On Winning NaNoWriMo. Or, Why That Wasn’t My Goal This November.

medium_12850434815 I signed up for NaNoWriMo this year, same as last year, but the difference this year was I gave myself the freedom to lose. And did, with an abysmal showing of 12,383 words. A meager offering for a month — any month — I quickly realized this November would not, could not be about word count.

On November 3rd I turned Thirty.

On November 5th my grandmother passed away.

I had setbacks in the publishing game. I made progress. I rode that roller coaster and tried not to lose my lunch.

I did write. Whenever I could muster it. Whenever I had a chance. Yet…12,383.

I started late. I wrote my first words of the month on my actual birthday, but those words ended up being all wrong. Not because they were of the shitty first draft variety (though, realistically they were that as well), but because it was the wrong book. 3,000 words in the crapper.

I didn’t write everyday. There are many days not during NaNoWriMo when I do not write, for whatever reason and usually because I am taking care of other life business that comes with being a mom, a wife, and part of a community. But even those days I am thinking about the words. There were many days this November when I could not think about the words. Loss has a way of confining your thoughts. There were more days spent staring out the window with tea, or talking to family, or feeling aimless, floaty, sinking. It wasn’t just the missing person — my grandma’s non-presence had created a hole, but it wasn’t just that. I was taking a long sigh in, exhaling slowly.

I couldn’t muster the need to compete. The manuscript I started this month is based on a screenplay I wrote in my early twenties. Because of my history with the project, I had a certain ownership right out the gate, an unwillingness to give this project away, to just write it so I’d have another potential book to query.

I refused to ignore the Muse when she came calling. I woke up November 24th with a burning desire to finish the screenplay I began writing last year. The desire was so strong that I actually outlined — a dirty ugly word in my world. I planned out the scenes and began nailing them down. It stole my focus and refused to return it. I didn’t fight it.

I spent time with my son and my husband, with my family and my friends. I watched movies and read books. I loved things deeply this November. There is something to be said for casting off your cloak of ambition to cuddle under the blanket of all you’ve already been blessed with. When someone dies, it is normal to feel sadness, to cling tight to your dear ones, but it can be even more normal to recede. I couldn’t do that. My son is growing up fast. Already he watches older boys for cues on how to be grown up, already he crushes on pretty girls and dreams of having one to buy flowers for and give kisses to, already he is changing. Still he will hug me now, kiss my cheek, cry on my shoulder and for how much longer will that last? By next November he might not want to climb in bed with me because he’s scared.

I couldn’t fight just being. I wrote for myself, for the thrill of discovery, for the love of story. Publishing is a fickle creature, a flash of teeth capable of ripping out your throat. Publishing is not why I write. I want it, desperately, compulsively, but never do I want only that. If there were no market for my manuscripts, I would still tell those stories to myself. I would still love the craft. I would still be a writer. I wrote that way, this November.

I believe NaNoWriMo has merit. It forces you to start, it compels you to keep placing your fingers to the keys even when your hands are made of lead. I do not believe you have to write 50,000 words to Win. As a competitive individual, a person driven and focused and uninterested in bullshit procrastination, this is hard for me to admit. But winning, it just isn’t everything. It just isn’t always actually winning at all.

This November I rebelled. I won.

What’s Up Wednesday: The Still Recovering From NaNo Edition

I have a long standing ill-fated, unattractive relationship with the month November. This year alone I wrote two blog posts on it (can be read here and here if so inclined), and I’m still not sure how I faired.

Then there was NaNoWriMo and my own foolish ambition. I wish I was one of those people who had a well-crafted gracious loser face.

graciousloser1

Alas, I am not. As the end of November, and NaNo, flew toward me like a wrecking ball, I had already accepted certain NaNo defeat. It looked a lot like this, only not as adorable.

loser

But I was. Or I didn’t write 50,000 words I wrote 30,000 and some change. I didn’t heave a heavy sigh of regret, or gleam with pride, but merely carried on in an almost stoic way. I could have cheated. I have over 50,000 words on the manuscript I was working on for NaNo.

I could have lied and won and be sharing my pretty banner of winning right now instead. But I took the high road. And I thought of my fellow NaNoer’s, and my CPs who were all doing this with me, and I said no to cheating. It looked a lot like this, only  crazier.

21.no

So I managed to enjoy Thanksgiving, even though my head was full of snot and I just wanted to drink some whiskey and go to bed. I contemplated how I could have won NaNo, what I will try to do next year (and probably won’t because the best laid plans…) and how, ultimately it’s just fine.

itsfine

Acceptance is the first step to recovery. Hey, I still wrote 30,000 words in less than a month. There really should be a “participation” award with NaNo. Maybe a giant banner that says, You’re good, just not good enough! and then in the corner Proud NaNoWriMo loser, 2013.

As for What’s Up this Wednesday* with me, a whole lot of pacing myself and blowing my nose.

What I’m Reading: Finished The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas, and ended up loving it way more than I anticipated from the first fifty pages. It took me a while to get into this one, but it was worth the investment. Also, Prince Titus. Yes. I just started Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, and oh my holy mind-meld this book mirrors my late-adolescent self in a very real way and embarrassing way. All those who insisted I read Rainbow Rowell, I give you a well-deserved salute.

What I’m Writing: Wrote my first words of December yesterday, and they felt good. Went back and read through notes and pages from November, constructing a plan to finish this novel in the next month or so. I need workable pages for my Djerassi Retreat in February, so no more slacking! I also began work on a feature length Screenplay. It feels really good to write in this medium again, especially after NaNo. The story is not something I could produce myself, and not fantasy, and not at all what I normally write. Did I mention it feels really good?

What Inspires Me: At the risk of sounding like an asshole, myself. (I’m gonna let that stew for a minute.)

Ok. When I say myself I mean fangirls and boys. People invested in the many varied Fandoms available. People who understand the need to relate to one another through fantasy. This is helped along by Fangirl, and by the screenplay I’m writing, and because all my favorite people are fans.

What Else I’m Up To: Being sick. Cleaning up from hosting Thanksgiving. Decorating for Christmas. Reading to my son. It’s December guys, lets go wassailing.

christmas

*What’s Up Wednesday is a weekly meme geared toward readers and writers, allowing us to touch base with blog friends and let them know what’s up. Should you wish to join us, you will find the link widget at the bottom of Jaime’s blog. WUW Winter Holly 1

Here’s to you, November!

I began this month with a blog post that examined the humbug state of November in years past, and how this November I would break that trend. As I’ve traveled the days of this month, barreling through the hard parts or staring bewilderingly at the shiny moments, I’ve not had a chance to ask myself if those declarations were realized.

Until now.

leslie knope

This month I decided to do NaNoWriMo with every intention of winning, and after 30,000 words, I discovered winning isn’t everything. It’s something, and don’t get me wrong, I’d never kick her out of bed, but in the end playing the game with friends was better than getting hung up in the battle for words I will still be able to write in December.

This month I turned 29 and the world didn’t end. I was Freshly Pressed. I was accepted to a writing retreat and workshop with an author I respect and admire. I flew to Montana and drove to the boundary of Glacier National Park where I visited the Blackfeet Native Americans. On the frozen plain, something in me thawed.

I met the Eleventh Doctor, the Ponds, and River Song (if only virtually). I watched Catching Fire and wasn’t disappointed (an event worth noting as I am accustomed to being underwhelmed.)

I finished shooting a short film that had lived in my imagination so long I was certain it could never become real. This month I decided that sometimes real is better.

This month my husband was so sick he became useless for days, and I confirmed my disinterest in doing any parts of life on my own. This month we had a cement truck, a Bobcat and some very skilled workers outside our house shutting off water and transforming our space.

It’s also the month I fell down the stairs, smacking my head and splitting it open, realizing the fear of a thing is often much more powerful than the thing itself. This month I didn’t die from something senseless, and therefore I became less afraid of dying senselessly.

How do you gage the value of a month, a season, an event? Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and for the first time in my adult life I was the host. To pull off any event with my family where no one brawls, bickers, or breaks the law is considered an achievement. Swept up in the chaos, that joyful unrest, that upheaval of all things routine and ordinary, the day came and was gone before I could even breathe in the blessing of a holiday where no one threatened violence. But that doesn’t mean the blessing wasn’t absorbed, and it doesn’t mean I stop being thankful because yesterday has passed.

One day can’t possibly hold all of our thankfulness for the moment, or contain all of our hope for the future, or heal every blemish from the year behind. To ask a single meal, or moment, or season of tinsel and twinkle lights to work that hard is to assure certain defeat.

November ebbs. I walk away from it with a few war scars, some accolades, promises, and the knowledge that I am woefully inadequate and unfathomably ambitious.

The war over this month is won in small victories and concessions, in turkey dressing and whiskey pudding, in days of showing strength and nights of sobbing into a glass of wine with a time-traveling Madman. It’s found in admitting when you are beat, and letting someone else shoulder your burden. It’s in valuing the joy of losing. It’s in snuggles instead of struggles.

I set out with a plan to keep November from stabbing me in the back, and discovered what I already knew. November will always fight me dirty, biting and scratching and hypothetically hitting me in the crotch. She certainly has a mean right hook. But in the twilight of the month, with much unfinished or given up — as the barmaid wipes the tables down and the piano man plays in the corner — I raise my glass to her, and to her credit, she buys me another round.

What’s Up Wednesday

WUWAutumnWhat’s Up Wednesday is a weekly meme geared toward readers and writers, allowing us to touch base with blog friends and let them know what’s up. Should you wish to join us, you will find the link widget at the bottom of Jaime’s blog.

What I’m Reading

I haven’t been reading as much as I normally do, but I finished The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle last week. It’s not a book I could comfortably recommend to very many people because of the content, though I did have a fun conversation about it with some fellow writers and readers over wine. It’s that kind of book.

I started The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas over the weekend. It has all the elements I love: magic, romance, secrets, danger, a girl dressed up as a boy, a Prince with a mission, etc. I bought this book at Austin Teen Book Fest due to the fabulous book trailer playing in the auditorium before Maggie Stiefvater’s speech. My sister-in-law, Stephanie and I are very susceptible to persuasion involving a Harry Potter reference and fire.

What I’m Writing

My NaNoWriMo project tried to devour my brain last week. My husband was sick and the world around me conspired to keep me from writing. Still, I have cracked the 25,000 mark in total word count…which means I’m still behind. One of my POV characters has taken the reigns of the story and refuses to give them back. I have made notes at points where I might alternate POV again, but right now it feels more important to follow him rather than stifle him.

I have a lot of writing to do this week. I still believe I will “WIN”.

What Inspires Me

Pretty boy pictures. Before you scoff, don’t because at this point in NaNo I need all the help I can get. My sister-in-law has taken it upon herself to send me NaNo inspirations as she discovers them. Yesterday’s picture of Loki, God of Mischief was not only pretty looking but super appropriate for what I was writing at the time.

loki

Writer friends. Receiving presents from my CPs also doing NaNo. Emailing with them about all the crazy. Having Twitter writing parties with them, and many of you clever What’s Up Wednesday bloggers. Writing is a solitary act, which sometimes means the writer gets lost, abandons the work, and feels hopelessly obscure. Being in it together (even virtually) can make all the difference.

Doctor Who. While I was living in New York I watched Doctor’s Nine and Ten. David Tennants departure was more than I could handle. I did not move on to Matt Smith. I was unwilling to see someone else as the Doctor for a long time. When I finally decided I was ready, I couldn’t stream the show from Netflix because we live in the woods and have a bandwidth cap. Hopeless, (and cheap considering the seasons are for sale everywhere) I didn’t know how to carry on. Then I was given the first Matt Smith season for my birthday, and it was all the spark I needed. I have been using Doctor Who as a reward for daily writing. It is going incredibly well. I have fallen in love with Eleven and the Ponds. I want to be just like River Song when I grow up. Also, so far, every day I have used the Doctor as incentive, I have hit my word count goals.

mattsmith

What Else I’m Up To

My husband was sick and since he’s a male he was dying. It took up a lot of my time.

We have construction going on at our house, and have for the last week and a half. They are building a patio and arbor in the back using stamped concrete and beautiful cedar. They’ve built stairs up to the house as well as a sidewalk, in the front. I have mentioned I live in the forest, but to elaborate further, I live in the forest on a hill that is hard for some to get to. We have built stairs to help those with bad knees. I’ll post pictures when it’s finished. Hopefully just in time for Thanksgiving.

Speaking of…we are hosting Thanksgiving. This weekend I am getting together with my Mom and sisters-in-law to make placemats out of craft paper and calligraphy pens before we all watch (swooning epically) The 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who. (Insert mad fangirl giggles and blushing.) Life is certainly sweet.

doctor who

What’s up with you?

NaNoWriMo Week Two at a Glance

So, the shiny, funny Tracey Neithercott posted this comment on my What’s Up Wednesday post yesterday:

Rebecca, here is how you finish:

1. Put on real-people clothes.
2. Leave the house.
3. Head to grocery store and/or back-alley sugar dealer.
4. Buy caramels.
5. Go home.
6. Write.

And it gave me an idea. Here, for you now — and because I’m avoiding my own NaNo project at the moment, hoping it will stop trying to eat my brain if I leave it alone for a minute— is what the end of the second week of NaNoWriMo looks like for some (me):

1. Wake up in the morning after tossing and turning most of the night because you should have written 4,237 words yesterday and you didn’t and you know you should have and so you couldn’t possibly let yourself feel OK about getting the sleep you need to actually write 4,237 words in a day since you didn’t. (Especially when you watched New Girl instead and drank too much non-celebratory champagne before bed. NOTE: In reality, this is probably why you couldn’t sleep.)

2. Make coffee. Check on young son, who is just waking up and looks cozy and miraculous. Lay down with him, thinking he’ll want to cuddle. He really just wants you to fix his Spiderman toy, make him breakfast, sing the ABC’s and explain why the seasons change. Glare at slow brewing coffee.

3. Once son is at school, have more coffee. Listen to inspirational music or watch LIVE! with Kelly and Michael, contemplating your life choices. You could have been a talk show host. You are a great talker. Why did you choose writing? Why do you torture yourself this way? Kelly Rippa probably never tried to write a novel in a month. Kelly Rippa has abs of steel and hair of silk. Make mental note to stop using food as a writing reward.

4. Drink more coffee, this time put in a shot of Bailey’s because it seems necessary and fitting.

5. Write panicky, manic email to CP about all the things in your WiP that scare you. Decide that you will never write another novel if you think it will have to be a series again, especially not another fantasy novel with tons of world building, a detailed plot, and murder. Realize after writing that sentence that sounds very boring indeed and that you want to write big, crazy novels that scare you.

6. Drink more coffee, with more Bailey’s, and then put on a coat and take a walk. (NOTE: You still haven’t written any words, but if you need to you can stay up all night. You can’t rush the muse.)

7. Read email response from CP who won’t let you jump off the ledge, who will hold your hand and guide you back, and who does know exactly what you are up against. She’s feeling the same thing. Every writer trying their hand at NaNo knows how you feel. You take to Twitter, where this is confirmed and together you all decide you will not be beaten, but prevail.

8. Play Eye of the Tiger or We are the Champions on Spotify at an earsplitting volume. Eat a caramel and drink some more coffee because who were you kidding that you weren’t going to use food as a reward?

9. Get down to work.

10. Look at clock — after getting less than 1000 words but being majorly in the groove — realize it’s time to get your son from school. The evening-time dance begins. The muse heads off to the bar, and you decide “Screw her, I’ll be back tonight, and we can share a pot of coffee while she sobers up to inspire again.”

11. Write forward, even when that means you don’t have a clue what the hieroglyphic symbols on your screen say, but the word count rises as does your formerly rock bottom self-esteem.

You have this. I have this. And even when you don’t and I don’t, somewhere out there is someone just like you who is on their seventh hour of staring at their computer screen hopelessly waiting for the muse to get back from her drinking binge.

Write anyway. Write often. Just keep writing.

For inspiration and giggles:

Onward, NaNoWarriors!

What’s Up Wednesday

WUWAutumnWhat’s Up Wednesday is a weekly meme geared toward readers and writers, allowing us to touch base with blog friends and let them know what’s up. Should you wish to join us, you will find the link widget at the bottom of Jaime’s blog.

What I’m Reading

I still have 100 pages on Allegiant. I know, I know, I’ve been reading it for a week now. But last week I used it as a writing incentive and it worked so well, that I have stretched it out much longer than anticipated. I am feeling many things about this book. I am not sure I am really ready to write about any of it yet.

What I’m Writing

Oh, yeah, so I’ve been writing a lot. Using Allegiant as incentive, plus getting to scenes I was eager to write, plus gearing up for NaNoWriMo resulted in me adding 5,635 words to my WiP.

cheering

I’ve chosen this gif which best illustrates my feelings on that subject.

What Inspires Me

NaNoing. I am thrilled to be participating in NaNo this year. I am psyched. For those of you who don’t know me well, it is important to understand a very core principle about me in order fully grasp the depths at which this event can motivate me:

I am a pathologically competitive person.

iwin

Don’t take that to mean I have to win everything. I do not. I have to win things I should win. Losing something I should win creates a black hole inside me that only cookies can fill. For example: Harry Potter Trivia game; lose that and I die inside. Fantasy Football; if you can get me to sit still and watch a football game any bet hedged will be based solely on costume color. (Right, I said costume.)

Ultimately, my favorite competitor is myself. I am the one I most want to challenge, to trash talk, to provoke. NaNo is a fabulous competition because it isn’t a competition at all —not with other writers anyway — but a competition against your own procrastination and laziness.

Which leads to the truly inspiring aspect of NaNo: the community of writers participating, or spurring NaNo’ers on. I wrote this blog post on Monday that touches more deeply on my feelings. Just know, if we are NaNo buddies, I will be there beside you and will not allow you to wuss out. See above reference to my pathological competitive spirit. In the game of NaNo, we are on a team. And I want to win, and that means I want you to win too.

What Else I’m Up To

This weekend was hectic and filming filled. We shot our biggest sequence of scenes, at our most challenging location, with our most extras (all of the canine variety) and it was overwhelmingly smooth. The final shot of the day saw most of the crew in tears. When you have had something in your head for a long time, it is very easy to build it up to impossible to reach standards, so that when you finally see it played out, the result is anticlimactic. The cast and crew somehow made it even better than it was in my head.

bloody

This weekend is my birthday and our final day of shooting, and I am filled with nervous excitement.

November, where is your sting?

nano

The internet — or the section populated by aspiring and established writers — is abuzz with preparations for NaNoWriMo. For those who are not writers, let me explain. NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month, and it is about just that: Writing a novel, however bare bones it may be, in one month. 30 days. 50,000 words.

Last November I was gearing up for another edit on my as-yet to be published novel, Redhunt. November of last year was also the beginning of the end of my family’s time living in NYC. We were grappling with some tough decisions, decisions not really made any easier by my own internal struggle with a novel that had become a major thing in me and my life. Add in our souring relationship with a city that still held our attention, but not our best-interests, along with a  heaping amount of homesickness and the realization that home was decidedly different, and, well…you catch my drift.

Plus, my birthday is November 3rd. I am a person who lives in conflict with the day of their birth. I want the fact of my existence to be celebrated, but I don’t want to be confronted with the things left undone at the end of another year. I wasn’t always this way. In my teens and early 20s, I was actually quite the ambitious birthday haver. There was my 17th birthday, when I had an Academy Award themed costume party. Or my 24th when I threw a joint Murder Mystery Dinner Party with my birthday buddy Sam. But as my 20s have gone on, a switch has been flipped that makes my insides writhe in panic as my birthday approaches.

So, consequently, I usually approach November fighting anxiety armed with liquor and snark. I hide out or argue. I grumble. And all of this tends to last until I start getting excited about Thanksgiving, and pie, and family interactions out of a movie that have no actual bearing on reality or the family I really have. That leads right into more grumbling and usually extended Gilmore Girls viewing sessions and coffee spiked with Baileys.

All that, and it’s not even Christmas yet.

But not this year. In the throws of romancing a new novel, and in the thick of filming a short film, my usual moody, broody ugliness has become something different.

It has been a long time since I have been able to face November with more than a scowl and some empty threats. But as I, and the rest of the writing community gear up for NaNo, and November reminds me how I hate it and love it, threatening another Thanksgiving where I want to hide in the kids playroom with a bottle of whiskey and a puzzle, reminding me there is still no word on my novel, there is still no certainty that this year I will be braver, or smarter, or skinnier; I don’t flinch.

I make fake blood. I sew a coffin cover. I write 5,000 words in a week. I let anxiety settle around me, driving me forward not holding me back.

I realize I’m not alone. Not in wanting to be further along in my writing journey than I am. Not in dreading the last birthday in my 20s. Not in any of it.

Right now, writers all around the world are sitting at their computers, or are working at their day jobs, or are chasing their toddlers, and they are all feeling as wondrously uncertain and filled with anticipation as I. What NaNo reminds me of is that at the core of everything we do we nurture a simple, visceral need to connect. To know that this game is played by others. That we move along the road, not alone in our misery, not separate in our celebration, but as a part of the larger, the greater, the wider. That what we want is also what someone else wants. That what we see and feel, is felt by others.

Knowing we aren’t really alone in the struggle against sagging boobs and underachievement allows us to stop fighting the losing battle, and get to the one we can win. And so this year, November taunts, but I can’t hear her jeers over the sound of my writing playlist and encouragement from fellow writers huddled in the trenches beside me.