Okay, I didn’t make it. It’s November 30, and my National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) novel, 7°, sits at a very rough 3683 words, 46,317 words short of my 50,000 word goal. That’s less than 10% done, which is just sad. I haven’t even looked at the file in three weeks.
If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, you can go back to here and see me full of piss and vinegar, ready to write a 50,000 word novel in a month alongside my mighty NaNoWriMo brothers and sisters.
Looking back on this near-total failure, I can run through a list of excuses, all of which might be equal parts valid and spurious. I promise not to bore you with the list, especially since very few of those items are appropriate for this venue or to the subject for writing SF and fantasy, or writing and publishing in general. I’m not interested in the excuses for not writing it, I’m more interested in the reason, or reasons I didn’t write it. Excuses are things you make up to hide or detract from the reason you did or didn’t do something. And this is a good opportunity to reflect on the idea of self-imposed deadlines, work ethic, productivity, and the creative process. Kind of a big subject, actually, but worth taking a pass at it.
I’ve admitted here at Fantasy Author’s Handbook to having some trouble keeping to self-imposed deadlines, and it was this difficulty I was hoping NaNoWriMo might help offset. That’s really the spirit of it, isn’t it? We all have the same deadline, same word count—let’s go! And it actually should have worked. I really meant what I said about being excited about my idea, and rough as they are, those 3683 words are a good start—I like what I have so far and have at least been thinking about it, occasionally writing it in my head. That’s a fine exercise, by the way, but only really effective if you eventually sit down and type out what you’ve formed in your head. That way your story will be accessible to the thousands of non-telepaths among the general reading community.
So it isn’t that I don’t like the book, that I “lost that lovin’ feelin’,” which has happened. A one-month deadline for a rough 50,000 words is tough, but not impossible, especially since I’m still sans “day job.” Thanksgiving isn’t too intrusive a holiday—really can’t blame anything on that.
What I had originally hoped to do was finish the urban fantasy novel I’ve already been working on too long now by Halloween then move directly to 7° in November, spend December rewriting, etc.—but then I didn’t finish the urban fantasy, so I started the NaNoWriMo book without the clear head you really need to have in order to plunge into that intense a writing experience. That sounds like a lame excuse, I know, but I have to defend it a little at least.
Any creative endeavor, especially one you care about and that you want to be good, deserves the lion’s share of your attention. I’ve only recently acquired the ability to read more than one book at a time (not simultaneously, mind you, but switching off . . . you know what I mean) so forgive me if I’m not quite at the write-two-novels-at-the-same-time stage. Had I applied myself to the urban fantasy and finished it in time I would have finished the NaNoWriMo book. Or would I?
If I had run through the rest of the urban fantasy, probably right up to October 31, would I be burned out? Unable to write effectively for at least a week? Maybe. That’s not unusual after finishing a book. That’s when you get to all that goofy stuff you’ve been putting off while you drag that draft across the finish line. It probably would have been smarter to finish the urban fantasy more like October 15.
But then I’d really hoped to finish it more like September 1, so if wishes were horses. . . .
And November is a tough month anyway, isn’t it? It is for me. Up here in the northerly latitudes around Seattle it’s night at 4:45 in the afternoon, and it’s been raining (or snowing, even) a lot. Even as I type this, at 2:30 in the afternoon on Monday the 29th, it’s basically twilight outside because the clouds are so thick. I have more energy, in general, in the summer. NaNoWriMo should be in July. The 4th of July holiday is no more intrusive than Thanksgiving, and it stays light later, is mostly sunny most of the time, even in Seattle, but then the kids are home, and we could go to the beach, and other excuses.
Still haven’t nailed down the reason among the excuses. Please tell me that it’s not because there’s no money at the end of it. I don’t want that to be true. I want to think I can still write for the joy of it—I’ve advised people over and over to write for anything but the money. That’s what I mean by “self-imposed” deadlines. There’s no one at the end of this month waving a check in my face, or threatening to rip one up. Maybe that’s why writing has been slipping down the to do list after stuff like, y’know, get a job, start a business, or in general just “monetize Phil.”
I started thinking maybe NaNoWriMo should offer $100 to the first person to finish 50,000 words with the caveat that that person has to send it to the next person who finishes, so it’s not real money you get to keep but a sort of virtual advance. But then everyone would just hold off finishing, trying to be the last one done on the assumption that the last person to finish gets to keep the money. That’s a terrible idea.
No, it’s better that we write a novel because we want to, for the pure love of the creative process.
And if we can do that, do we need fake deadlines, much less fake advances? Can’t we all just write our own books at our own pace, being happy with our own progress based on our own expectations of ourselves?
I can’t, but everybody else ought to. I just came out of fifteen deadline-intensive years, and I guess it’s going to take me more than five months to stop holding myself to unfair work ethic standards.
Anyway, the work ethic has moderated, now I have to start learning how to not feel guilty about it.