I signed up for NaNoWriMo this year with the idea of writing a first draft of a middle-grade fantasy novel. I liked the idea of ending the year with one last big project finished — or in this case, the first step of another big project.
Thirteen days and about 20K in to the 50K finish line, I’m letting it go. This is the first time I’ve bailed on NaNoWriMo (or at least the November version — I’ve ditched the summer-month camp version in the past), but I know it’s the right choice. For one thing, I didn’t start with enough of an outline to make the drafting as fast as it would need to be, and while I’ve certainly got the time to crank out 50K of whatever comes into my head this month, that’s not really how I’d like to spend those hours. Mostly, though, I knew this was the right choice because when I thought about dropping it, instead of feeling depressed or guilty the way I expected to, I felt relief, and an odd sense of freedom.
To put it simply, I’m quitting because it just isn’t fun this time. And that’s really the whole point of NaNo, to be fun. Yeah, it’s sometimes “fun” in the sense that a real marathon is “fun” — meaning, a whole lot harder and more grueling than it looks — but the spirit of NaNo is meant to be one of play, not a millstone around one’s neck, which is what it became for me when I looked at the calendar, realized it was November 1, and felt dread instead of the usual excitement.
Mind you, I still absolutely love the concept of NaNoWriMo. I hate seeing it get bashed every November by the Serious Writers who feel compelled to remind us how much more seriously they take their writing, and that no Truly Great Literature can possibly come out of writing so quickly and putting the emphasis on quantity over quality. (And then there are the writers who look down their noses and point out that they write 2000 or 3000 words a day, every day, no matter what, even when they’re knocked unconscious or abducted by aliens, so the rest of us are all just playing at being Real Writers by doing it for one month and thinking that we’re accomplishing anything.)
What gets lost in both those attitudes is one very important thing:
Process is personal.
How you get the words on the page, and how quickly or slowly, and using which tools, and how much outlining beforehand, is all individual. NaNoWriMo is just another method, and it works for some people and not for others. It worked very well for me in 2005 when I used it to write the first draft of By Sword and Star. I still remember how much fun it was — and back then, I was actually writing it by hand, in a composition book in the break room before work and on my lunch break, and then typing up that day’s pages when I got home. It was awesome to win then, and I had the added bonus of having wound up with a good solid draft to work with later. I won again in 2006, and then in 2009, and then with the camp version in 2011.
The funny thing is, when I kept thinking of quitting this week, I wasn’t really worried about being disappointed in myself or feeling bad about not ‘winning.’ At the heart of it, I was worried about how it would look to everybody else, in the various places I posted online about participating.
But again… process is personal. NaNo worked for me before. It isn’t now. Maybe it will again later, and I’ll be able to recapture that spirit of eagerly piling up words. Or maybe it won’t, and I’ll find what works for me from here on out.
No matter what, though, I don’t have to prove, to myself or anyone else, that I’m capable of writing 50K in a month. I’ve done it four times already. And I’ve proved as well, this past August, that I can write 40K of polished, publishable fiction in a month, too, when I’m up against an external deadline — which was hard, but also a really incredible, exhilarating experience, looking back on it — and that was all on my own, without a pre-set month and a community backing it up.
So all that was left was to ask myself, is NaNo working for me now, for this book, this year? And it isn’t. I’m not thinking about the novel in off moments through the day, the way I did other times. All I’ve been doing is dreading having to hit the word count for the day, and forcing myself to write, to do freewrites, to do anything that involves typing words, and then still falling behind, and feeling more discouraged because of it, and feeling no joy in any of it, even when the words are okay. I know the feeling of creative pressure, and I know when I’m close to creative burnout, and the former isn’t what I’ve been feeling in the last 13 days.
So, I’ll still keep writing this month, but I’m officially releasing myself from any thoughts of 50K and any more daily word count check-ins and obligations. It’s been a good year writing-wise overall, and in the coming days and weeks I’ll have new stories in two great publications to round off 2013. There’s a feeling now of the year winding down, of taking stock — still writing, sure, but not at a feverish pace. Learning to honor my process, and not apologizing for it — even to myself — because it doesn’t meet someone else’s standards.
To those 298,926 writers taking part in NaNo for the rest of the month, good luck and my best wishes. I’ve just learned that this year, for me, the only way to truly win was not to play.