Amanda talks about how she failed at a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in one month.
“Oh great, November. It’s time for all of my Facebook to post about word count and that NaNoWriMo thing again,” I thought while poking my nose out at the computer like a snobby elitist, even though I was alone and had no need to plaster on the facade of pretension with no one to see it.
NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and its purpose is to give anyone, teachers, police officers, stay-at-home moms, actors, musicians and so on, the opportunity to write a novel. Participants are challenged to write a 50,000 word novel between November 1 and November 30.
I’d never given serious consideration to the writing challenge, mostly due to my pointed opinions on its seemingly reductionist view of a profession in which I’m desperately trying to dig a foothole, and my firm stance that talented individuals frequently get overlooked in favor of junk within the literary world.
Check it: for every truly provoking narrative that begs to be read and imprint itself on the very fiber of your being, there are two James Patterson books published and immediately shortlisted on the NY Times Best Seller List. Whomp whomp.
Over the past year, I’ve gotten back into writing regularly again, a first since college journalism left a burnt taste on my tongue. After sampling a little taste of the creative euphoria that I’d forgotten, I craved more. I really wanted to get back into the world of fiction that I had given up so long ago.
But I never had time for a whole-hearted pursuit, or else my full-time endeavors were slowing draining the creativity out of every pore in my body. NaNo’s allure was all too tempting, its sweetness clawing at the void I was itching to fill.
Didn’t I want to write the novel I’d always wanted to see spring to life on paper? Couldn’t I be temporarily fooled into thinking it would be possible to do so over the span of 30 days? Of course! I am, if nothing else, naive and easily persuaded.
What better way to test the waters than with a challenge, I reasoned. The NaNo website is innocent enough.That’s how it gets you. It lures you into a false-sense of optimism, and, if you poke around the forums long enough, ensnares you with anecdotes of accomplishment.
Fifty thousand words? Sure, it’s daunting, but the sheer amount of people who swear by the method, those who are actually able to accomplish the task, make it seem so damn easy.
However, I can rarely manage to plop down half as many words in the same time span, even in the event that a cohesive idea manifests itself in my mind. But, I’m naive and just the right amount desperate to kick myself into action at this point, so I took the bait. Fifty thousand words and my dream would be realized.
I decided early on that this would be a passive interest, deeply deluded in the idea that it would still be possible to pound out word count without being all-consumed by The Project. I still had previous convictions, after all. A life. Friends. A full-time job. Even more things to write. And if I only reached a fraction of the word count, I’d still be well on my way.
Let’s keep in mind that one needs to produce around 1,700 words per day, every day, to reach the goal of 50,000 words by the end of the month.
I wasn’t able to start writing until day two. Two thousand words behind. Missing a day creates this wonderful snowball effect, where you’re feverishly doing more and more just to get caught up.
I spent all day at an obscure, hipster coffee joint, as far away from my house full of television and hyper, attention-seeking animals, hoping to be inspired by the wooden tables and moody ambiance. I only managed to finish my aforementioned previous writing convictions before closing time.
By day three, I only amassed 1,700 words, and had already changed the direction of my story about five times. I couldn’t get a clear direction, and even when I did, I couldn’t fathom the 50,000 word count. It became a barrier looming over my head that stopped me dead in my tracks. Instead of being inspired by the challenge, I balked under the pressure.
“I can see now that this is impossible,” I tell myself, staring at the accursed blinking cursor. It’s been a week and I have yet to settle on which point-of-view perspective to use. First-person! Lots of people hate first-person. Third-person! This all feels so disconnected and impersonal. Shit.
I knew I was setting myself up for failure, I really did.
I write so much already; two-three articles per week PLUS an additional 1,700 words was sabotage. For some, this might be a great exercise in tossing aside current projects or hobbies to focus on a goal you want with every fiber of your being. And for everyone who came out victorious (I’m looking at you, cheaters and previously published authors!) that’s absolutely wonderful! But even 50,000 isn’t a full-length novel in most respects, and one would then have to set aside another month or more for editing before even thinking about pursuing an agent or publisher.
I look back over NaNoWriMo month and feel an immense exhaustion. I’m determined to persevere, but at my own pace, please. Maybe once I’ve found my rhythm, I’ll grasp the swing of things. Maybe then I’ll be able to see my ideas in print, bound and pressed for anyone to read. Maybe I need more practice. In the meantime, I’ll stick to procrastinating by writing about why it’s hard for me to write.
And no, the irony isn’t lost on me.