November is gone. With it, my meager hopes of writing a novel in under thirty days. This was my first year participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I failed even before I started. But failure was always the plan.
Unlike most of this year’s participants, I started a week and one day late. Why? Because I rarely keep a calendar or know the numerical day of the week. Sure, I know today is Sunday—but what’s the date? My computer tells me December 9 (and my computer has no obvious reason to lie). So NaNoWriMo commenced without me, and I had no clue.
Perhaps my late start was more common than I realized, but I suspect my objective was less common: I hoped to develop a rhythm, a routine, a habit-forming practice of sitting at my computer (or opening my notebook) and writing. That’s it. My great aspiration was to train myself. To write more often than once in a blue moon. In short, to earn my title.
For too many years I’ve called myself a writer. My bachelor’s degree would posit that I am an English major. But what do I have to show for it? Stiff, dull, incredibly tedious papers. As much as I loathe referencing my college work, that load of lard represents a far more substantial volume of writing than the rest of my life. When added together, all of my short stories, scrap-paper story fragments, comprehensive outlines, and nebulous mental notes would easily fit on a 1 gigabyte thumb drive (with room to spare).
Simply stated, little proof exists that I am a writer. My blog doesn’t count. While I do endeavor to carefully craft every entry, drawing inspiration from such spectacular wordsmiths as Adam J. Holland, my work here is subordinate to my fiction. I don’t regard my blog as toilet paper, but my practice with the WordPress platform goes much farther on a resume than pictures of food.
With respect to my goals for NaNoWriMo, my efforts were mostly successful. For a solid week in November, I typed or printed a few hundred words each day. With little regard for style or plot, I persevered. However, resisting the urge to backtrack and revise, to edit and smooth out my messy work was nigh impossible, and that more than anything crippled my efforts in subsequent weeks.
Writing is hard work! I wrote past midnight most evenings, only to show up at my job a few hours later looking as if I’d slept on a park bench. I exhausted my everyday vocabulary within the first thousand words. My weaknesses as a writer surfaced like apples in a barrel, and no amount of “pushing it out” could remedy the growing sinkhole that was my story. Accomplished writers spend a fair amount of time formulating plot, sketching in character details, and weaving together plot lines long before putting pencil to paper or finger to key. And for good reason: coherency doesn’t come naturally.
Exhaustion and creative stagnation slowed my progress to a crawl. Soon, a few hundred words in the span of two or three days became an accomplishment. The progress meter at NaNoWriMo.com projected that I would finish my novel sometime in April 2013. Encouraging, no? Already the month of November was two-thirds through, but I had yet to reach ten thousand words—a fifth of the target number.
As stated, my goal was to develop better writing habits (or any habit, for that matter). Conceivably, a writing habit would help me overcome the dreaded “mood” factor that I’ve used as an excuse for longer than I can remember. “Coffee? Check. Comfortable chair? Check. Inspiration to write an epic masterpiece? Eh… not so much. Maybe tomorrow, when I’m in the mood.”
The mood, however, is a mysterious vagrant. His comings and goings are known to none. If I want to call myself a real writer, I have to dispatch the mood altogether. Writing needs to be as natural to me as breathing. That doesn’t mean it will ever cease to be a challenge, but it should mean that I do it involuntarily; moreover, that I never have to ask myself with a fearful gulp, “Do I still have it?”
Above all, I want the writing process to be a breath of fresh air. More than graphic design or video production, writing is my favorite means of artistic expression. For that reason it’s rewarding in and of itself, but I’ve never been content to write in a vacuum. Who is? Even if my audience is one lonely soul, that person’s participation fuels the fire. Slowly, perhaps imperceptibly, but all the same.
For December, I’ve decided to cut myself off from writing (except for my blog, and that obligatory year-end paragraph my mom expects for our Christmas letter). Why? Why discard the fruits of my NaNoWriMo labor? Because I’ve got too many pots and pans going at the same time, and the bulk of the gifts I’m giving this year are the creative kind (yes, I’m on a budget).
But, come January 2013, I’ll commence with a brand-new screenplay and continue writing the novel I started last month. My goals are ambitious—certainly beyond my usual standard of “feasible”—but I’ve learned that a few words each day can add up to something substantial. I’ll end with a great quote from an awful movie:
Big things have small beginnings.