02 December 2015
The Stench Of Failure | NaNoWriMo Update
The stench of failure.
Pretty dramatic, huh?
That's how I sum up my NaNoWriMo challenge during November. The goal was to write a 50,000 word draft novel last month. I failed. Failure smells bad. Not as bad as a litter box, a dirty nappy or cow manure, but it still stinks.
Failure has a particular stench. Hints of sadness, undertones of disappointment and a lingering taste of fear.
But, as they say, confession is good for the soul. So, here it goes. My confession in less than 50,000 words. Feel free to provide absolution in the comments.
1 - Writing is hard. Seriously hard.
I knew it would be hard. I didn't sign up for NaNoWriMo with any illusions, but I was struck by how seriously hard it is. I can write blog posts pretty quickly, but they're disjointed little figments of my imagination. Nobody who reads this blog expects a coherent story from week to week, or anything resembling a plot with fully fleshed out characters.
A novel, on the other hand, is a different story. It's hard. You really can't wing it. At least I can't. Which leads me to the next point.
2 - I really wanted to be a pantser. I should have known better.
The folks at NaNoWriMo describe two types of writers. There are those who are extremely organized. They've outlined their plot, they've fleshed out their characters so well that they know what they have for breakfast and their pens and notebooks are neatly laid out in anticipation of the start of NaNoWriMo. These are the people who don't have a junk drawer in their kitchen. Who needs a junk drawer when your life is so organized?
Then there are the pantsers. These are my bretheren. They write by the seats of their pants. They're spontaneous, their characters develop themselves without any human intervention and the plot unfolds as if by magic. Their house might be a right mess, but the pantser's inner muse never lets them down.
I thought I was a pantser.
I wanted to be a pantser.
Turns out, I'm not a pantser.
I realized early on that I needed organization. I craved organization. I couldn't write a scene on its own because I didn't know what was supposed to happen next. I guess I really am my mother's daughter. Except, I still have a junk drawer. Or two. Possibly three. Must be some sort of manifestation of inner defiance.
I ended up pausing my writing early on and putting together an outline of my novel and creating character worksheets. But, it didn't feel right. I felt pressure to get back in the game and churn out scenes. I just wrote anything to make my daily word count target. But, they weren't the right scenes. My novel had turned into some sort of junk drawer filled with random nouns, verbs, prepositions and the like.
3 - I couldn't keep the kittens in the box.
We used to have a cat named Sunny. She was a sweet cat. Then, one day, she had some sort of nervous breakdown because her kittens wouldn't stay in the box. She had definite ideas about what was supposed to happen. Kittens were supposed to stay confined to the box. They would get out to play and she would carry them back to the box, one by one. At one point, all she was doing was carrying kittens back to the box. Then she broke down, howled and kind of gave up. After that, she kind of sat in a corner and growled at people and kittens alike.
I had a certain idea when I started NaNoWriMo. I was going to write an epistolary mystery novel. Some of the books I've really enjoyed employ this style of story telling using letters, diaries, emails and the like. Such as The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows and Inconceivable by Ben Elton.
This was my kitten - an epistolary novel. Only one problem, she wouldn't stay in the box. I tried and tried and tried to write in this style. But, then I gave up, sat in the corner and growled.
So, I switched styles partway through and started experimenting with different story telling techniques. This, coupled with the fact that I really didn't have a plot, really slowed things down.
4 - I sat in the corner and read books.
Procrastination is one of my favorite pastimes. Since I wasn't gaining any traction with my novel, I decided to read some mystery novels. But, not read them like I usually do - devouring them up like a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies that someone else made for me. No, now I was reading them from the perspective of a writer.
How did they structure the plot? What were their characters like? How did they make the action move at pace?
It's really different reading books when you're looking at them with a critical eye. To be honest, not as much fun. But educational. So, I guess in this case, this was procrastination with a purpose. Let's call it research, shall we?
5 - My boat started sinking and things went to hell.
Seriously, my boat started sinking. If you aren't a regular blog follower, then you won't be aware of the Case of the Slowly Sinking Ship. I live on a sailboat and towards the end of November, my boat started leaking in a very dramatic fashion. As they say, water outside your boat is a good thing, inside your boat, not so good.
This took all of my energy and time for days on end. The last thing I wanted to think about was my poorly organized novel with ill-formed characters. So, I didn't. And now we're in December, I still haven't found the leak on my boat and I haven't finished my draft novel.
But, I haven't given up.
My mom's given me an extension of two weeks. I didn't know she was in charge of NaNoWriMo, but apparently she has some pull. So, now I have until the middle of December to get my act together and finish the draft novel. Wish me luck. Better yet, send cookies. Even better, send kittens.
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