Why Doing NaNoWriMo Was a Terrible Idea

It’s simple, really: I shouldn’t have done NaNoWriMo this (last, now!) year. Why, you ask? Well, let’s start with the fact that this is my first post in over two months, and go from there…

The top 5 reasons why doing NaNoWriMo was a terrible idea:

5. It gave me permission not to blog. As it turns out, writing yourself a blank check to not write on your blog for a month is not just a bad idea, it’s an idea so bad that if it were a song, it’d have to be sung by Rebecca Black.

Yes, THAT bad.

The whole “I’m writing a novel this month so I obviously have no time to do any other sort of writing” excuse is powerful because it’s pretty accurate, really. My Nano would suck hours out of my every day, days that were, to begin with, unbelievably full.

Yet, when you’ve given yourself permission not to blog for a month because you’re going to be too busy because of a specific reason, it creates a rationalization pattern that enables you to keep on creating specific reasons that your busyness means you don’t have to blog which, when compounded with the hecticness of the holidays and a genuinely increasing workload, means it’s always okay not to blog. And when that happens…

4. It killed my momentum. I’m not going to lie: my momentum was dying a little before November hit, what with the departure of summer, the increase in jobs and other responsibilities (read: grad school applications), and the end of the wave created by being Freshly Pressed back in August. Still, I had the motivation of always having posted at least a couple of times a month, and I had the fresh memory of having posted every single day from August 1, 2011-July 12, 2012, so even doing it only a couple times a month made me feel slightly guilty.

You can tell this is more important than blogging because I’m using an old-timey fountain pen.

Give yourself a month off scot-free, though, and you kill whatever guilt and motivation you had built up that way. This is especially true when…

3. You feel like you’ve accomplished something extraordinary every time you actually post. I did actually post in November. Once. On the elections. Using a recycled-and-repurposed post from back in 2008. So, yes, a post that used only the minimum requirement of creativity or thought–and which you might recognize as the post that’s been hanging about the top of my blog for two months now.

Look familiar? Sickeningly so, perhaps?

Why? Well, because my expectations had been lowered so far by my blank check of not writing (see above) that posting anything, at all, made me feel oh-so-accomplished, like I’d done something extraordinary and unusual and deserved a medal or something. I didn’t. It was just a quickie post, worth no more than a minute of your time, and certainly a sorry excuse for representing the entire month of November. Which is really a shame, considering that, Nanowrimo aside…

2. I am actually a nonfiction writer, not a fiction one. I’ve covered this before. Nonfiction is where my heart lies; it’s whence the words flow; it’s how I best express myself. So why did I think it was a good idea to stop that so I could explore a different genre? What on earth made me think that I’d be more motivated to work on my second-best genre by encouraging myself to stop working on my best one? Really, it was inevitable that…

1. I didn’t even finish the stupid thing. Yep, you read that right. I made it precisely 7,195 words into my novel–the official recommendation for 4 1/2 days of writing–before I crashed and burned into the fiery inferno of work and grad school applications, always intending but never actually managing to go back in and salvage my suffering word count.

So yes, this is my official, shame-filled confession: I failed at Nanowrimo, AND managed to let it drag me into a two-month writing lull. Beyond that, it forced me into something I swore I’d never do: a formal internet apology.

So, I’m sorry, Internet. Sorry that I failed at Nanowrimo, sorry that I failed at blogging–but, mostly, sorry that you now all have “Friday” stuck in your heads.

Warning: this image could cause self-inflicted eardrum-gouging. View at your own risk.

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No-write November?

So here’s the deal: I’m about to disappear for a while.

Or, at least, that’s what I’m guessing might happen. I’m actually not sure. I’ve never done this before. Done what before, you ask? This. NaNoWriMo.

For the uninitiated (or the still-uninitiated–I mentioned this briefly back in “Confessions of a (Nonfiction) Writer”), NaNoWriMo (na-no-wry-mo) is short for National Novel Writing Month, which, in America, is actually a thing, and also happens to be November. So, every November, a giant group of wannabe/lapsed/functioning/experienced (maybe?)/aspiring writers take on the totally-unrealistic-yet-somehow-still-achievable goal of writing a 50,000 word novel–in a month.

The rules are simple enough: over the course of a month, write 50,000 words that add up to a single, completed story. You cannot begin before November 1st, or finish after November 30th. You can research and outline ahead of time (I’ve done neither, unfortunately), but that’s it. If you stick to the schedule, you write an average of 1,667 words a day. It’s a bit strenuous. It’s a bit insane. It’s also a bit of a time-suck.

Which brings us to the topic of today’s post: I’m doing it this year. Yes, me, she who feels accomplished if she somehow manages to post once a week; me who hasn’t actually accomplished that feat since August. Me, whose one post deemed by the blogosphere to be worthwhile was one describing just how difficult and painful writing fiction can be. I’m going to write a novel. In a month.

So, maybe, don’t expect to be seeing a lot of me this November. Unless you’re on NaNoWriMo yourself, that is. Then, expect to see me posting daily, adding to my word count like (famous sports person) adds (points/goals/scores/touchdowns) to their (set/match/game). Because YES, I’m going to finish this thing. Time to conquer my fiction rut, with the help of the writer friend who got me into this and the massive writerly community that will judge me if I fail. Peer pressure for the win!

And, if you’re a NaNoWriMo-er, feel free to look me up–my handle on there is bekahg. I’m sure we’ll all need a little encouragement at some point of the month! Sixteen-hundred words a day is a lot no matter what’s going on in your life; with my schedule, it might just mean the end of every nonessential behavior, like blogging.

Or, you know, the beginning of every nonessential behavior. As I write this post, I’m very aware that I’m doing it solely because I have something else more important to work on that I don’t want to do. Procrastination is a powerful force, too.

Peer pressure versus procrastination: which will win? Stay tuned to find out.

Confessions of a (Nonfiction) Writer

Okay, I admit it: I like nonfiction.

Now this might not seem like too big of an admission for a blogger to make–well, of course she likes writing nonfiction, that’s all she does around here, anyway–but, for me, at least, it actually is a big deal. See, I don’t want to like nonfiction. In fact, I’ve spent the past several years trying to convince myself that I prefer fiction–and, to some extent, I still do prefer it.

(Oh, come on now, Bekah, no need to go into denial here, you’ve already gotten the worst of it out…)

But it’s true. When I sit down to read a book, it’s usually a novel I’m after, or a book of short stories–with the notable exceptions of a few amazing nonfiction books such as Outliers and King Leopold’s Ghost and Will in the World–and, when I daydream about a mythic future in which I’m a best-selling author (with a few Pulitzers and National Book Awards to my name, of course), the book in my hands as I dole out those interviews with talk show hosts is invariably fiction. When I remind myself that I need to spend more time writing, I sit down to one of my several in-progress short stories, and console myself that, come November (aka NaNoWriMo), I will at last begin work on a novel.

Yet, even so, when I just sit down to write, fiction is not what comes out.

It’s a cliche of writing to say that writers write, not because they want to, necessarily, but because they can’t help themselves. Well, as much as I may hate to admit it, I can help myself when it comes to fiction; love it as I may, my writing process in that genre is full of jerks and half-starts and self-doubt. I question my characters, I question my word choice, I question my conflict(s), I question my pacing, I question where, exactly, the story is going, or needs to go. It becomes almost impossible for me to turn off my self-critic and self-editor and just write. I may love the outcome, sometimes, but getting there is often nothing less than painful.

Then there’s nonfiction.

Shortly after high school, I was reading The Writing Life, a book of essays written by famous authors on the subject of writing that a high school teacher had given me, and I remember getting to one entry by a famous biographer, describing his process of becoming a nonfiction writer. The book itself is boxed away somewhere right now, but his general reasoning for his genre choice has haunted me ever since I first read it: He said his life had been too boring, too ordinary, for him to write fiction. I didn’t want that to be me.

I’ll be honest, before college I didn’t even know there was such a thing as creative nonfiction; in my thoughts, writing existed in two categories: fiction, and textbooks. That may be a bit of an oversimplification, but not much of one–if I’m remembering right, I read my first-ever piece of personal narrative, an excerpt from Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, during my senior year of high school, and it existed in my mind as an interesting, but isolated, writing form. Besides, even that was an exercise of journalism, and of research, more than of creativity. Creative nonfiction? That just seemed like a contradiction in terms.

Even in college, creative nonfiction flew under the radar with me–I got a Creative Writing degree on the fiction track (the only other option was poetry), and it wasn’t until my senior year that I took my first and, to date, only class in creative nonfiction.

But I was hooked. Sitting down to write was so easy–I just wrote! No questioning my story–it happened! No questioning my characters–they existed! Sure, I still had pacing and word choice to think about, but the primary struggles behind those concerns–namely, the constant preoccupation with setting up my main character’s personality and motivations through tone–disappeared, since the narrator was, suddenly, no one other than myself. My creative voice sprang forth almost without my trying. It was bliss.

And it is bliss–even now, as I type this, I cannot help but remember that that is what I am doing, now: writing nonfiction. And it was what I was doing, all last year, as I wrote my stories from Taiwan. When I want to process something, I write. I can’t help myself. And what do I write? Nonfiction.

What I didn’t understand about the biographer’s description of his entry into the field, but which I understand now, is that nonfiction of any sort is more forgiving than fiction of an ordinary background–but that doesn’t necessitate a boring life. In fact, in the case of creative nonfiction, it requires precisely the opposite: you must go have amazing adventures, or at least be able to dramatize your smaller ones, or you will have nothing to write about.

As a fiction writer, it actually helps if you had a screwed up childhood or identity issues or what have you, because those are the sorts of real human problems that go into making real human characters out of the ideas in your head; those are the sorts of fictional people people want to read about. As a nonfiction writer, reality’s okay–all you have to do is be able to organize it in such a way that it becomes interesting and meaningful. Nonfiction is intensely personal, and it’s that, very intimate, nature, and the author’s ability to bring others into that space, that makes for a good piece. Drama isn’t necessary if you’re doing it right.

So yes, I like fiction–I like reading it, and I want to like writing it. But the fact is, at this point at least, I’m a nonfiction writer–might as well step out of the shadows and claim it outloud.