Tag Archives: writing

Why I failed NaNoWriMo 2011


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Here is my sad story. But it has a happy ending, so read on.

There were a couple of things I did wrong in preparation for National Novel Writing Month 2011, the main one being that I didn’t really prepare at all. Sure, I had come up with a few ideas to choose from in October:

  1. Last year’s unfinished project.
  2. A story idea I’d been kicking around for 20+ years.
  3. A short story idea that I felt would cork in longer form.
  4. An idea that was nothing more than a neat-sounding title. Why not?

Why not? In order:

  1. Unfinished project: Maybe it was unfinished for a reason! I scratched this one off the list pretty quickly.
  2. Story idea 20+ years old: I actually think the idea is fine but the story is beyond the scope of a 50,000 word 30 day dash, which I will get to in more detail shortly.
  3. Expanding the short story: the idea is a good one but it requires research. Too much research (see #2).
  4. The neat-sounding title: Yeah, I’m going to write a 50,000 word novel in one month based on nothing more than a neat title. In a fever dream, perhaps.

And thus problem #1: not enough preparation.

November also turned out to be Health Hell Month for me or HHM as I like to call it. When I went to dinner at a friend’s I mentioned I’d been experiencing a sudden health issue. The first word out of her mouth: “Prostate?” Yes, I am a man in his mid-to-late 40s. Yes, the frigging prostate. And then other ailments followed, minor but annoying and I found myself taking a mix of antibiotics (the ones I’m not allergic to), anti-inflammatory agents and dealing with discomfort, outright pain and when everything finally seemed to be mending back together I caught a nasty cold.

Problem #2, then: stupid body.

Another significant issue I had was trying to fit my ideas to the format, the main reason for the deaths of ideas #2 and #3 as outlined above. I didn’t want to write an epic that would go on for 200,000 words then consider myself a NaNo winner when I completed the first 50,000. I have no problem with others doing this, but it wouldn’t work for me. I needed something that could be written quickly, succinctly and with the ending reached before November 30th. My 2009 project was perfect for this — some people get on a late-night ferry, monsters hop on board and a night of snacking and horror follows. Simple, direct. None of the ideas I latched onto this year fit into a tidy little box like the ferry ride of doom. My ideas were too ambitious, effectively sabotaging my effort before I had even started writing. Sure, I might have pulled off one of them somehow if I had persevered but the chance of that happening was pretty slim.

Problem #3 can be thus be thought of as having square pegs and a whole lot of round holes.

I had suspended work on the second draft of my 2009 novel to work on NaNoWrMo 2011 and in that first week of November I found myself wishing I was working on that instead of flailing about with the current contest. This is not the mindset of a successful NaNoian.

And so it was that my mind and body, working together, defeated my attempt to write a slapdash novel in 30 days. And that’s not such a bad thing, really. National Novel Writing Month is a great way for a would-be writer to light a fire under his butt, to get that motivation going, to get into that very simple habit of writing every day, instilling discipline and reveling in the sheer joy of banging out words. But in a way I think I’m already there and this year’s NaNoWriMo came as a distraction. I didn’t need it.

Perhaps I’m just rationalizing my failure but I am confident I don’t need NaNoWriMo anymore as a tool to get me starting to write. I’m already there. How about NaNoWriMo as nothing more than a fun way to crank out a quick book? Sure. But that’s not what I wanted to do during the 30 days of November. And so I didn’t. Not in the way I might have planned, of course, but the destination was the same in the end.

I look forward to continuing to write, whether it’s forum posts, this blog, a short story or a novel. And maybe next year if I really want to write a quickie novel, NaNoWriMo 2012 will be there for me and I’ll use my foreknowledge to actually plan properly. Assuming the Mayans were wrong, of course.

NaNoWriMo 2011 update number deux -or- Not going with the Titanic metaphor (this time)


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A funny thing happened on the way to the word processor.

My clever plan to use this weekend to pad out my word count on my NaNoWriMo novel, which I shall henceforth call my NaNovel because the insufferable cuteness of the term beats out having to type NaNoWriMo novel all the damn time, lay in ruins, to writing what the Hindenburg was to safe dirigible travel.

Today, while recovering from the various things that caused me to not write over the past 48 hour period, I picked up a copy of Scrivener,  “a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents.” The blurb on the Scrivener site goes on to say “While it gives you complete control of the formatting, its focus is on helping you get to the end of that awkward first draft.” Awkward, yes. That is a good way to describe the situation I now find myself in.

I impressed myself by actually working methodically through the entire set of Scrivener tutorials (I tend to start skimming/skipping ahead with these things) but am uncertain this will help me with my current NaNovel. It will almost certainly prove helpful for The Mean Mind, the great unwritten novel that has existed in outline form and in my noggin for the better part of 20 years due to its epic scale and large cast of characters.

I shall write more on Scrivener as I start to make use of it.

For this month’s contest, however, I have to consider a few facts. I have a little over 5,000 words written for The Dream of the Buckford Church, the expansion of the short story I chose to pursue on Day 2. Today is Day 7 and that puts me about 6670 words behind. Yikes. To make that up over the next week I’d have to up my daily word count from 1667 to around 2620. That’s actually fairly feasible if I’m fully invested in what I’m writing.

Unfortunately I’m not convinced that I’m any more enthused about expanding Buckford Church than I was on adapting my short story idea for The Capitol Dome into a novel. With 23 days left I feel I must make a decision and act on it tomorrow. If I don’t it’s probably best to cut my losses early and go back to editing The Ferry. Oh the drama.