Oh, my fickle writer’s heart. Make up your mind, I beseech you.
It’s that time of year again – NaNoWriMo season. Yes, for the sixteenth consecutive year, November will bring us the joys and perils, triumphs and heartbreaks of yet another National Novel Writing Month. A week from today, at midnight on the 31st, hundreds of thousands of writers from around the world will come together in virtual and real-life write-ins to surge as one pen- and keyboard-wielding army toward their common goal of each writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Insanity? You betcha. Fun? Absolutely.
Though I admire the spirit of NaNoWriMo (and love its resident plot bunnies), I am always on the fence about participating. As November approaches, I hem and haw, weigh the pros and cons, and generally waffle about . As I muddle about in this year’s annual ritual of indecision, I took a moment to look back on my seven-year relationship with this
ordeal tradition of the writing world.
2009 – My First Time
I captured my first (and – spoiler alert – ultimately only) NaNoWriMo “win” during my virgin trip into the disorienting world of trying to write a novel without a plot. I was still fairly fresh off my divorce, and was living with my daughter in a carriage house apartment that had originally been the servants’ quarters on a large, old money estate. Floundering as I was in my personal and professional life, I was looking for something to anchor my existence and NaNoWriMo seemed to fit the bill.
I have fond memories of creeping out of bed in the dark of predawn, brewing a cup of Sleepytime tea, and hunkering down over my clunky old Dell laptop in the small room that served as my office. I would pull the hood of my bathrobe over my head to create a fleecey barrier between me and the rest of the world, and I would write like mad until my daughter woke up. I crossed the finish line with a total tally of 50,146 words. (Cue the champagne and ticker tape.)
2010 – Conversations in My Head
The next year was the first in what would be a long succession of will she/won’t she debates around the subject of NaNoWriMo. In Why I’m Not Doing NaNoWriMo This Year, I provided a frightening peek into my head and the weird conversations that take place there. In the end, despite part of me wanting to do NaNoWriMo just so I could tell my inner critique to take a leap, I wound up giving the writing marathon a pass after realizing that “winging it” was just not my style.
2011 – Radio Silence
Seems that my resolution to listen to my inner writer and stick to less pell-mell approaches to writing must have stuck because I barely whispered a word about NaNoWriMo in 2011. The whole scene passed me by, barely ruffling my literary feathers.
2012 – More Voices in My Head and Blaming Larry Brooks
In 2012, I once again leapt into the fray and joined hoards of enthusiastic (and slightly delusional) writers as they sallied forth into the chilly month of November with Big Ideas and lots of coffee. Halfway through the month, I found I’d hit a bit of a wall. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get away from distractions, my inner critic, or my inner editor. They were driving me crazy, and keeping me from doing what I needed to do: write.
At the end of the month, I posted about the final outcome of my battle in NaNoWriMo #Fail (I blame you, Larry Brooks). Though I had, indeed, failed to hit the 50,000 mark, I realized that there was a silver lining to my shortcomings. I realized that part of my inability to fully engage with the “no plot – no problem” approach was that I’d learned so much (in great part from the aforementioned Mr. Brooks) about story structure that I couldn’t bear to just throw stuff at the wall and see if anything stuck. In short, I was ruined for pantsing.
2013 – Another Intermission
Coming off my failed attempt in 2012, there was another brief intermission of radio silence.
2014 – A Brief Consideration and a Big No
Last year I briefly considered once again throwing my lot in with the other NaNoWriters, but in the end it was NaNoWriNope for me. My reasons remained the same (so points for consistency), but I still felt a twinge of guilt because despite all my talk about learning about story structure and wanting to plan and prepare, I wasn’t making the time to do that work any more than I was making the time to write 50,000 words.
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Which brings us to 2015.
I have been going through the usual motions, trying to decide whether to join up with my NaNoWriMo comrades, or not. I ordered the 2015 winner’s t-shirt in a burst of late-night hopefulness, but in the morning I was full of doubts and second guesses again. I wrote down a pros and cons list (for the record, the “yes” column won by one), but still failed to make a decision.
Then, as I sat down to write this post I decided to take a minute to dig up the “50,000 words of crap” draft that I wrote in 2009. It only took me a couple minutes to locate the behemoth Word doc in my digital archives. I read the first chapter, and though I saw many (glaring) craft errors, I was actually drawn in enough to keep reading until my daughter got off the bus from school.
Hmmmm, I thought. Maybe there’s something here after all.
The characters that I developed (mostly on the fly) for that young adult urban fantasy have stuck with me over the years. I recall their names, and can almost see their faces. Though November 2009 is (and always will be) a blur, and even though this is the first time I’ve ever re-read a single line of that “manuscript” (and, I use the term lightly), I still remember certain scenes quite clearly.
So, after much internal debate, my decision for 2015 is this: I will not participate in the 2015 NaNoWriMo. Instead, I will re-read the mixed up mess of a story I patched together in 2009, and I will then take it apart and put it back together using everything I’ve learned about story structure and the craft of telling a good story. I will use this abandoned not-quite-a-novel as a guinea pig of sorts to see just what I can do to try and bring this thing back to life.
We’ll see … we’ll see …
P.S. I’m keeping the t-shirt.
P.P.S. If you want to go out for your own NaNoWriMo win, by all means charge ahead. Doing NaNoWriMo (or, not doing it) has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not you are a real writer, a good writer, or a committed writer (though you may need to be committed on November 30th if you choose to take the NaNoWriMo assignment). 😉
In my past, I was something of an online course junkie. I signed up for way too many audio courses, digital workbooks, and virtual workshops. Don’t get me wrong. I love learning, but at some point you have to stop consuming and start creating.
I’ve been on the wagon for quite some time now, but then this little course came across my radar. It caught my eye for three reasons: 1) it’s called “Unlost,” which is a cool name, 2) it’s being offered by Paul Jarvis, whose blog I really enjoy, and 3) it’s only $34 ($49 after October 31st). The course description begins like this:
Have you ever been so frustrated at yourself that you can’t seem to do the creative work you know you’re meant to do? Have you ever felt like all you need is more time and at least a million dollars in order to have the freedom to create the things that you stay up at night dreaming of creating?
Well, the bad news is that we’re not going to give you a million dollars or unlimited free time. Sorry.
The good news is that you don’t need either of those things to do incredible creative work.
I’ve only listened to half the audio recordings, and I haven’t even touched the workbooks yet, but I think this is a course some of you may find helpful in an encouraging kind of way. This isn’t a pitch. I’m not a partner or affiliate. I don’t get a dime if you sign up. I just thought you might like the chance to take a look. I did, and I haven’t regretted the purchase. The lessons aren’t exactly rocket science, in fact they are mostly common sense; but sometimes a little dose of common sense if exactly what we need.
A Writer’s Manifesto by Joanne Harris
I could have included this one with the rest of the blog posts, but I felt it deserved to be highlighted. I enjoy Harris’ work (novels like Chocolat and Peaches for Monsieur le Curé), and have also admired her more in-the-moment writings such as her humorous Ten Rookie Writer’s Mistakes post and her #storytime mini stories (told via tweets).
In this piece for the UK’s Writer’s Centre Norwich, Harris navigates with grace and brass tacks talking points through some of the most treacherous writing-related territory – the relationship between writers and readers and the perceptions of the value (as in cold, hard cash) of writing. It’s an interesting read that serves up much food for thought along with a healthy dose of pragmatic (but not dour) reality.
And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:
- How to Plan Your Story in Six Weeks by Jennifer Blanchard via @storyfix
- When Dark Emotions Threaten Your Writing by @jan_ohara via @writerunboxed
- 10 Powerful Secrets of Bestselling Authors by Dr. John Yeoman via @WritetoDone
- Writing and Editing – 7 Things to Fix in Your First Self-Edit via @thecreativepenn
- How Cupcakes & Art Can Help You Better Engage Your Audience by @DanBlank
Finally, a quote for the week:
Whether you’re gearing up for NaNoWriMo or not, I wish you a barrel-full of enthusiasm and inner fire to get you driving ahead on your writing projects … at your own speed and in your own way. Your finish line is a unique and personal thing.
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.