Yep. That’s the word. Like when some life-altering cataclysm hits, and you wake up lying in the dirt, blinking numbly around at the altered landscape and wondering what just happened.
That’s how it felt to wobble up out of my writing cave once December finally arrived. I know it’s been an outrageously long time since I last posted, but I was so exhausted after NaNoWriMo that I just didn’t want to type another word for at least a couple of weeks. I had a serious case of burn-out.
Well, here’s roughly how the month went…
Week 1: Due to social obligations I couldn’t get out of, I only wrote about four out of the seven days that week. Story flow felt very slow. I never seemed to quite get “into the zone”, but I still enjoyed myself. Spent a lot of time editing as I went along and looking up tiny details every time I hit a hole in my research, but since I enjoy research, that was fun too. Checked my word-count at the end of the week and realized I’d come in way below the 12,000 I needed to average per week to reach 50,000 by the end of the month. Told myself not to worry. I still had plenty of time to catch up.
Week 2: No social events to distract me. A lot more time to write. Tried to steer clear of the endless rabbit hole my research tends to become, and simply made notes in the next where I needed to fill in more info later. Consistently went to bed an hour early so could get up and write before breakfast, which is when I seemed to get the most done. Still edited a lot as I went, but stopped reading over (and re-editing) everything I’d written the day before when I began a new writing session. Still had fun. Increased my word-count by about 3,000, but was still below the weekly average, and certainly had not made up for the first week. Started to get a little nervous, and told myself I better figure out how to type faster or write for longer periods. Or both.
Week 3: Threw my shoulders back, set my jaw, and determined to hit a 12,000 word minimum. Eliminated all extraneous research and stopped doing any editing except for polishing up the final paragraph from my last writing session (to warm me up) when I started the next one. Everything else I just left as is, with only minor grammar corrections as I went along. Gave up my exercise routine to leave more writing time. Started to feel like I had no life outside of a keyboard, but figured I could take that for a couple of weeks just fine. Exceeded weekly goal by 3,000 words. Gave myself a pat on the back and tried not to worry about the fact that the final week included Thanksgiving and a trip to Florida.
Week 4: Annoyed family members by insisting on writing at least 1000 words before I would speak to anyone or come out of my room in the morning, even on Thanksgiving day. Stopped editing all together. Wrote for 7-8 grueling hours straight on the drive home, with music blaring in my headphones to (partially) drown out the 5 other people in the vehicle. Decided I was definitely putting some noise-blocking headphones on my Christmas list. Began to get so worn out that I had trouble remembering what exactly I meant to do with certain threads of the story. Problem-solving skills were seriously deteriorating. Was NOT having fun anymore. Felt more like a word-generating machine than an inspired story-crafter.
November 29th: Took a slight break from my grueling routine to write at least one important scene the way I LIKE to write. Slowly, deliberately, editing as I went and enjoying the sculpting of words. Then took a deep breath and dove back in to cranking out words at high speed, determined to meet the deadline.
November 30th: Up by six. Wrote before breakfast, during lunch break, and after work while waiting for my ride. Went home, wanted to kiss a certain family member who offered to make dinner for me. Wrote until time to eat. Wrote after dinner. Wrote past bedtime and into the dark silent hours of the night. Kept on, watching the clock tick toward midnight until, in the final hour between 11pm and 12pm, I was so tired that I sometimes realized I’d been staring at the screen blankly for several minutes without knowing I’d stopped writing. Finally banged out the last words to cross my 120,000 word goal for the book about 15 minutes before December hit, and collapsed into bed feeling like a zombie. I’m pretty certain the last few thousand words were utter gibberish.The next day I announced on Facebook that I’d met my 50,000 word goal. And technically, I did. But it turned out to not be nearly as clear a “win” as I was hoping for.
You see, somewhere along the way I confused my 50,000 word NaNoWriMo goal with my TOTAL 120,000 word goal for the book. At the beginning of the month I calculated that if I wrote 50,000 words, I would pass my manuscript goal and possibly finish the first draft. But at some point, I got those switched around.
I assumed if I hit 120,000, it would conversely mean I had also written 50,000 in November. That would have been true IF I’d started with 70,000 at the beginning of the month. But I didn’t. I started at about 71,000. So I needed to pass 121,000 in order to have actually written 50,000 in November. Had I figured that out a few days earlier, I could have found a way to squeeze out another thousand some where along the way. But it was too late.
Talk about a bummer.
Disappointed, I went back and added up the words in a of a couple of scenes I’d written and then decided not to use. I hadn’t deleted them, just marked them as “unused” in the writing software, which kept them from being added to the final word count. They totaled 800 words all together. Which meant I was 200 — yes, a measly two hundred — words short of 71,000.
Of course, with all the other words I wrote and then deleted (sometimes whole paragraphs) during heavy editing early on, I’m sure I actually DID write the extra 200 words. But they still aren’t listed in the final word count. So after all those grueling, miserable hours banging out words there at the end, I can’t even feel like a total success.
I never, Ever, EVER, want to do that again.
I may set a lower, more comfortable goal for next year’s NaNoWriMo, but I don’t think the 50,000 is a good fit for me. Why?
Well, because I learned something valuable about myself and my writing style this November. Turns out, I LOVE editing. Some people say you should just spit the words out on the page, get the basic story down, and worry about the editing somewhere down the road. I always sort of thought that was the “ideal” way to write, and that I should really push myself to do it that way. But you know what? I figured out why I never have. It’s because I hate it.
Turns out, what I really enjoy is the crafting of the story. The playing with words, the shaping of beautiful phrases, the carving and the molding of each sentence until it says exactly what I wanted it to. That’s when it becomes art. Editing isn’t a drag, holding me back from my creative process. Editing IS my creative process. And when I try to skip it, forcing out an uninterrupted stream of raw narrative, I’m miserable. I don’t feel like a wordsmith, skillfully crafting a tapestry of sentences and paragraphs. I feel like a nauseous typewriter vomiting words onto a page.
So, did I get a lot of words written last month? Yep. Did nearly finish the first draft of Lily and Fred’s story? Yep. Did I learn a lot about the value of discipline in a writing schedule? Yep. Did I discover important things myself as a writer? Yep. Am I still relatively glad I did it? Yep. But do I have any plans to set another 50,000 word goal for next November?
Not a chance.
So there you have it everyone. The long-promised (and long-winded) blog post is at an end. Merry Christmas to every one of you! I doubt if I’ll be doing much writing before January. I’m going to be enjoying the holiday season (and the lack of looming deadlines) for at least another week or two. I’ll be spending time with family and friends, singing carols, and remembering the One who’s arrival filled the sky with a heavenly chorus, brought wise men seeking a promised king, and marked the great turning point in mankind’s history.
“For unto us a child is born, and to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government, and of peace, there will be no end…The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” – Isaiah 9:6-7