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Why I’m Happy To Fail At NaNoWriMo This Year

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I'm not going to be making the 50,000-word count this year at the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) contest and it's probably the best thing that's ever happened to me. I should have known after the first week I wasn't going to make it. I was struggling to keep up the pace, but was deluded enough to think that after I caught up by day nine, everything was going to be okay.

Heck, the signs were there for me to read before the contest even started. I wasn't going to make it, but I didn't want to accept that I wasn't physically, emotionally, or mentally up to the challenge this year. Writing may look like a sedentary occupation, but it still requires you to be in good shape physically, or else you will get mentally exhausted from the struggles with your body.

I have talked about my physical problems elsewhere so I won't go into the messy details, save to say that I have a chronic pain condition. In mid-October I had to have some minor surgery, a hernia repair, and had not considered how much that would actually take out of me. I had conveniently forgotten that once you have a pain condition, not only will surgery aggravate the pre-existing problem, healing from the surgery will take far longer then normal.

There is also the radically increased chance of post-operative complications due to pain. Starting from the moment the freezing wore off after the surgery, I was unable to move because of the pain and had to be rushed into emergency. I am unable to spend more then a few hours at a time upright.

Since I have a laptop, I figured I would just prop myself up in bed and write away merrily, and much like last year be well over the 50,000 mark by the end of the third week. Well that time is fast approaching, Tuesday is the 21st of November and I've not yet even topped 30,000 words.

There's still a chance I could come up with over 20,000 words in the next ten days — it's only about 2,000 words a day after all — but if I do it, it will be strictly by accident. I'm no longer shooting for any particular word count on the project I'm working on; instead my goal is to finish the novel.

I was feeling really depressed this past weekend about not being able to produce the numbers of words a day I had last year while taking part in NaNoWriMo. I had even written a long whiney letter to a friend of mine complaining about it. I was afraid that because I couldn't do what I'd done before, I might be losing my ability to write.

At one point in the letter I had written about how aggravating it was that it had taken me four hours to write a simple book review. My friend had very patiently, obviously, read the whole letter and wrote me back to me remind of something that I'd forgotten. It doesn't matter how much you write or how long it takes; what matters is that you write.

As I was mulling this and some other thoughts over in my head, I happened to spot a chunk of rock crystal my wife had picked up for me a few weeks ago. It’s a really neat specimen in that you can see the striations that have gone into the rock's making. Literally hundreds of individual points of crystal have grown together to form one shape with a perfect point of clear crystal.

I'm sure you see where I'm going with this. Writing can develop with the same sort of structure as that rock – one layer of crystal building on top of another to form a final perfect shape. It doesn't have to be done all at once like a volcano forming an island, although that does happen on occasion.

Each piece of work you do is a unique and individual just like anything else. If you try to force it to be something it doesn't want to be it ends up rebelling and turning out opposite of what you’d hoped. You have to take what it gives you.

About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • http://www.gpb-katie.blogspot.com Katie McNeill

    I didn’t make it. I didn’t try very hard though.

  • http://vikk.typepad.com/down_the_writers_path/ Vikk Simmons

    Hi Richard,

    Hey, I wouldn’t beat myself up too much about the whole NaNoWriMo thing. I find it best to keep it all in perspective. I join each year because it does galvanize me to produce copy and rededicate myself to the project. (This year it happened to coincide with a need to produce 100 pages to give to an agent so it works for me.) If I luck out and make the 50K that’s gravy. In the end I’m ahead of the game no matter what.

    As for rushing through a novel, etc. I do think people may be putting an added layer of meaning to all this regarding what they should actually expect when they do NaNoWriMo or write to complete a white-hot draft. I expect to get raw material, chunks of prose, some portions of the narrative line that creates a rough draft or a first draft of a novel–not complete a novel. Any novel is usually going to require drafts, revisions, often even re-envisioning. What I hear from many seems to be the expectation that they will have a complete novel at the end.

    For me, rough draft stage is a brain dump. I’m making room in my head for future growth and development of subtleties, threading of subplots, increased characterization. I need my clay, my raw material. That’s what NaNoWriMo gives me.

    Your friend is right. You are so much further ahead than you were at the beginning of November 1. Relax, heal, and write at a pace that works for you.

    I also think different books have different developments. Some fall out of you onto the page in a beauty that is almost surreal. Most don’t. Often the most treasured are the ones you work for so there is hope even for the most resistant storyline.

    Sounds like this has been a good experience for you no matter the wordcount.

    Good for you.

  • http://philobiblon.co.uk Natalie Bennett

    Good on you for finding the silver lining in the cloud Richard, and good luck!