NaNoWriMo (And Why I’m Quitting)

nano2013I 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.


Two links: Flash fiction and an interview

My flash fic “The Quiet Dark” is now online at Mustang’s Monster Corral, accompanied by another fun little piece by Ken Goldman. The timing of our submissions was a coincidence, but it looks like we’ve almost wound up with two sides of the same story. 🙂

(Read “The Quiet Dark” at Monster Corral)

In other flash-related news, the interview with me by Women on Writing has now been posted on their blog:

(Read interview)

Haven’t been doing much writing lately, but I did spend a recent afternoon doing some brainstorming/outlining for a novella I’m planning to write this spring. It looks like Camp NaNoWriMo has scheduled this year’s two sessions for April and July, so I’m figuring on getting a solid draft banged out during April…


Maybe fall will be better…

As much as I was looking forward to it months ago, it looks like the best thing for me to do is bow out of the August session of Camp NaNoWriMo, that I was planning on participating in. It’s been a difficult summer real-life-wise, and issues with our mortgage (namely, attempting to refinance it) that I thought were going to be resolved by now most definitely aren’t. Given the stress I’m already under, I’ve realized that I really don’t need to add more to it, even for something positive — and I already have enough works in progress to finish, without putting them all on hold for another month so I can just add another project to the pile.

I considered still participating, but just doing what I can and accepting that I won’t cross the 50K word mark to win, but… well, I’ve done NaNoWriMo three times now and camp once, and won every time, and I hate the thought of just setting myself up to fail — or worse, winding up determined not to fail whatever the cost to my emotional, mental, and/or physical health.

At this point, I think what I’ll do is wait for the original NaNoWriMo in November and try again. By that time, I should be able to have a better idea of what the novel is supposed to be and what’s supposed to happen, anyway, since I never had enough time or energy this month to work on brainstorming and outlining the way I wanted to. And by that time, something has to have been figured out that lets us keep the house. :/

So, apologies to my cabin mates, but maybe I’ll see some of you in November…

Updates and announcements

Or, “what I did over the rest of the summer.” 🙂

July and August wound up being pretty busy for me. I moved from part-time work to full-time at the end of June, and that took a bit of adjustment to get my rhythm back as far as reshuffling my free time for writing.

In August, I got a chance to see a short story of mine adapted into graphic novel format. “The Wishing Tree” is the story of a raccoon who plays a trick on two hunting hounds–and winds up getting a surprise himself–and it was first published in the summer 2008 issue of New Fables. Earlier this year, artist Jennifer Fromm (“Nimrais”) put out a call for possible stories to adapt for her final project for college (a short graphic novel), and I was honored when she chose “The Wishing Tree.” It was only printed in a limited hardcover run, but you can see a few sample pages from it on her sketch blog. (You can also find her website here, though I can’t see it because Norton keeps blocking it as a malicious website. Not sure what’s up with that, but she also sells prints of her artwork here.)

Camp NaNoWriMo kept me busy during August, as I cranked out 50K words in 26 days on a novel called The Second Life of Bartholomew T. Lion, a story taking place in a world populated entirely by cast-off toys. The draft isn’t quite complete yet, since I’m letting it sit for a while as I figure out what’s supposed to happen. (The draft I wound up with was much rougher than I’m used to, but there was a nice freedom in that.) Bartholomew is going to take a lot of rewriting and refining before I even get to the beta-reading stage, but I’m excited about its potential. It feels like the sort of story that only I could write, and that makes it a lot of fun, even knowing all the work that’s still to come.

September brings an announcement I’ve waited several months to make: my first novel, By Sword and Star, is slated for release late this year by Anthropomorphic Dreams Publishing. It’s a medieval fantasy with a bit of a twist, in that all the characters are anthropomorphic animals–the main character, Tiran, is a bipedal unicorn. (Think Redwall, but written with more of an adult audience in mind.)

The blurb:

Prince Tiran of Silverglen may be heir to the throne of all Asteria, but he’s always felt more at home among the villagers, no matter how many lectures he gets from his father. But when the elk-lord Roden slaughters the royal family and claims the throne, only Tiran is left to avenge their deaths and take his place as the rightful king. His journey will lead him from the shadowed heart of his forest home into the treetops with the squirrel-clan of the Drays, across the western plains, and among the mysterious and deadly wolves of the Northern Reach. With his allies’ help, Tiran must become the king his people need him to be–or risk fulfilling an ancient prophecy that will spell the end of Asteria itself.

Anthro Dreams is noted for their furry fiction podcast and also for the Different Worlds, Different Skins anthologies. They’ve published/reprinted a number of my short stories in one format or another, and I’m pleased to have them putting out my first novel-length work. At this point, it’s still too early for an exact release date, but we’re hoping for November or December. Watch this space for updates.

And in other news, I have tickets to see Stephen King accept the Mason Award next Friday night, as part of this year’s Fall for the Book festival. Better yet, I wound up getting one of the randomly awarded “golden tickets” for his book signing, so I’m pretty excited about that. 😀

Next month, I’ll start planning for NaNoWriMo in November. I’d like to get another book’s first draft knocked out before I close out the year and go back to short stories/novellas for a while. I’m also planning to get another Smashwords release out in the next several months, but we’ll see how it goes. There’s always something to work on, at least. I never have to worry about running out of ideas. 🙂