Fail?

I have given up (for now).

I am not going to make it to 50,000 words by the end of the day. I am not going to even get close. My word count sits at 30,194 at this point. I may add another thousand by day’s end, but it was clear more than a week ago that it just wasn’t going to happen this year.

 – Begin excuse portion – 

I don’t have any valid excuses, but here is what seems to have happened. Some of the excitement was gone this year. You can never recapture that first-time rush, that panic, pain and ecstasy. Since I was successful last year, I knew I could do it again this time. And somehow, knowing that I could succeed took some of the motivation away. I wasn’t working without a net.

In fact there were too many nets. I wanted to make this one different. There had to be more characters, more stories intertwining. I wanted the story to be more distant from my own experience. I wanted a book I could actually describe in a synopsis and make it sound interesting.

I don’t know if you could call it a sophomore slump when your first effort wasn’t a hit, but it felt like a slump nonetheless. I hit a personal rough patch mid-month, and lost all motivation. Nothing dramatic happened – no family crisis, no health problems, no accident that broadsides you on a random Tuesday – it was just a confluence of things that sent me spiraling.

This time around, I had more of an idea of where the story was going. This should have made it easier, but it did take away from some of the excitement of discovery. There are still many things that came to me in the moment, but somehow the scenes that I had planned a bit ahead of time were harder to start. There is sort of a fear that I won’t be able to pull them off.

But of course I can’t pull anything off that I don’t start.

 – End of excuse portion – 

I may have failed to reach the 50,000 mark within the 30 day challenge, but I will finish this book. Though I haven’t read it yet, I think there is something there, there. The pressure of a deadline forces me to sit down and write whether I feel creative or not, but I need to be able to do that on my own any month of the year if I want to continue to have this be a part of who I am.

I am digging my way out of the slump I fell into. Though I am disappointed I did not pull off the NaNoWriMo challenge this year, I do not consider 30,000 words a failure. Beating myself up over it (as tempting as that is for me) will not make me any more motivated.

I will get inspired again. I will sit my butt in the chair and write. I will finish what I started.

Just not today.

Different but the same

Different novel, same story.

The first week of NaNoWriMo went relatively well. I sat down at the computer on a regular basis, and met my daily word count. The characters that had been bouncing around in my head were now taking life on paper. They were talking, they were fighting, they were going places.

On day six I was within a couple hundred words of that graph line that leads to 50,000 words. Then I plateaued again. Last year I was out of town for several days in the second week, and wrote nothing. This time I had no excuse. I had time, I had a quiet household to write in, and yet I stalled just the same.

Doubt and over-thinking moved in and chased creativity out. I struggled to type anything. I think what I am writing is more polished than the first draft last year, but it is only because I am taking so (too) long with it. I have lost the panicked abandon of just getting anything down on paper. After several rewrites of the first novel, I am too self-critical this time around. I hover too long over every word and paragraph.

I have a much better idea of where the story is going this time around, but that doesn’t seem to help. I keep those plot points safely out in the distance, worried about how I am going to pull them off. Like last year, I am counting on things developing as I write. And they are developing slowly.

But there are good things happening. I will finish this thing. Even if I don’t make it to 50,000 words by the end of the month. But I am hoping for some of the late month magic that happened last time. To get to the point in the story where it takes off and the words come more easily.

I haven’t given up.

What to write?

Last year, I started with little more than an opening paragraph. I wrote my way into the story and figured it out on the way. I did have the physical structure of a road trip to lead me along, and that helped the story to move forward.

Share the Road was a man vs man sort of novel. I like the way the book turned out, but it is a relatively simple plot with only a few characters. I wanted to write a more typical novel this time around. More characters and story lines. But what to write about this time?

I was wrapped up in the last book for most of the year, but wondering what I would do next was lurking in the back of my mind. As November approached, I was starting to panic. I had nothing.

One morning, I was listening to a podcast on the way to work. The Seattle affiliate of NPR does a show with Nancy Pearl, a librarian worthy of her own action figure. She discusses books once a month, usually under a tenuous theme, though they go off on tangents when they present themselves.

I don’t remember the theme of the particular podcast, but it had me in the literary mind as I drove. Then I saw something in the car next to me that sparked an idea. It started to spin into something over the next 15 miles. It was something. Finally.

I wrote some things down in the first few days after the spark, but little later. I wanted to be better prepared this time. I wanted to do a little planning, maybe draw up a rough outline of how the story would progress. But the story sat tucked away in the back of my head, safe from any active work.

As is typical, I crammed for finals. I still didn’t plan out the book in outline form, but I at least thought about the characters, their histories and their motivations. Sticking with On Writing as my guide, I plan to let them discover their own story.

Hopefully they have some good ideas.

Challenge (to myself) accepted

I have taken on the challenge of NaNoWriMo again this year. For those unfamiliar, NaNoWriMo is shorthand for National Novel Writing Month. We are so busy writing that we don’t have time to say the whole thing. And it is a fun, nonsensical word to say over and over.

As the website describes it:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000 word, (approximately 175 page) novel by 11:59:59, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time last year. Like so many, I have wanted to be a writer for much of my life, but never took the plunge beyond school papers and four years of blogging. A close friend signed up last year and encouraged me to do the same. And I am better for it.

It was a struggle as detailed in previous posts, but at around noon on November 30, 2010, I had 50,213 words toward a novel that would eventually be titled, “Share the Road”. After more writing, and a few rounds of editing and revision, I am planning on self-publishing it by the end of the year.

Without the time crunch of the self-inflicted deadline, made to a website I had never heard of before, I may never have written anything of length. I am thankful for NaNoWriMo and all the tips and encouragement of the community. And to my friend that gave me the shove I needed.

I am a procrastinator. I need a deadline. 50,000 words in 30 days forces me to sit down in front of the computer, whether I am feeling creative or not. I am not as disciplined the rest of the year, but the month of frantic writing and the resulting novel was an exciting experience. As difficult as it is, I have enjoyed the rewrites, and I am proud to have written a novel. If it never happened again, I would have something to point to. And that would be great.

But I want it to happen again. To see if I can capture it again. To see if it was more than a fluke. To keep writing as a part of my life.

A new year, a new novel. I would love to keep that rhythm going for the rest of my life. And NaNoWriMo gives me the kick in the butt to sit my butt down and write.

It starts again tomorrow.