Failure To Launch: My NaNoWriMo Experience

failure to launch

It seems so long ago, now. It was November 1 that I announced my intention to participate in the National Novel Writing Month project: an attempt to write a functional first draft of a novel in one month. 50,000 words. 30 days. Piece of cake, right?

And now, I sit at my desk, 14 days removed from last writing anything at all. November is behind me, my path forward lit only by the flickering embers of my dream of writing a whole novel in one month.

So, what the heck happened?

That Which Burns Brightest…

It didn’t seem like an unreasonable idea. I write a pretty substantial amount in any given month. So, I thought, why not turn that effort into focus on a single project? Turn my attention to one project with a laser-like focus, ignoring all other distractions, and complete a first draft.

I announced my intentions and signed up at nanowrimo.org. I even built a Tumblr page to log my daily activity.

Then, on November 1, I started, full of fire and enthusiasm.

At the end of Day 1, I was about 1,500 words in. A little short, maybe, but I was on my way. Day 2 was similar. Day 3 I had seriously slowed down, and was looking forward to a group meeting of fellow NaNo writers, who I thought would give me a hand and some encouragement.

The meeting was…not exactly what I expected.

Now, I will be the first to tell you that you have to be responsible for your own journey in life. You can’t count on others to provide your motivation or your effort. But, surely, a little camaraderie was not too much to expect?

Instead, I found a group of people who were all long-time veterans of NaNoWriMo. Some had participated 3, or 5, or even 7 years in a row. Encouraged, I asked how many of these books had been published.

A bit of a faux pas, as it turned out.

Apparently, by the tenets of the group I visited, the point wasn’t to publish a book. Oh, heavens, no! It was to write a book. And, then, apparently, to lock it away where no one would ever read it.

When I confessed that I had just published my first book in September, the temperature dropped. “Self-published, I suppose?” asked one of my fellow NaNoers.

When I confessed that, no, I had been published by a real, live publisher, the temperature dropped all the way to glacial. Conversations immediately formed in groups around me. I felt like the last kid to be picked at recess.

I have always thought the point of telling a story was to share it with others. My opinion wasn’t shared by this group, and I left early, feeling uncomfortable and isolated. And with no new ideas or motivation.

…Burns Out Fastest

Discouraged, the next day I went to my #1 advisor: Lor. I confessed to having run out of “creative juice” only 3 days into the process. She pointed out that I had a perfectly good idea for a Fantasy novel that I had been sitting on for over a year. Why was I not using that premise, instead of this entirely new one?

Well, because that felt somehow like I would be cheating? I should come up with an entirely new idea for this project, right?

Returning to my tale of woe from the previous night, she asked me: was the idea to follow a set of self-imposed rules, or to tell a story I wanted to tell?

Stung by the (all too correct) comparison to the folks I had complained about the night before. I pulled out my notes and got to work.

Despite my new motivation, it was still rough going. I would sneak in 250 words here and there, between other jobs. I had edits to read. Web pages to be updated. Blog posts to write. Even some honest-to-goodness contract work to be done.

And, of course, about 10 days into the project, my muse raised her head. The time I should have been spending working on NaNo was suddenly being spent working on the sequel to Inheritance.

Crash And Burn

As of Day 16, I had only managed 21,286 words on my NaNo project. Several of my acquaintances and mentors were already done with their projects.

I have not mentioned that, through all this, I had been having intermittent problems with my PC. Random power outages, strange graphics slowdowns, and the like. I finally took the thing apart and determined that the graphics card was overheating. Bidding adieu to my ability to run anything over the level of Facebook games, I pulled out the graphics card and got back to work on about the 10th of the month.

On the 17th of the month, the true problem revealed itself – my power supply gave out completely. I now realized that intermittent voltage from the power supply had first fried my video card. I now had no source of power for my PC and no way to replace it.

It was Thanksgiving week anyway. I dusted my hands of the whole problem and resolved to continue writing with a stylus and my Kindle after the holiday was over.

On the 21st I received my weekly Grammarly report. Apparently, I had worked on 78,000 words the previous week. About 7K of which was part of my project.  On Twitter, I lamented that I could totally be kicking this writing project’s ass if I could just stop writing other stuff.

Holiday Malaise

The icing on the cake turned out to be the holiday weekend. My grand-niece was suffering from a sinus infection during the festivities. By the end of the holiday three-quarters of the family had contracted it – including Lor and me.

This was not an “oh, I have the sniffles, I should man up” kind of thing. This was an “oh my God, my head is pounding, I can’t breathe, and it hurts to move” kind of thing. And it completely destroyed my productivity all the way into the first days of December.

So, my totals for the project:

5,000 words in my first, aborted project.

21,000 words in the “official” project

6,000 words in outline and scene sketching for the sequel to Inheritance

130,000 words in “other” stuff.

For a grand total of 165,000 words for the month. With no activity whatsoever for the last week of November, breaking my streak of producing something creative every week at 19 weeks.

The Discomfort of a Moral Victory

So, instead of having a completed novel to show off, I have to be content with the fact that I produced enough content for 3 draft novels instead.

Except I am not content at all, of course. I wanted to, in the words of my fellow author Martin McConnell, #finishthedamnbook.

But, I didn’t. Such is life.

I now have a new set of responsibilities to start working on. The sequel to Inheritance needs to be worked up through December, and be ready to be peer edited and prepped for serialization by January. I have tons of work that I skipped the last 10 days to make up. And, you know, holidays, family gatherings, blogs, advice, etc.

At least I am not doing it on a tablet with a stylus. My family was able to come up with an old retired laptop that I could use. So I am counting my blessings for their generosity.

So, what about the abandoned fantasy project sitting there at 21,000 words?

I’ll stick it in a metaphorical drawer, I suppose. And, who knows? Maybe it will still be there next November.

Is It Cheating To Start NaNoWriMo 2018 With A Headstart?

Jeremy