Archives for category: National Novel Writing Month

One thing I know to be true is that life never turns out the way you expect it to. We wake up thinking our day is going to go a certain way, and sometimes it does, but more often there are those moments when the unexpected strikes.

The unexpected can be good, just ask anyone who had a “surprise” baby if they would send them back. It could be something small like a box filled with Hershey’s kisses sent by a friend who gifts you the opportunity to say that you got kisses from the UPS man you have a secret crush on. Or it could be discovering that your car has had barbecue sauce poured all over it because somebody doesn’t seem to understand that when you park on the city street and cars move around you it sometimes looks like you took two spaces when you didn’t actually. Good or bad, it’s not about what kind of “unexpected” it is, it’s about how we face those challenges. Do we laugh? Do we complain? Are we grateful? Do we cry? Or do we just keep going?

This month has not been unfolding as expected at all. Over the past few weeks I have gone on seemingly endless trips to stores (consuming and spending money are very nearly my least favorite things to do) to stock up on supplies for my rural desert life. Mattress buying, dentist and doctors appointments, a worrying medical condition in an extended family member, one flat tire (astutely spotted by my 3-year-old who is also excellent at spotting spiders, Ikea and Mule deer), cleaning, packing, teaching my lovely teenage girls at church and then saying goodbye over and over again.

In the midst of all of this, I was getting up between 3-5am to get my word count everyday. As always, there were days when the writing was quite painful and I just wasn’t happy about where it was going but, I kept doing it because I needed something to anchor myself in these stressful and surprising times. I wanted one good thing that I knew I could count on everyday. And what I unearthed from my imagination was perhaps the most unexpected of all, adventures, people, chases, and secrets I didn’t even know were there.

Not only did I “win” NaNoWriMo this year, but I finished a day early and 1,416 words over my 50,000.

About mid-month I began to worry because I knew that I wouldn’t be finished with my Novel at 50,000 words but, I was pleased to discover that according to the NaNoWriMo rules:

You will still win if you reach 50k but have not yet completed your novel. 

Winner-180x180

I did it! I am halfway through my second novel and once I’m settled into my little house in Texas, I’ll return to finishing my final draft of my first. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun. I’m really excited about this second book. I promise to share it with you . . . someday.

The very same day I won NaNoWriMo another unexpected event occurred. It was literally the day before Michael was supposed to fly home and our family would be reunited after 7 months apart. I noticed there was something not quite right about The Boy. The next day as Michael was getting off his plane and collecting his luggage The Boy and I were at the Children’s Hospital of Colorado being told that he needed surgery and we wouldn’t be moving to Texas two days later, as expected. There was a moment when I almost cried but instead I shrugged and was grateful that all of this happened before we moved to a place where the nearest children’s hospital would be four hours away. It was a blessing with perfect comic timing. So, Michael came, took all of my stuff and the dogs and he left me and The Boy behind. Sounds like a country song, right? Well, I’m writing a country song of my own, “Michael, we’re coming after you . . . just as soon as the doctor gives The Boy a clean bill of health.” It’s not very catchy.

All of this made me realize that life is made up of the unexpected and you should never put aside the things that are important to you simply because there is too much going on. It is those very things that keep you sane when the unexpected arises.

Life isn’t a chain of unexpected events, it is a chain of salvaged moments filled with the things and the people you love.

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I apologize for my long absence. I have been traveling around the country, an interminable visitor everywhere I’ve arrived and departed, experiencing a small glimpse into what it must be like to be a refugee. I’ll tell you now, it’s not great to never be able to go home because you no longer have one. I haven’t written in months (on this blog or otherwise) because I realized the frustration of my current life is not at all conducive to creativity. It became painful to sit in front of my computer day after day, forcing words which refused to come. I decided to enjoy the other parts of my life for a little while, knowing that the writing would be good again one day. So, I let go.

Until the night of October 30th, when I was in the shower (like I’ve said, I get a lot of my inspiration in the shower). I was thinking over the coming weeks: my impending move to the border of Mexico, the reunion of my family after months apart, mattress shopping, and my slowly dying computer. November, it’s going to be a busy month, I thought. And then I felt a flutter that began in my stomach and stretched to my heart, National Novel Writing Month. I received the reminder email a few days ago telling me to, “Get your outlines ready and prepare for a busy November folks.” I sent it immediately to my trash, rationalizing that my life is too busy right now and I couldn’t possibly think about writing another novel because I still haven’t finished the revision of my first manuscript. But, the excitement I felt was overwhelming. I started thinking about what I would write and all of the unexpected adventures that were awaiting me. As crazy and impossible as it seemed, I wanted to do it.

And now a tangent, which I promise will come full circle if you stick with me.

I am not a marathoner and (sadly, for those of you who are) I am one of those people who had always believed that there is something wrong with people who choose to run marathons. It really does seem like a sickness to me, to choose to torture yourself. I like to recount to anyone willing to listen (really, nobody should) that the origins of modern-day marathons are based on the legend of Pheidippides who died after running his 25 miles. (I also like to leave out the part where he’d also just recently run 150 miles in 2 days because it kind of takes the sting out of the “take that!” aspect of my opinion.) In my limited experience, marathoners love to talk about their training, their races, their qualifying times and I love to not listen to them. They have stickers on their cars (26.2), they wear the t-shirts proudly advertising their races or begging “Ask me how many miles I ran today,” and they make sure that it is no secret they are that hardcore.

Whenever I’ve asked someone why they run marathons they always say, “I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.” I would always think, Well, if I had a good enough reason to run 26.2 miles – armed gunmen chasing me or to save someone I love – I know that I could do it, or at least die trying. Then Michael, my husband, ran a half-marathon (which is only half as crazy) and afterward, while he was being sick, he declared that he was never, ever going to do it again. I felt vindicated in my opinions about long-distance dabblers but when I talked to him about it he said that even though he didn’t want to do it again, he was glad he did because of the feeling. The high he felt as he crossed that finish line was something he’d never experienced before, something that is impossible for anyone who has never done it (that’s me) to understand. Michael thought he could run 13.1 miles when he started training but knowing he could was quite another feeling. It was proof of what he had only believed himself to be capable of. He was a different person when he crossed that finish line. Not somebody who could possibly run a ridiculously long distance, but somebody who did. After listening to him I was finally able to admit that I was wrong. Just because people are doing things that I don’t want to do or experiencing things that I don’t understand, doesn’t make it any less of an accomplishment. I still won’t be joining them and I’m still not a fan of the t-shirts and the stickers but I am happy to accept that these crazy (I say this with affectionate awe) people are experiencing this amazingly elevated feeling that I will never experience.

Or so I thought, until I started writing my second novel (yesterday) on November 1st.

I was so excited that I woke up before my 5am alarm went off. I didn’t know what I was going to write but when I stared at the blank screen, I knew it didn’t matter. There was a story inside of me and it was bursting to come out. I typed a couple of words, paused, began again and I didn’t stop for three hours. I felt alive in the way that only writing can make me feel, but the weight of the goal was already in the back of my mind. I’ve done it once and I know how incredibly hard it is. I know what’s coming and this year, because of my living situation, it’s going to be harder than ever. I even allowed for the possibility that I wouldn’t be able to do it. I told myself I wouldn’t tell anybody, I would just “do it for me.” But as soon as those thoughts came into my mind I knew that if I wasn’t committed to really trying, I’d already failed. That’s when I realized that NaNoWriMo is my marathon (although it’s more like a sprint in terms of writing a novel.) The only way you can complete a marathon, or a novel in 30 days, is if you move forward as if you already have, as if the actual doing it is just a formality. It’s hard, painful, and you want to quit almost everyday but instead you drag yourself out of bed earlier and earlier to get those words on the page (or your miles on the road). Sometimes you hit a wall and you really believe you can’t go on, but then you push past it, and when you cross that finish line you know that you are the person you always believed you were. And, as soon as you recover, you’ll come back again for more, because you remember that feeling at the end and you know it’s worth the pain. So, I will once again be trying to write 50,000 words in 30 days (only 29 left) and I will consider myself in good company. Not just with other WriMos but with those runners who pass me on the street (as I’m walking leisurely), pounding the pavement, working just as torturously toward their next high at the marathon finish line.

But, I’m not going to go out and get myself a t-shirt that says, “Ask me how many words I’ve written today,” mostly because the answer would probably be embarrassingly small.

The end by Alexandre Moreau | Photography
The end, a photo by Alexandre Moreau | Photography on Flickr.

The other night I found myself lamenting that it had been so long since I’d worked on my book. Moments later, when I was calculating just how long it had been, I realized that the date was December 1st, meaning it had only been one day since NaNoWriMo ended and I declared myself a winner.

Writing is no longer in my heart. It’s in my blood. A necessity approaching eating and sleeping. I thought when I posted The Doldrums that I was just days away from a month long vacation from writing. A well needed reprieve. But simply the act of putting my feelings and frustrations into words and posting it on this blog revived me and I found myself wanting to write even more.

NaNoWriMo enabled me to write the ever elusive words “THE END” on my first novel but it also taught me a few other things about myself and writing along the way.

1. Goals need a finish line: I’ve never been fond of goals. I am an all or nothing kind of person. If I want to do something, I am determined to do it. If I don’t want to do something, even if it’s a worthy goal, I don’t even try. But NaNoWriMo opened up my eyes to the value of well-defined goals. You may not be exactly where you want to be when you finish, but you’re closer than not starting at all. I have been working on my novels (I’m already 60,000 words into the second one) for over 4 years. I’d always planned on finishing, someday, but I had never actually envisioned the finish line. In my last week of NaNoWriMo I was forced to do that. I had to sit down and think there has to be an end to this. I’m beginning to wonder if I ever would have gotten there if I wasn’t forced into it. If you’re a writer, set well-defined goals.

2. Blogging and practice make perfect: Starting a blog while trying to write a novel in 30 days is very near insanity. Until I started blogging I didn’t understand that blogging itself can be a very serious form of writing. It’s intense and it takes time. Time that could be spent getting my word count. But, there were two benefits. I was publicly accountable to everyone reading my blog and that accountability motivated me on the bad days. (Failure is not an option, although it should be, see above point.) And, as I’ve mentioned, one of my posts pulled me out of a slump. Writing in any form begets more, and hopefully better, writing.

3. Perfectionists and first drafts don’t dance well together: I am a recovering perfectionist. It is something that I will struggle with my entire life. I began to fight it when I realized perfectionists can never be happy because they will never be perfect. When I started writing years ago I was naive. I wanted to write my manuscript perfectly the first time. When I wrote “THE END” I was absolutely certain that it would be my one and only draft. But, that’s arrogant and limiting. Critique and input from other people doesn’t make your work any less valuable, it just allows you to pull more from yourself. NaNoWriMo lends itself to fast, not necessarily good, writing. It’s about filling the page and ignoring the inner editor. My manuscript is a mess. Plot holes. Weak characters. Ridiculous scenes. My new adventure is tearing that manuscript to shreds and making it even better.

4. Failure is an option and an opportunity: I recently read blog posts by two people, here and here, who participated in NaNoWriMo and didn’t “win.” Neither of them is a “loser.” On the contrary, they are both moving forward with lessons learned, ideas, and novels in the works. I recognize that it is a very distinct possibility that I would have lost NaNoWriMo too, if I hadn’t cheated.  Oh, the lessons I could have learned from that!

Writing is a sleep depriving, heart racing, frustration inducing and euphoric journey and I hope that I never find “THE END.”

A new well-defined goal will be coming soon, so stay tuned.

Finish Line by andrew_mo
Finish Line, a photo by andrew_mo on Flickr.

I did it! I won NaNoWriMo.

But, just like any good race or contest, my victory is riddled with scandal. The numbers don’t quite add up and when it comes down to technicalities, I cheated a little bit.

You see one of the requirements for being a NaNoWriMo participant is that you have to start your novel from scratch on November 1st. According to the NaNoWriMo website, this is why:

This sounds like a dumb, arbitrary rule, we know. But bringing a half-finished manuscript into NaNoWriMo all but guarantees a miserable month. You’ll care about the characters and story too much to write with the gleeful, anything-goes approach that makes NaNoWriMo such a creative rush. Give yourself the gift of a clean slate, and you’ll tap into realms of imagination and intuition that are out-of-reach when working on pre-existing manuscripts.

Outlines and plot notes are very much encouraged, and can be started months ahead of the actual novel-writing adventure. Previously written prose, though, is punishable by death.

I broke this rule with reckless abandon. I had already written 89,722 words over the course of 4 years. But, (I will continue with my cavalier attitude, it is all I have left.) I may not have started my novel on November 1st but I did write 50,000 additional words and finish said novel in 30 days.

My goal was to reach 139,722 words and I surpassed that by reaching 146,068 words. The numbers did get a bit muddled. The daily tally I kept only had me reaching 51,548 words while the document word count claimed I reached 56,346. It’s safe to assume that the actual number is somewhere in the middle. Either way, I did it.

And here is what I won:

It’s impressive, I know. But wait, there’s more. I can also print a fantastic NaNoWriMo winners certificate to hang on the wall next to my College diploma.

Oh, and I can now say that I have written a book. That’s pretty fantastic.

A special thanks to: You, for reading my blog and cheering me on. The incredible virus that has been running rampant through our household causing me to be quarantined in my apartment for practically the entire month. Steven Burns and his puppy Blue, for entertaining my sick little boy. Michael, for never complaining when he had to make dinner again. The schnauzers, for attacking the dust bunnies before they grew large enough to eat us all. Dan, for telling me about NaNoWriMo. And finally, my Uncle Aaron, for being the first person to tell me that I could grow up to be a writer, if I wanted to.

NaNoWriMo 50,000 words in 30 days

Only 12 days left!

Here are my stats:

Total Words Written: 34,104

Words Remaining: 15,896

Now for a much needed day off.