Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Five Things I Learned By Failing NaNo

Yesterday, I threw in the towel on NaNo. After starting three different books in the course of a month and ultimately giving up on all three of them, I decided there wasn't any chance I could win this year. I hate giving up on things. I hate setting goals and then watching them pass me. I ran a half-marathon,  I published two books, why for the love of cheese couldn't I knock out 50k in a month?

Well, here's what happened and what I learned about myself:

1. I had no plan at the start of November. I'm not a planner, I have written every book by the seat of my pants. But when I actually sat down to write on November 1st, the vagueness was overwhelming. Maybe I could write a book about depression or angry girls or roller derby or being in love with a gay dude or killing your parents or some other thing. But I had too many maybes and no character voice in my head. This is what people who write by the seat of their pants forget: You cannot write anything if a character has not crawled into your head and taken up residency to tell you their story. This is why I've never bought into the "write every day" thing, because if no one is in my head telling me what to write, I don't have anything to put on the page.

2. It is hard to write a book when you're trying to promote a new release. It is not like the obligations of promo take up all your writing time, it is the defeat of post-release that makes writing a novel basically impossible. If you're not familiar with this, I wrote a post on it here. Bottom line: it is damn hard to find the energy to write shiny new words when you've just read a review on GoodReads that says they wanted to reach into the pages of your book and punch every character in the throat.

3. I have gotten excellent at figuring out what doesn't work. This may be because of editing for my day job, or this may be because I've shelved so many unworkable books, but I am now able to tell by about 15k into a manuscript if the story has any hope of becoming a real thing. The problem with this ability is that the NaNo advice of "just keep going, get your crappy stuff out there, you can go back and fix later" does NOT work when you can tell a book isn't going to ever be a thing. It's like telling someone to keep training for a marathon, even though they definitely will not be participating in the marathon. Going out to run in crappy weather becomes damn hard, and what is the point?

4. There are still things too close to me emotionally for me to write about. I started a book on depression and had to stop writing it because my friend Michael kept weaving himself in my head. My heart has not healed yet over losing Michael. It might not ever heal, and I need to honor that. Sometimes our blood on the page can't ever become anything beautiful. It's just blood.

5. Fake deadlines aren't really effective for me. My next book comes out in early 2016. That's a while away. I have several other projects that are in various states of completion on my desktop. Writing something brand spanking new, which presumably should re-invigorate me, mostly had me questioning: to what end? So I can revise for the next four years and maybe this could be a 2019 book? That way lies madness, my friends.

In the end, I would like to say I learned a TON by participating in NaNo this year, but mostly I learned that this wasn't a good year for me. My 12yo, on the other hand, kicked huge butt and is about 5 pages away from being done with her NaNo book. So I guess congratulations are still going to happen in my house on November 30th. Just not for me.


M.J. Fifield said...

I love that your 12 year old is kicking NaNo butt. Good for her!

I didn't do NaNo this year, and I've been missing it terribly. I usually start off with nothing more than an intended genre and a main character's name, but the year I didn't win, I didn't even start off with that much. That was two years ago, and I still don't know what that project was supposed to be.

Maybe some day I'll figure it out.

Suzi said...

That's awesome about your daughter.

I agree with your number one. I'm also one who doesn't think I have to write every day, and your explanation for why is perfect. Sometimes those characters don't speak, but when they do, then the writing comes hard and fast.

I didn't do NaNo this year. Didn't have an idea to work on at the time, plus too many other things to do.