Trying (and Failing) to Win NaNoWriMo

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Well, it has been a while. I think my last post was about a month ago, at the beginning of NaNoWriMo. I was younger then, so full of hopes and dreams. Promises. I promised to write a post once a week (so I could dedicate most of my writing time to finishing a novel, which, well, we’ll get to that), and I promised to post another writer’s work on my social media pages every Friday. On both fronts, I failed.

Failing is a recurrent problem in my, and I’m sure others’, writing life, but how exactly I fail could be different from how you might in your writing. For me, the reason I did not uphold my blogging promises, and why I didn’t win NaNoWriMo, can be attributed to two great faults, which combine to form my one ultimate failing. Those two great faults? Perfectionism and procrastination.

Ever since I was in grade school, I hated poster projects. You know the kind, they involved tracing big letters and painting bright colors and being oh-so-artsy you started to wonder if the project was more for the teachers’ ease of grading than any kind of learning opportunity. I’ve never been much of an artistic person, at least in the sense of drawing and matching colors to create an aesthetically pleasing picture. But, dammit, I would try, especially upon seeing what my artistic classmates would bring in, looking like Michelangelos and Raphaels next to my… well, not Michelangelo or Raphael. I would agonize over the straightness of my lines, I would painstakingly trace an image in the lightest pencil, scrubbing the marks away furiously if it didn’t look just as I pictured it. Sometimes, I’d ask for an extension, if only to suspend my moment of embarrassment for a little while.

In writing, I stress over scenes, passages that don’t fall on the page as I see them in my head. In my head, conversations flow, witty, mature, productive. Once I’ve written them out though, half the time they have me scratching my head, if not wincing with shame. That shame has led me to not submit much of my “finished” work for publishing, because in my eyes it will never be finished until it reads like I see it.

Perfectionism, in turn, leads into my second fault, procrastination. Countless times this month, I could have sat down and wrote for a bit, but I’d tell myself I was too tired, or I wasn’t in the mood, or I would write better the next day. In my mind, since the conditions I would be writing under weren’t “perfect” the writing itself wouldn’t be perfect (as if a first draft is ever perfect, anyway). Instead of using the free time I had to write, I would instead watch Netflix, or read – two things that aren’t inherently a waste of time, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, but all the same they didn’t lead to any of my own creation. I could have written even a hundred words, each day, and they would have added up to something, but because of my perfectionism leading me to procrastination, my word count on November 30 was left just 20,000 words shy of the goal of 50K.

These two faults, as I mentioned above, combine to form what I consider my ultimate failing as a writer: the decision to remain complacent.

This is something that plagues many people with many dreams. People who begin a diet and exercise routine might start off strong for the first couple of days, eating salads and grilled chicken and running miles on the treadmill at the gym. Then they catch a whiff of cooking pizza or they sit down on the couch after a long day and refuse to move. Likewise, a student might want a scholarship to go to college. She might study hard for her tests during the first weeks of the semester, striving to get her grades where they need to be, and she might start off strong as she practices for the entrance exams. Then, something happens, and maybe she decides she doesn’t need that particular scholarship, she doesn’t need to go that school, look, the grades and scores she has now are good enough for this program, let’s focus on that. The dieter/exerciser might say, “Look, I’m not unhealthy. Sure, I’d feel better physically if I went to gym or ate carrots instead of pizza, but how would I feel emotionally?”

I get it. I’ve reached the moment of complascence in my writing (and I’ve also been both of the people mentioned above). Inevitably, I’ll reach that point in my writing, where the story isn’t going how I see it, or where a Netflix show is looking mighty attractive, and I’ll say, “Look, I don’t need to finish this. I like my job; this doesn’t need to be how I progress my writing career. I’m cool with staying how I am, and if this was really my big idea, I wouldn’t be able to do anything BUT write.”

Guys… that’s the devil talking.

It’s easy to convince yourself not to do something. In the words of comedian John Mulaney, it is so much easier not to do something than it is to do anything. That’s why going on a diet, getting into your dream school, or finishing a damn book has to be something you want. Like, want want. I want, more than most things, to be a full-time novelist one day. That won’t happen if I agonize over every sentence in my first draft or put off writing because I don’t “feel” like it.

We have to stop being complacent with life remaining the way it is, without our dreams being a part of it. I’m aiming to finish the first draft of my novel by the end of the year. I have no idea if I’ll be able to, but I do know that with each day I put down a couple hundred, a couple thousand words, I’ll be stepping ever further from that complacent life, and that’s when the real magic will start to happen.

2 thoughts on “Trying (and Failing) to Win NaNoWriMo

  1. I have definitely been guilty of such complacency when it comes to writing. It’s why I almost didn’t make it in Nanowrimo this year, although perfectionism had nothing to do with it for me.

    If you already had 30k by November 30th, I think you can finish your novel this month. You might have to set yourself a rule to not make any changes or re-read any of what you wrote before the end of the month, though, to stop your perfectionist self from taking over.

    Never be afraid to reach out to others for support. In my experience, authors are a helpful bunch.

    Cheers and wishes on ignoring that writing devil!

    1. Thank you for your kind words! I definitely like having other writers to turn to during a long project 🙂 Happy writing!

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