Monday, November 14, 2011

Remember That Time I Tried to Write That Novel?

Sometimes, I tell people I am a writer.

This is true in a really literal way, sure. I am a writer in the same way I am a breather, or a blinker, or a walker. I have written things. Countless things.  Diaries, emails, grocery lists, to-do's, and yes- sometimes poems and short stories. I have long held this teensy little dream of being a novelist, but have never been able to get farther than 120 pages into a story, and have certainly never come to any conclusion with any of them. Either plot-wise, nor public-wise.

I always described my dad as a poet by heart and a housepainter/firefighter by trade. I suppose his daughter is a storyteller by heart and a residency coordinator by trade.  I have a small library of books intended to motivate someone to finish a book. They have all succeeded... in reminding me how hard I fail at finishing this seemingly simple task.

Even right now, I am 20,000 words behind a writing challenge. That's a literary fuck-ton of words, right there. Am I working to rectify this? Um, unless you have inabilities to put concepts together (and my apologies to those with that disorder...), you have figured out that I am writing a blog, instead of catching up on my 20,000 words. Halfway through the challenge, I believe this is what one calls, "giving up." Or rather, "giving up again." Because I've been here before. Three times, in fact.

In 2005, I checked out Chris Baty's book, "No Plot, No Problem."  I was intrigued by it's claim that I could write a stress-free 50,000 word novel in 30 days. It seemed insane, yet doable. After reading it, I decided to take the the next 30 days, and try it. It wasn't November, but April, 2005, and I got about 11,000 words into it before a work change, a kindergartener, and a crushing bout of writer's block brought on by forgetting where I was in the story and growing tired of my main character forced my hand into committing literary infanticide.

For the next few years, I was busy writing my own story by way of living it, but by 2009, I had heard that Baty had started an online crew of writers, who were doing this whole, "One novel, one month" thing together, under the name NaNoWriMo.  which is a completely silly break down of National Novel Writing Month. Which occurs in November. You know, when we all spend all of our time Christmas shopping. Or personally, when my work kicks into overdrive. Also of note in November, it gets dark and cold. These things make it hard for me to write a novel.

Recognizing a "begging-off" excuse when I hear one (even from myself!), I jumped into the fray in 2009. And tanked about halfway through. I had a killer novel that I actually loved. I got 27,000 words into it, and then I missed a week due to random busy-ness. Realizing that I could never catch up from there, I gave up. I started turning on my story, deciding that zombies were passe (of course they're passe- they were only new in the 60's when first introduced.)

In 2010, newly single, I decided to give it another shot. I logged on to the NaNo site and registered. I loved the little progress meter and the ability to see where my friends were with their projects.  I also started with a plan this time. To avoid the forgetting characters, and to fool myself into writing many short stories, I decided to have a main story that unfolded via several smaller, seemingly unrelated vignettes. I got about 12,000 words into it, before my dating life shot into gear and I gave up writing for socializing. Fail number 3.

This year, I started with no idea what I would write. I had a strategy that I would keep track of characters with an ingenious system using Flickr's ability to tag and cross-reference. I assigned each character a picture, and tagged them with words that I could call upon if I needed a refresher. It was a brilliant system. I revived the "Several short story in a bigger novel" structure, in the hopes that that would keep me able to bite up chunks of wordage. The new boyfriend was fully recruited as a cheerleader and even found me awesome spots to write, and drove me to the midnight write-in on November 1st. I started carrying my laptop with me, in case I found myself somewhere I could chill for a few hours and bang out a story. I typed and typed, not giving a second thought to what I was even typing. Plot? Who needs a plot?!  Characters? Does it matter that they are poorly fleshed out and have no discernible reason to exist? Psh!

And then week two happened to me. Sudden, total brain lock. A dark cloud the likes that I hadn't seem in years rolled over and prevented me from even desiring to work on anything- not brushing my teeth, or feeding myself, or even opening my eyes more than a slit. I had just enough energy to go to work, come home, climb under my blanket on my couch and console myself with Rachel Maddow and uber-liberal political discourse. I am currently at 5,000 words, halfway through the month. And I think, waving my white flag.

There's always 2012....


  1. We don't fail. We simply set our own goals for NaNoWriMo! Why 50,000 words? Who made Chris Baty God?
    So, you did it! Our goal for the year was 5,000 words by Nov. 15th!

  2. 5,906 (if you include this writing about not writing)

  3. 2008, my first year of NaNo, was the only year I finished. I didn't LOVE my novel, but I liked it. In 2009 I got the swine flu. I started a good one in 2010, but let grief and work get in the way. Now in 2011, I started a story I love, but moving killed any progress I had made in the short 768 words. I have vowed, however, to take the latest novel back up in December, when Mr D is back at work, and I have nice quiet time at home alone. Will I finish? Your guess is as good as mine!

    And FWIW, I think of you as Fictionista forever and always...

  4. Oh man. I just typed a killer comment and then somehow backspaced to a previous post with a misplaced finger, and lost it ALL. :( WEEEEEOOOOOOOOOOO! I am so mad right now!!!

    Anyway, I guess the essence was this: big mad love to you for trying. :)

    And: on the upside of things (since you kinda seem to be focused more on the failures in this post), what good things have you learned from even trying? What have you learned that is positive about you and your writing process? What is it that you see yourself as capable of doing in the process?

    And also, I think of you as Fictionista forever and always, too. :)

    (It's not the beautiful blomment I had been working on, but it'll do. *sigh*)