It's official. I can confirm that I will not be winning National Novel Writing Month this year. It’s cool, though. I’m not super bitter. I only made four dozen of sugar cookies the other night and ate six of them in fifteen minutes.
Actually, in all seriousness, I’ve decided not to self-shame my NaNo miss this year. Mostly I just ate those cookies because hi, that much butter and sugar mixed together really can’t be unenjoyable. Here’s a list of reasons why I’m holding my head up high despite the fact that I did not reach my NaNo writing goal this month.
The writing I did do? I’m really proud of it.
I’m said it before and I’ll say it again: NaNo is fantastic at forcing me to get my writing life in gear. I’ve been sort of moping between projects since I finished my last big piece of writing, and this challenge forced me to find something I wanted to write and invest some serious time into it. Yeah, I haven’t finished writing this new novel yet, but it’s looking like I will. I’m not sure I would have even tackled this project at all without NaNo pushing me to try, so I’m grateful I had that push. I currently have the beginnings of a new writing project I’m very excited about, and that matters.
Sometimes writing can’t be the top priority.
I had the opportunity to visit my family—who live two thousand miles away from me—during Thanksgiving vacation this year. I can’t even remember the last time I spent a holiday with them, and I made the executive decision a few weeks ago that I would not write while I was visiting them…even if that meant I missed hitting my NaNo goals. I stuck to that decision and I stand by it. That novel isn’t moving off my hard drive anytime soon, but who knows how many more holidays I’ll get to spend with the people I love?
Sometimes November just isn’t your NaNo month.
It’s interesting to note that I’ve only successfully ever pulled off NaNo once…but I have written 50k within a month several other times. Just not within the month of November. November, it turns out, isn’t always the best month for me to take on this type of challenge. It’s a busy month in my teaching life, it often includes commitments with friends and family, blah blah blah. There’s no shame in declaring that November isn’t a great month for you to write fifty thousand words and taking on that challenge in July instead. I wasn’t any less proud when I once completed this challenge in August. So if things didn’t work out for you this month, don’t be afraid to try again in December or January. Just because the whole rest of the country won’t be talking about NaNo anymore doesn’t mean you can’t.
Self-shaming is kind of the worst anyway.
I am a terrible shelf-shamer. After I ate those cookies I berated myself for like an hour…and that’s not healthy. I’m trying to cut down on all my self-shaming these days, and that has to include writing. So instead of shaming myself for not meeting my NaNo goal this year, I’m choosing to be proud of the work I did accomplish. I may not have won at NaNo, but I like to like to think I won at Novembering in 2018.
Not all challenges end with blue ribbons and success speeches. Such is life. I’m moving on and looking forward, and I’m not leaving this November behind with any regrets.
For me, one of the best parts about National Novel Writing Month is that it forces me to write. When I don’t feel like it, when the muses aren’t singing, when my story ideas are terrible, when the words aren’t coming out. It forces me to set goals and hold myself accountable to them no matter what.
And sometimes, even when the resulting writing is terrible, it turns into something not-terrible.
On November 1st of this month I started writing a novel that I’ve been plotting for a while. I felt only mildly excited about the story concept, but whatever. It seemed like I had possibly exhausted my creative juices on The Novel Just Before This, so I figured I’d give this idea a go and see what happened.
Five thousand words in, it was not good.
Eight thousand words in, it was terrible.
But I was writing. Regularly—which is something I have struggled to do since I finished my last manuscript. So whatever; I kept writing it. And around ten thousand words in, something excellent happened: the whole book went off the rails.
Around midnight on day six of NaNo I had an epiphany: the concept for the book was terrible and trite and had already been done twelve thousand times. I was utterly unoriginal. But wait! If I just changed this…and this…and this….
Now THAT was a book I looked forward to writing.
I awoke the next morning with renewed vigor. Some vim, even. I did a Thing I Never Do and wrote a few scenes from this newly conceived book completely out of order, something author Holly Schindler suggested a while ago that I’ve been wanting to try. And guess what: magic happened. The characters made sense. They were not longer the cardboard stereotypes I’d been slowly writing them into. The plot had actual things happen now.
Of course, I am now four thousand words behind schedule because I had to go back and completely rewrite the entire beginning of the book. That's cool, though, because now those ten thousand words aren't absolutely the worst things I have ever written. I could not be more excited to have a book I am writing change its mind and decide it wants to go in a completely different direction. I’m so happy I kept writing this stupid thing even when I knew it was terrible. I’m so happy I gave myself a chance to let it un-terrible itself.
I mean, I could still screw this up. Who knows what I can do to the theme and setting and characters arcs in this baby as time goes on. But for the moment, I have faith in this manuscript again. I am going to apply myself to it with the same level of excitement that I apply to drinking a peanut butter milkshake (highly underrated flavor, fight me if you disagree) and see what comes of all this.
Good job, NaNo. Way to make me hate and then love writing again, and all in the first week. I can’t wait to see where we are on day 30.
It’s officially day two of National Novel Writing Month. Things that have so far occurred to me since NaNo 2018 began:
Happy NaNo, everyone! Hope your characters are cooperating and your settings are as beautiful on paper as they are in your head.