For a Few Words More

November is gone. With it, my meager hopes of writing a novel in under thirty days. This was my first year participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I failed even before I started. But failure was always the plan.

Unlike most of this year’s participants, I started a week and one day late. Why? Because I rarely keep a calendar or know the numerical day of the week. Sure, I know today is Sunday—but what’s the date? My computer tells me December 9 (and my computer has no obvious reason to lie). So NaNoWriMo commenced without me, and I had no clue.

Perhaps my late start was more common than I realized, but I suspect my objective was less common: I hoped to develop a rhythm, a routine, a habit-forming practice of sitting at my computer (or opening my notebook) and writing. That’s it. My great aspiration was to train myself. To write more often than once in a blue moon. In short, to earn my title.

For too many years I’ve called myself a writer. My bachelor’s degree would posit that I am an English major. But what do I have to show for it? Stiff, dull, incredibly tedious papers. As much as I loathe referencing my college work, that load of lard represents a far more substantial volume of writing than the rest of my life. When added together, all of my short stories, scrap-paper story fragments, comprehensive outlines, and nebulous mental notes would easily fit on a 1 gigabyte thumb drive (with room to spare).

Simply stated, little proof exists that I am a writer. My blog doesn’t count. While I do endeavor to carefully craft every entry, drawing inspiration from such spectacular wordsmiths as Adam J. Holland, my work here is subordinate to my fiction. I don’t regard my blog as toilet paper, but my practice with the WordPress platform goes much farther on a resume than pictures of food.

With respect to my goals for NaNoWriMo, my efforts were mostly successful. For a solid week in November, I typed or printed a few hundred words each day. With little regard for style or plot, I persevered. However, resisting the urge to backtrack and revise, to edit and smooth out my messy work was nigh impossible, and that more than anything crippled my efforts in subsequent weeks.

Writing is hard work! I wrote past midnight most evenings, only to show up at my job a few hours later looking as if I’d slept on a park bench. I exhausted my everyday vocabulary within the first thousand words. My weaknesses as a writer surfaced like apples in a barrel, and no amount of “pushing it out” could remedy the growing sinkhole that was my story. Accomplished writers spend a fair amount of time formulating plot, sketching in character details, and weaving together plot lines long before putting pencil to paper or finger to key. And for good reason: coherency doesn’t come naturally.

Exhaustion and creative stagnation slowed my progress to a crawl. Soon, a few hundred words in the span of two or three days became an accomplishment. The progress meter at NaNoWriMo.com projected that I would finish my novel sometime in April 2013. Encouraging, no? Already the month of November was two-thirds through, but I had yet to reach ten thousand words—a fifth of the target number.

As stated, my goal was to develop better writing habits (or any habit, for that matter). Conceivably, a writing habit would help me overcome the dreaded “mood” factor that I’ve used as an excuse for longer than I can remember. “Coffee? Check. Comfortable chair? Check. Inspiration to write an epic masterpiece? Eh… not so much. Maybe tomorrow, when I’m in the mood.”

The mood, however, is a mysterious vagrant. His comings and goings are known to none. If I want to call myself a real writer, I have to dispatch the mood altogether. Writing needs to be as natural to me as breathing. That doesn’t mean it will ever cease to be a challenge, but it should mean that I do it involuntarily; moreover, that I never have to ask myself with a fearful gulp, “Do I still have it?”

Above all, I want the writing process to be a breath of fresh air. More than graphic design or video production, writing is my favorite means of artistic expression. For that reason it’s rewarding in and of itself, but I’ve never been content to write in a vacuum. Who is? Even if my audience is one lonely soul, that person’s participation fuels the fire. Slowly, perhaps imperceptibly, but all the same.

For December, I’ve decided to cut myself off from writing (except for my blog, and that obligatory year-end paragraph my mom expects for our Christmas letter). Why? Why discard the fruits of my NaNoWriMo labor? Because I’ve got too many pots and pans going at the same time, and the bulk of the gifts I’m giving this year are the creative kind (yes, I’m on a budget).

But, come January 2013, I’ll commence with a brand-new screenplay and continue writing the novel I started last month. My goals are ambitious—certainly beyond my usual standard of “feasible”—but I’ve learned that a few words each day can add up to something substantial. I’ll end with a great quote from an awful movie:

Big things have small beginnings.

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4 Discussion to this post

  1. Nick says:

    A visual shout-out to Sad Hill Cemetery (and the whole MwnN trilogy) on a post about NaNo – how could I not comment? I had an eventful November myself, and while I probably did okay for the time I had available, I know I could have written more. May not have been *better*, but that’s not what NaNoWriMo is about.

    My first two attempts at NaNo were successful, but the next two (this year’s being the second) were not. In that time though, I’ve learned that a) I’m definitely capable of writing that much and b) I want whatever I write to be usable. This time around I’ve decided to ditch the content of what I wrote, and capitalise on the feeling of it. I need a stronger start, but also one that goes into more detail about the beginnings of the story.

    For all I know, yours is fine, but if it’s not, don’t hesitate to treat what you did in November as a nought-draft. You’ve done the hard work of visualising the world, and while you do need to fill in those gaps for the readers, you already know the world of your story better than you did a month ago.

    Biggest step, though? I might paraphrase my favourite film:

    There’s two kinds of people in this world. Those that write, and those that think about writing. You dig? 😛

    • J. Sulzbach says:

      Your paraphrase is clever and appreciated. Thanks for the encouragement! And congratulations on learning from your past experiences. I intend to finish what I started, and try again next November.

  2. C.A.T. says:

    Glad to see you wrote for NaNoWriMo! I can’t say I got 50,000 words either (far from it in fact), but I did write more than I have in a long time. It really inspired me as well as encouraging words from my friends, and I learned a lot from the experience.

    Probably the hardest thing I dealt with was making my inner critic be quiet so I could write. I’ve told myself next year I will place it in a sound proof room far away and just write. So many times it would pop up and distract me from my word count.

    One of my New Year’s resolutions is to write more and hopefully that will make me more prepared for next November. Along with this I’m planning the outline for next year’s novel. So excited about the characters and plot for this story!

    I was greatly encouraged by a friend who told me it took her three times before she won NaNo. Hearing this made me realize one of the things about this contest is improving yourself and if you don’t reach the goal you can always improve the next year.

    I have to say even though I didn’t get the word count, I’ve learned so much and met some great writers from it that I don’t really feel I’ve lost. I just feel a need to beat my record next November and keep on writing.

  3. mumblebee33 says:

    Me too, and I never finished either.

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