Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Secretly Starting then Publicly Quitting NaNoWriMo

It happens to me every year. November comes around and everyone starts talking about NaNoWriMo, and I have the itch to participate. It doesn't matter where I am in my own writing process, I try to find an excuse to join in on the fun. There's something about everyone talking about it, and everyone writing all together, that makes me want to be involved.

It's a fault of mine. I can't handle being left out of things.

This year was no exception. It didn't matter that I was in the middle of revising my current book, with a goal to have it ready to send to my agent by the end of the year. All of my friends were talking about NaNo-ing and I was feeling jealous. I wanted in on the NaNo fun! I'd just had a shiny new idea, and November would be the perfect time to bust out a draft.

So, I talked myself into it.

This was my agreement with myself. I can get out 1,700 words a day pretty painlessly. I just need to make sure I do it during a time in the day when I don't normally write, so I don't get in the way of my revision. That way I make NaNo progress, meaning I can still feel like part of the November NaNo party, and I can keep on track with my revision process. Perfect! Everyone wins!

This whole process worked for about five days. I wrote my new words first thing in the morning and during my lunch break at work. They came out quickly, I met my word count, then I moved on to my revision when I got home from work. I was totally on track. But then I had one crazy day at work where I couldn't write at lunch and had to use all of my nightly revision time to catch up. Then I had another one. Then I had a day where everything I wrote was completely terrible. Then another one.

Which led me to a pretty tough realization...I am not a good NaNo drafter.

I'm thinking back to my first NaNoWriMo in 2008. My draft was such a mess that I had to completely rewrite it. Even then I couldn't get it to make any sense, so I shelved it. I did end up pulling it back off the shelf and fixing it, and it eventually got me my agent, but it took three straight years to undo the mess that I made with that first draft.

Then last year's NaNoWriMo. I loved my idea, but my draft was so terrible. I looked at it last December and realized there was nothing I could do with it the way it was, so I let it simmer for the time being. That simmering is still going on (and I've already poached from that draft for a scene in my current ms), and I think it will remain there for quite awhile until I feel like dealing with that trainwreck.

This year was just absolute crap. It was worse than crap. It was hardly readable. I know first drafts don't have to be good, but I thought about the first draft of this project I'm revising and how it wasn't like that at all. Sure, it took me a lot longer than 30 days to get 50,000 words, but the words I got were good words. I didn't have to throw them all away like I'm going to have to with these. If I have to rewrite every word in my draft, what is the point of all of this? Just to say I did it? Who cares?

The thing is, I'm a slow writer, and I need to learn to be okay with it. Own it. Wear it like a badge of honor. Forcing myself to draft during NaNoWriMo just forces me to turn out crap, crap that is crappier than the normal first draft crap, and it takes me more work than it's worth to untangle it. It's dumb to put myself through that.

And, for goodness sake, I have a revision to finish.

So, I'm not continuing with NaNoWriMo this year.

I can't let my compulsive need to be a part of what everyone else is doing get in the way of my personal goals. I need to finish this book, and I want to have it done by the end of the year. How does drafting, or even outlining, a new novel during November help me achieve this? It doesn't.

It kills me, though, to start something and not finish it. I always finish these things. I don't like being a quitter. But these are my issues. I need to deal with them. And I can't let them bug me, because I know it's mostly only about THE FEAR.

So, if you're looking for me, I won't be NaNo-ing anymore. I put that idea away for a later time when I can devote 100% of my energy to it. Right now I'll be battling through The Fear to the other side of a finished book.


  1. That's sort of what I did last year. I wasn't revising, but I was directing my students in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and it turned out I only had the time/energy/reserves of sanity for one creative undertaking. I don't even think I got 5000 words in before giving up.

    Hang in there with those revisions...I'm looking forward to the day when your book is on my shelf, so you have to get it done!

  2. Going with your gut is always the best way. Like the Guardian of the Holy Grail says in Indiana Jones, "You have chosen wisely." xx

  3. I've never been able to NaNo- it's just not for me. This year I've been more accepting of the pace I write at and it's been more peaceful and fun to write without putting unnecessary pressure on myself. Good luck with revising! : )

  4. As a fellow slow writer, I have the same problem with NaNo. I've been trying to do a half-NaNoWriMo, I guess, and I find myself having to slow down lest I wind up with a great concept, crappy MS.
    I think that's it's awesome that you are choosing to focus on your revision!

  5. I tried NaNo for the first time this year and I quickly came to the realization that it just wasn't for me about two days in. I now just set aside a chunk of time five days a week. I'm starting to actually enjoy writing again. I think we all have different methods that work for us but it's fun to try something else on for size every once in awhile.

  6. I had the exact same realization right before I quit NaNoWriMo last week. I'm not meant to write drafts this quickly! Good luck with your revision! Since I quit NaNo, I've been focusing on finishing mine as well so I can finally begin querying. :)

  7. Sounds like you did the right thing. NaNo is not for everyone and owning up to our own unique, this is the crazy/normal/wonderful way I do writing is great.
    Great Post. I bet there's a lot of NaNo-ers out there wishing they were as brave as you to stop.
    Good luck with revisions!

  8. I'm beginning to think NaNo is not for me, either. I was really excited about it and I love hearing everyone talk about their progress. I think I'm like you & just don't want to be left out. I really do like my idea and I still want to pursue it, I just think now is not the right time. Things are crazy busy at work right now, but they are not always. So I'd rather focus on writing when things are not so crazy...which means November is just not going to work. I still want to do some writing this month, but I'm okay with not finishing.

  9. There's a good chance I'll come to the same realization by the end of November. I'm a fast writer, but I really need to have my idea thought out (though not outlined) before I begin. I started my NaNo project knowing a few details and I've been feeling stuck from the beginning. It's a mystery and I think I need to spend a lot of my NaNo writing time brainstorming instead. Thanks for writing this post!

  10. I think it's awesome that you've learned all this about yourself, and now you can proceed with writing the way you WANT to write. Honestly, the big reason I signed on for NaNo this year was peer pressure, but now that I'm into it, I'm having a good time and I'm liking my draft (mostly). So, we try new things. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don't. Good luck with your revision, and I hope you're able to revisit the NaNo project you started one of these days.

  11. NaNo isn't for me, either, yet I still sign up every year. I still get excited and think of how I'm totally going to DO IT and it's going to BE MAGICAL and I will FINISH SOMETHING. And every year I'm like oh wait...I can't write this fast. But I do like the passion and enthusiasm and write-ins. So I'll probably keep signing up...keep not finishing...but I can still use it as a tool to get excited and get a little fire going under me.

    BUt YOU. You need to fight through THE FEAR and finish this revision. Because this book is going to be SUPER FUN and I can't wait to go to the launch party and BUY IT.

  12. I think I'm like you on this whole NaNo thing. I've sort of fizzled out on meeting my NaNo daily word goals, and I've fallen behind. But I'm not stressing about it. I'd rather write 20,000 words that I love rather than 50,000 words of rubbish that I'll have to completely rewrite down the road. The other day I found myself struggling to just meet the daily word goal and everything I was writing was BOR-ING. At that point, I just had to walk away for a while. I'm still working on it, but on my own terms. I was never going to 'win' NaNo (I'm finishing up a story I'd already started), so it doesn't really matter if I'm on track.

    Good for you for realizing that it doesn't work for you. I suppose you can use the motivation and accountability that comes from NaNoers to spur you on to making good headway with your revisions. :)

  13. I totally know what you mean. I don't write and I have a million things on my plate and STILL thought... maybe *I* have something to write (I don't). Totally jealous of the writing community and the way they NaNo. :-)

  14. You have to write how you have to write. NaNo works for me because it's how I write--my first drafts are skeletons. Some parts are salvageable, but for the most part I do a LOT of rewriting. Maybe if I became a plotter, things would be different. But for now, this type of writing works for me. I say we all do what works for us. No one's judging, and if they are, well, screw them!

  15. Ahem... did you know quitters live longer than those who never quit? :) As a mother of a 2-year-old and a 31-week-along unborn child, who also works full time and is trying to renovate a house so I can move into it in two weeks... NaNo isn't for me, either. I am a slow writer, but I get a good first draft, and it makes everything so much easier later on.

  16. I did the SAME thing, except I publicly joined and have not officially announced my loserdome. I should have known, October and November are REALLY bad for me being a photographer. Weddings every weekend and editing seniors and families until my eyes are bleeding. In fact, I don't write. At. All. For some ridiculous reason I thought I could force myself to do it. I told myself, "if you really think you're a legit author, you will make it happen!!" Ugh. I failed, and you know, I'm okay with it. NaNo can not be my thing. It just doesn't work. Here's to us No-Nano peeps!! lol (And major props to those who are doing it! Wow!)