Billy Mack: Very bad indeed... But I'm hoping for a late surge.
I've been here before, and I've made some realizations: The month doesn't mean to me what it did before. That does't mean I should abandon it, but it does mean NaNoWriMo and I need to analyze our relationship and figure out where we're going and how we can make this work if we're going to remain a couple.
I'm developing a love/loathe relationship with NaNoWriMo.
When I first heard of the whole NaNoWriMo shindig, I was fresh off of a major personal defeat: I had just chosen to leave law school in the middle of my first semester. Lawyering = Not For Me. While I knew I was doing the right thing for my mental and physical health and my long term happiness, if not my bank account -- at the time I was frequently heard saying "Being able to afford a really good therapist isn't reason enough to put myself in therapy" -- but the truth was: I was disappointed with myself.
I'm (not) a quitter.
Brilliant. A challenge that will break down what I want to do (be a writer) into daily goals (today, write approximately 1,700 words). Fantastic.
Except it was (then) already halfway through November and I only had a half-assed story concept/plot that I'd been nudging around the edge of my plate for the past four years. That's when I discovered there was a similar but smaller community doing the same challenge in January.
I spent the month of December planning -- location, character concepts, how to strand two characters in a rural cabin in the dead of winter -- and researching. Hey, how can I cause a pickup truck to be completely undriveable but not injure anyone, oh, and there aren't any other cars involved? Answer: High-center it on a culvert and crack something in the undercarriage that causes fluid to leak out. Although I can't remember if it was gasoline or transmission fluid the truck was supposed to be leaking. Anyway, one guy in the middle of a snow storm isn't going to be able to get a truck that's been high-centered on a ditch culvert back on the road by himself, so I think the leaking fluid was just added angst.
I spent the month of January with a burning desire to accomplish something. To prove myself. To prove to myself that I was not a quitter. That quitting law school was an anomaly, not a character trait.
And I did it.
Love's first bloom.
Not long after that, I heard back from the MFA programs I had applied to -- applications constructed in a mad dash between leaving law school and the program deadlines. I was going to grad school. Achievement unlocked.
Since that first January of NaNoWriMo-style Triumph, I have attempted the feat another ten times, but only succeeded once more. Much of this I could reasonably blame on grad school -- November is a hellish crunch in higher ed. But when I've tackled non-November WriMos, or in the Novembers since I happily left academia, I still find myself mid-month, behind, and hoping for a late surge.
The impossibility of the 'Late Surge.'
I was also being egged on by an extremely supportive parent at whose house I was staying for Thanksgiving weekend, which happened to coincide.
But I've never repeated that feat. Not intentionally. Not when I was measuring. And like a junkie, I'm itching for another score . . . but I'm also the world's laziest junkie as it hasn't bothered me in the, oh, four or five year interim that I've not experienced said high. I always think I can get it, but I procrastinate early in the month because I'm "recovering" and then get uber-lazy right about now (ten days until NaNoWriMo's end). Who needs a late surge? I certainly don't.
Can you be simultaneously addicted and too lazy to score? Probably not. At least if I were writing this story, I would have to say that it went against pathology.
The poison's in the planning. Or is it?
They are real. But not me-real.
Me-real means that I've got eight projects going and hopes, HOPES, plans, GIGANTIC PLANS, that they will all be done by October 31. Work projects, personal projects, food-making projects. And here I am canning applesauce on October 31 with two novels un-editing and an anthology limping along, and damnit who are these costumed children ringing my doorbell!!!
Come to think of it, I don't have a doorbell.
Point is, best laid plans. Good intentions. Hell-bound hand-baskets. November dawns, and I am nothing but tired. I've finished a few, maybe three, maybe five of my intended projects, but not the full eight. So I wake up on November 1 more tired than hopeful. But it's NaNoWriMo, for crying out loud, so I push through Day One with a smile on my face. And I almost push through Day Two. And by Day Three if I don't get a damn break soon I'm going to bite someone's head off.
That's more or less when things go south.
Three days in and I'm crying uncle. Oh, I'm well-intentioned. After a few days rest from all of my planning preparations I'll be good to go.
Of course I will.
Who am I kidding? The harbinger of NaNoWriMo death has already left the building.
Let's be honest: 1,700 words-a-day is nothing for a professional writer.
[Insert various quotables from known authors here on inspiration vs perspiration. Done, yet? Good. Moving on.]
I've been doing other things lately so the writing hasn't been happening daily. But a professional writer writes every day. She may not accomplish the same number of words or pages each day, but each day there is an accomplishment. How does she do this? Practice. Habit. Force of habit. Discipline. Persistence. Yadda, yadda. Other similar entries from the thesaurus.
They say it takes 21 days of repetition to make a practice a habit. So in theory, NaNoWriMo could make writing a habit . . . so long as you don't break the habit. That's all I wanted. I wanted to get back in the habit of writing regularly so that I could accomplish my writing goals. But I'm using NaNoWriMo as an excuse. An excuse to wait to start the habit, an excuse to build the habit, and an excuse not to start the habit (hey, there's still two weeks left!).
I think our relationship has shifted. NaNoWriMo and I aren't the same people we used to be. I no longer feel I need to prove myself, at least not to NaNo. Honestly, here. Since my first NaNoWriMo, I've finished grad school and earned an MFA, I've graduated from the Odyssey Writing Workshop, I've published my first short story, my first professional sale, my first audio sale, I've started a small business, I've published 24 titles and counting as Editor-in-Chief of World Weaver Press. I am not the uncertain-of-her-pen woman I used to be. And the challenge NaNoWriMo presents . . . well, I'm aware that it's nothing. Nothing compared to what a professional writer does in her daily life. No, I'm not yet at that professional-writer pace. But do I really need NaNo standing over my shoulder one month of the year when the eleven other months out there are the difference between "personal one-month best" and "hey, girl, this is your career"?
Deadlineitis: a condition and a cure.
You see, my father has a career which involves publishing scientific articles and contributing chapters to books, and he's become fairly well known among the editors of these books as someone who writes well, but will never make the deadline you give him. He gets worse when his friends in the field are also behind on their deadlines for the same publication because they're in communication on the fact that they're all behind, which makes my father's submission even later. The "effectiveness" for a given deadline is that he starts work on the project either just before the deadline or after it's passed. Either way, it's not completed "on time."
Significantly younger than my parent (aren't most of us?), my Deadlineitis has not yet progressed to such an extreme. Or has it?
In high school and undergrad, I cannot even begin to count the number of projects that were started the week of, or the night before they were due. In grad school, my symptoms worsened, and while I'd read my source material in the days and weeks prior, and took notes, I wouldn't start writing the damn assignment until the morning on the day it was actually due. Horrific, no?
And let's not forget the sheer ineffectiveness of self-imposed deadlines. Ha! They're not laws or rules, they're more like guidelines. And I've seen Pirates of the Caribbean; I know that no one obeys guidelines unless they want to obey guidelines. Pfft.
My father, recognizing that he was at fault a similarity in our styles, has on this very day offered me the chance to create deadlines that he will uphold for me and I will uphold for him. We will write to prove ourselves to the other because when we try to prove our self to our selves . . . we really don't give a flying frog salute, because, hey, we totally okay wit bein green down here in da swamp. So I will deliver 5,000 words of story to him by end of month -- reasonable, given that I'll be hosting family for Thanksgiving during that time. And 12,000 words of story by December 10. And I will have finished story by Christmas night (story should be 20,000 words) and have done a polish by December 31. These are goals I like. Goals I can achieve. Goals that aren't so lax that I blow them off in favor of multiple K-drama marathons. Goals that aren't so strict that I freak out and have to relieve pressure via multiple K-drama marathons.
In the end, this is the new standard, the new stick, the new challenge I will hold myself to. Not the one of internet fandom, internet cheerleaders, and ultimately, internet anonymity. Because the thing about NaNoWriMo is, if you're doing badly, it's easy, too easy, to slink into the shadows and let it be forgotten that you ever tried and failed.