Okay, show of hands: How many people here participated in the annual “National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)” during November? If so, how’d you do? If you met or exceeded the goal of the exercise, then I applaud you. What you accomplished in those thirty days is nothing short of amazing. Even if you signed up with the best of intentions and fell short, give yourself a pat on the back. It's hard enough just sitting down to write in the first place, let alone trying to do it while staring down that kind of pressure.
Me? I didn’t participate this year, though I came closer to going for it than I did in 2010. Back then, I was still smarting about the previous year. Why? Because in 2009, the first year I decided to try my hand at what definitely is quite the challenge presented by NaNoWriMo, I failed.
My intentions were pure. In late October 2009, as I was gearing up to start writing the novel which would be due to my editor in February 2010, I decided that I was perfectly positioned to take my own shot at this “NaNoWriMo thing” I’d been hearing others talk about during prior years. 50,000 words in a month? That would be half of my projected word count for the book, putting me well ahead of the schedule I’d already outlined for myself between November 1st and the novel’s actual due date. The first day of the month arrived and somebody somewhere fired the NaNoWriMo gun, and we were off. My output for Day 1 was something shy of 1,300 words, just under the per-day pace to which one might aspire if intending to pursue the month’s goal. I could make up the difference with little or no problem, I told myself.
And then? Well, I could offer all sorts of excuses, maybe trot out a story about how real life got in the way (it did), or my day job (that, too), or how other writing assignments—each with their own crunch deadlines—showed up. They did, and I met those deadlines, but what about my personal goal of knocking out half of my novel in a month?
Um, not so much. By the end of the month, and while I actually stayed more or less on pace with meeting my actual, contracted February deadline, I was well short of meeting the NaNoWriMo goal. What the heck happened?
The simple answer? I suck at self-imposed deadlines.
My day job is ruled by deadlines; immovable milestones which cannot be missed regardless of when those particular days of the month fall on the calendar. Failure to hit those marks carries with it the prospect of financial penalties as well as damaging our standing with our clients. Weekends, holidays, illness and/or vacation don’t matter; the dates are the dates, and that’s just the way it is. With kids, you’re always on some kind of schedule, be it school, Taekwondo, gymnastics, play dates, and so on. So far as my commissioned writing is concerned, I take those deadlines and due dates very seriously. I loathe the very idea of being late, and my friend and co-writer, Kevin Dilmore, will tell you that my level of focus and crankiness increases as a deadline looms.
On the other hand, when it comes to writing just for me, I tend not to set any sort of real deadline. Instead, I just write and see where the words take me. I guess you can say it’s my way of scratching the writing itch while at the same time taking a break and decompressing from the “job aspect” of the process. It’s also one of the few opportunities I have to give the calendar, my schedule, and everything else the Big Finger. After so many years spent figuring out how to balance my professional writing with my day job, family, and other responsibilities and demands on my time, I think it’s just second-nature for me to do things this way. In the back of my brain, I know that no matter how I dress it up, a self-imposed writing deadline carries no penalty.
That said, I’m stubborn, and part of me keeps telling myself, “Shut up and try again, bonehead.” It’s obviously too late for 2011, but what about NaNoWriMo 2012? If I’m going to sign up for the program next year, I’m going to need some kind of accountability plan; something public so that I can equate it in all the ways that matter to a contracted deadline. Yeah, that just might be the ticket.
So, anybody else struggle with deadlines, be they external or self-imposed? What methods or tricks do you employ to keep yourself focused?