whole “community” aspect.  I tried doing Camp Nano in July last year.  I had high hopes that I would get some more done and I wanted to dive into the community spirit of it since the rules are a little less stringent during Camp Nano.  But I found myself feeling quite lonely and left out as the people in my “cabin” already knew each other and so they mostly talked only with one another.  There were constant conversations and back-and-forth in the message board and yet rarely would anyone respond to me when I posted comments.  It didn’t feel good.  It felt like real camp and there are too many of us who know what it’s like to not be the popular girl at camp.  I had thought maybe the writers’ community would be different… 

So I was very disappointed in both the experience and my expectations for a community I thought was off-the-wall enough, forward-thinking enough, to not be like that.  So the camp experience and the seeming inability to keep up, especially when faced with the updates by other writers (“I got 5000 words done in the last 20 minutes ! yay me! This is my 16th novel!  Who wants to word Sprint, right now, GO!) were disheartening to me.

This year I wasn’t even tempted to try. I have a seven-month-old who very rarely lets me use both hands at the same time.  When she does, I have other things I need to be doing with those hands – dishes, laundry, shower, etc.   Because of my new stay home mom status, this fall I also started using Twitter more.  I got on it for updates about the world because I am pretty isolated beyond the occasional “good morning” over coffee in my new town.  Of course I couldn’t help myself from adding several writers and writing websites etc. to my Twitter timeline. (I’ll get into the whole social-media-writers-community thing in another post), but suffice it to say for now everyone, I mean everyone, was talking about Nanowrimo even if they were talking about why they couldn’t participate.  I felt a twinge, a twinge of missing out, of missing my book and my characters, of feeling unproductive, useless.

goals

 

On November 1, I came up with an idea of how I could try to get some writing done, despite the lack of hands free time, tested it out in the morning and signed up for Nano in the afternoon.  I told myself that I would join the “rebels” of Nano, thereby allowing myself to continue my novel-in-progress (I had no interest in starting something new with my beloved adventure story only partly completed) and working towards a more manageable goal.  I promised myself that I would keep my eyes on my 20K word goal and NOT be pressured by that d@mn bar chart.

Skipping ahead (I’ll talk about my writing process in the next post), three days left to go in November I reached 50,000 words.  I won NaNoWriMo.  I won NanNoWriMo and I finished my novel.**   And I didn’t have anyone to tell.

The weather was lovely, so  I bought myself a fancy coffee, but I got a day old pastry, compromising between celebration and budget (wrong choice) and the baby was too restless to let me sit in the sun and enjoy either of them. So we walked home and went on with our day.  I blasted out a few text messages, but nothing more.  I validated my word count on the Nano site and got an email confirming I was a “superhero,”  but then I never went back.   I had reached my goal and I was busy, hands full, both of them so I didn’t even see at the end there where the writers’ community would supposedly be celebrating? I didn’t know.  I assumed something would happen at the end of the month, but I didn’t have time to log in and check or participate, so I really have no idea.   I felt (still feel) really really good, but the feeling was and is sort of just sitting there inside me and I don’t know what to do with it.

In the first few days of December, only one or two people I  knew ever mentioned my win to me again after those reply texts (what is there to say really anyway I guess…) and on Instagram and Twitter many writers were posting about how they “failed” and how disappointed in themselves they were.  It made me sad.  I was sad for me and my effort and accomplishment with a total let down of expectations after succeeding.  I don’t even really know what I was expecting, but Nano builds the “win” up so much that you can’t help but get swept along.  And I was sad for all the writers out there labeling themselves and feeling like failures for not garnering the completely arbitrary “Win.”

I suppose nano is a good challenge, and maybe people write real books that really get published, and I am thrilled I am close to a first draft because I participated.

However, when no novel is really just 50, 000 words long, when “successful” writers’ advice is to just spew out words with little care as to their quality (shovel sand, vomit up a first draft, edit later!), when poking inherently self-criticising people with a 50,000 ton stick, and when providing only a temporary and essentially “cool kids only” community feeling, is NaNoWriMo really the Big Bright Shiny it’s purported to be?

 

 

Failing NaNoWriMo and Loving My Success

21 days ago I joined millions of people in spending 30 days going completely insane.  I have 8 days and 19 hours left to complete this mission.  Not only does my brain waver between lucid and completely bat-shit-crazy, but in those sane moments, I realize I am also walking a thin line bordering failure and success. Apparently I have big feet, or I just swerved into crazy again, because I think I am actually doing both.

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month to the non-participants ( I believe this is because participants simply don’t have the time, or extra the synapses, to enunciate the full title, is just what it proclaims.  In a one month, specifically 30 day, time span participants must write a 50,000 word novel.  I do not know where the wordcount requirement came from.  I trust those who chose it know a bit more about fully published novels than I do.  I read them, I dream them up, but until now, I have never considered how many words they contain.

I chose this year to participate for several reasons.  Mostly because I only heard about this madness last year, and partly because last year I signed up right about the exact moment I decided, once again, to completely uproot and change my entire life.  Apparently the decision was too ambitious, even for me.  (I believe I am superwoman.  Sometimes life enjoys disabusing me of that notion.)  Lastly, because I am, still pretty unbelievably, now living a life in which I have the time, the means, the comfort, and the support to be as creative as I please.

Constant and Unconditional Support - they hang out with me, and listen to my madness everyday

Constant and Unconditional Support

That pretty much means that I no longer have any excuses.  I am well aware that my not writing any books  or being published up to this point is exactly that, my very transparent excuses not to.  Even now I try to pat my excuses on the head, telling them they really were very plausible reasons.  I don’t want them to feel bad you see, they have been my companions for a long time.

Without those excuses and kicked in the ass by the knowledge that there was a massive worldwide community doing exactly what I was not, I signed up again and on October 29th I started panicking.  I began a book.  I began it on a patio swing at an Irish pub with friends, whiskey, laughter and imagination.  I began writing it down right here, twice.  NaNoWriMo traditionalists told me though that its best, and most true to the spirit of the madness, to begin something completely new.  Begin something on which you had not worked, had not written a word of.  Begin from word one and go for it!  That didn’t include though outlines, timelines, research notes, character sketches, plot twist notes…  Wait!  No!  I had a book,  I have three books in fact, but one is not ready, one is not a novel, and the other.. I already started!  Not mention, I had not notes, no outlines, no nothing, on anything!  I was a mess already.

How could I possibly leave my love, my baby, my novel in progress, not to mention my other ideas, to make something up off the cuff, just to follow the standard?  I tried.  I asked for prompts from friends.  I got some ink stains on my sheets making notes in the dark.  I missed several conversations I pretended to be a part of.  I asked for forgiveness from my muse.  I couldn’t do it.  Then I realized.. maybe my blog entries, my supposed start to my novel, maybe they could act like my outline.  Maybe I could tell myself they were just notes, and begin again, at the beginning, with a different perspective.  That night I slept.  My muse was happy, my book was waiting.

So I began, November 1st, and it went well.  I used my blog entries as my “notes,” even though I have clearly realized myself to be a Pantser through this process.  I used the blog as notes only because I must write my story, not because I am a note taker, outliner, or Planner.  I write whatever comes next in my head.  So the few entries I had made here were wonderfully helpful, but I found they were cliff notes compared to the book version, and they were over so quickly.  I was soon staring outwardly at empty pages and inwardly at the beautiful story living in my imagination and my dreams.

In order to achieve a “win,” a NaNoWriMo’er must write an average of 1700 word of his or her novel per day.  This is

My stats

My stats

where I am failing.  I am so far behind on my wordcount it is either scary, sad, or hopeless.  I have surpassed (underpassed?) my deficit so far at this point that though other still encourage me, I am losing my certainty, and drive.  Some days, I write 3000 words.  Some days I write nothing.  This is not “what writers do.”  “Writers write.  Writers write everyday.”  That’s what I read, on Pinterest, on Instagram, on the NaNoWriMo website. Write everyday.  You must write everyday to be a winner, to be NaNoWriMo success, to be a writer.  I am failing.

For 21 days I have felt this.  For most of my 21 days I have felt guilty, unworthy.  For the last 2 days I have wondered.  I am so immersed in my book, so in love with my story that I bounce when I talk about it.  I see inspiration all around me.  I buy food and drink that I think my character would buy.  I listen to music she would listen to.  I stare into space seeing palm trees, sailboats, and… (I can’t tell you that part).  But I don’t necessarily write.  So I wonder.  Am I really failing?  I am not reaching my daily or monthly wordcount, but I am deep in research I never realized I would need to do before.  I have more plot ideas and character voice inflections, and even shopping lists for a sailboat voyage than I ever did before.  And I am relaxed, happy.

 

My R & D Department

My R & D Department

I realized, waiting for my amazon shipment of maps and books yesterday, that winning NaNoWriMo does not allow for days of research, days of inspiration, days of rejuvenation.  If I push through all those things and just write, write everyday, I might make the deadline, but would I have the pleasure or dreaming, the certainty in my words, or even the quality of the novel that I really want? I am not so sure.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I am sure there are many, probably thousands of people who write amazing, fully developed, artistically worded novels in this 30 days.  Also, I praise the system for giving me a goal, a deadline, the kick in the ass to get back into the habit of writing.  I praise it and am immensely grateful that I am finally turning my dreams into reality, my thoughts into words, my excuses into memories.  I am writing my  first novel.  I am writing it the way I want to, expressing each thought, developing scene, getting to know each character, learning how to sail for goodness sake.  I am loving it.  I am finding  success at last.

Keeping me honest

Keeping me honest

And I am totally failing NaNoWriMo.  I’ve got 30,000 words to go. The NaNoWriMo monkeys are scampering around my workshop and whispering in my ear that I just write 1200 words I can’t count towards my wordcount goal.

Hmm, maybe not so sane after all.