NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and Other Failures I Have Known

I started the month of November with the noblest of intentions. I was going to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. Thousands of people were doing it, across the country, in coffee shops, home offices, tucked into their warm beds late at night with laptops on fire. I knew I could do this! And I started off really strong with almost 15,000 words right off the bat in the first few days. Then I staggered. I stumbled. I toppled and tumbled. It was week two and I still only had 15,000 words. To make matters worse, the website for NaNoWriMo allows you to keep track of your friends. My fellow Mudskipper, Kelly D., was kicking my proverbial hind quarters. She’d already written 35,000 words!

I gathered my family aside after dinner that night and informed them that I was writing a novel and I needed time alone, undisturbed, to get the job done. They tried. They really did. But when you have four children, there are always interruptions. “I need a ride to the playhouse. I have rehearsal in twenty minutes!” “What’s for dinner and can Austin eat over?” “Honey, I need to take your car to work tomorrow so I can get the oil changed at lunch.” Even my husband was in on the disturbance!

I decided to get up really early and try to write before anyone else was awake. Maybe that would stop the interruptions. I tiptoed into the kitchen, the living room, both sons’ rooms… Where was my laptop? Oh, they had used it to make an animation of some kind up in the loft. Found it. But the floor creaked as I went up the stairs and the dogs woke up. Now my husband’s alarm was going off. Things were spiraling out of control, and I hadn’t even written a word! I let the dogs out and in again, gave them doggie biscuits, made some coffee, woke the boys for school, and disappeared into my room.

This time I locked the door.

I made it through the next two weeks this way, writing feverishly, madly, at breakneck speed. The plot thickened, then stank. Speed does not produce lucidity. The rancid drivel had to be expunged! I purged and deleted and purged some more. I don’t think that’s what the NaNoWriMo police wanted, but I couldn’t write 50,000 words worth of cheesy crap, now could I? Back at it again at week three, I realized through the handy dandy NaNoWriMo stat application that I would not be able to complete 50,000 words at this pace until February 1. I was shooting for November 30. I redoubled my efforts and got back to the novel. It was a fairy tale of sorts. The Fairy Harp. Filled with mysterious goings on that affect a young teenaged girl whose mother has died tragically in a hit and run car accident that she herself caused by storming angrily across the street after arguing with her mother. Mom races after her and gets hit by a car. The girl retreats into the woods and into an imaginary world where she must retrieve a fairy harp or the entire fairy kingdom will be destroyed. In the end, we discover she’s retreating from reality into mental illness, but we don’t know this until the very last page. And how will it end?

The world may never know because a mother of four cannot finish a novel during the Thanksgiving holiday. Was NaNoWriMo created by a man?

The experience wasn’t a total loss. I learned how to get myself committed to writing every single day without fail, no matter what tries to get in the way. I learned that writing quickly is actually good for me. I tend to write slowly and methodically and my pacing is off when I do that. Yawn! The mere idea of writing fast enabled me to somehow write better. It makes no sense at all, but for me, it worked. I always second guess myself, go back, scratch through sentences, paragraphs, entire pages, and start over. When I forced myself to plunge ahead instead, waiting until later to edit, I wrote some pretty decent narrative and dialogue. Yes, there was drivel and nonsense and stuff I knew eventually would not make it into the final draft, but allowing myself to deal with it later was freeing. And frankly, I have yet to finish a novel. I write picture books in a flash, then edit them for years. How was I ever going to finish a full length manuscript of 50,000 words without some nudging and force from the NaNoWriMo authorities?

I’m glad I did it. And I’m glad I’m not so legalistic about it that I consider myself a failure for not finishing. I wrote 38,000 words or so. That’s not bad! Now maybe by April I’ll have a finished rough draft; by next November, a finished, polished manuscript ready to submit. That’s the plan for now. Wish me luck!

Megan Hoyt is a freelance writer and soon to be noticed (she hopes) children’s book author, working out the kinks in the children’s publishing biz on massive amounts of coffee and with healthy doses of encouragement from her zany family. She lives in Charlotte, NC, with her husband of 22 years, four children, three dogs, and a parrot.

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Here’s To Commitment

By Jean Matthew Hall

Have you ever heard someone singing at a wedding or a party, perhaps at church, and thought, “He’s so talented! He should be on the road singing professionally, selling CDs, and signing autographs.” But the truth is that it takes a lot more than talent to be a professional musician.

It takes commitment—total stay-up-late-get-up-early-commitment. To become rich and famous as a musician, or even to earn a livelihood as a musician, it takes hard-line dedication not only to music, but to several critical things.

And guess what. The same is true of becoming a professional author.

  • Becoming a professional takes commitment to achieving goals. The first step toward achieving those goals is setting them. Integral to setting goals is making sure they are measurable and achievable. They can be measured in dollars; hours, weeks, months or years; pages or word counts; “followers” and “friends”; the number of submissions or contracts…   you get the idea.
  • Becoming a professional takes commitment to craft. To learning how to accomplish hundreds of specific skills related to professional writing. It means dedication to improving everything I do as relatedto writing.
  • Becoming a professional takes commitment to promotion. I HATE this part. Don’t you? But success in publishing depends on it.
  • Becoming a professional takes commitment to sacrifice. Yep. We have to sacrifice some good things to accomplish great things. And succeeding in an industry as competitive as publishing means devoting time that we could spend on other activities (or people) to writing, research, education, submission and promotion.
  • Becoming a professional takes commitment to vulnerability. These scratchings we put to paper and screen come out of our minds, our hearts, our souls. We make ourselves vulnerable each time  we put up a blog post, send an email submission or plaster a stamp to a big brown envelope.
  • Becoming a professional takes commitment to writing. What we learn about craft we must put into practice.  Writing–that’s what professional writers do.

When I compare what I do as a writer to these standards I see how really far I am from becoming a professional. But…I also see that I’m inching my way closer with each year, each conference, each page, and each big brown envelope.

Here’s to success for each of us as writers and authors!

Here’s to commitment!

Jean