Friday, December 16, 2011

NaNoWriMo: It's Not You; It's Me.

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?


Anonymous said...

I managed 4,000 words this year, about the same as last year.

Dayton, why don't you publish your daily word count next year so your loyal readers can tear you to shreds.

Dayton Ward said...

I could (and would) do that, but you don't scare me. ;)

Seriously, though, I'm thinking of something along those lines, with a "reward" for success and a "price" for failure. I've got time to figure out the details :)

Liane Spicer said...

Good luck. Not even tempted. Just seems to me like upping the insanity ante on what is always, for me, a life already saturated with the stuff.

Dayton Ward said...

I'm tempted...mostly because I'm a glutton for punishment :)

Charles Gramlich said...

As long as it's in November I'll never be taking part. That's probably the heaviest of the school months for me. Or one of them at least.

G. B. Miller said...

I did not participate in the NaNoWriMo nor do I intend to in the future.

For the most part I abhor deadlines simply because no matter what the good intention is, it goes to pot in seconds flat.

However, I did do an entire year successfully with self-imposted deadlines.

I got hooked on writing flash fiction in 2009, so I opened up a weekly short story blog and churned out about 50 short stories for the blog, of which 95% made it to the blog and the remaining 5% were deemed good enough to try to get published.

So far, out of that remaining 5%, I've gotten one story published.

Anonymous said...

I "failed" NaNoWriMo last year but "won" this year. Details can be found here.

I think most people struggle with deadlines. The world seems to impose them, often unrealistic ones. The trick, for me, is to prioritise.

KeVin K. said...

I participated in NaNoWriMo five times. I hit the 50k mark years 3, 4, and 5. The remarkable thing about year 5 was that year I wrote more fiction -- including a 113k novel -- than any other time in my career.

The quality of what I wrote sucked as a finished product. To hit the word count I had to turn off my internal editor and free type my way through scenes I'd normally spend hours blocking in before writing. (I'm told many writers who rewrite do this: They just get the words on paper as a "rough draft" then go back and edit later. I either edit constantly or only edit when a publisher asks for changes, depending on how you define "edit." I've never had a "first reader" who wasn't an editor at a paying market.) However, while nothing I wrote was publishable as a whole, every ms contained elements I've been able to use in later works.

(And while part of my intention going in was to teach myself to respect self-imposed deadlines, I still didn't get the lesson. Accountability-free deadlines are meaningless to me as objectives or motivators.)

Jewel Amethyst said...

I've never been tempted to try it because for me, writing should be fun. Putting a gun to my head like that is not my idea of fun...

Lorraine said...

Sorry, late to the party...

I succeeded in 2010, the first year I tried, but I didn't attempt it in 2011 -- I had too much going on and I really like my sleep...