Not so much conceding; not so much viewing the whole ordeal as a failure; but stepping back in order to re-prioritize.
That’s the way to think about it. And from one writer to another – doing so is completely a-okay.
The fear of failure is so prevalent in the world we live in. Many people regard a notion such as failure with scorn, revile it with such reverent disassociation to anything normal – as if success is the only thing we have in our lives to strive for. As if anything less than success is death, itself.
One of the main characters in my upcoming YA novel, The Quest for the Crystals: The Book of Wind, states such fears with eloquent honesty:
“Every mammal fears death,” said the heretic. “Death is weakness. Death is dishonour. Death is the relinquishment of what we strive to protect: our livelihood, our legacy – our place in the order of tribal hierarchy. Once upon a time, these lands were not so kind … though the Wolfen Empire no longer stands, the tenants of its foundation still very much exist today: only those who with the will and wits to survive unto another day matter. The fear that death brings is innate within almost all of us.”
– Chapter 19, “Trial of the Toecutter”
So many of us fear failure, that we would risk living out the rest of our lives in mediocrity, pushing ourselves to do things that our hearts simply do not yearn for. Anxiety sets in. Over-thinking, and then soon enough, we crumble from the inside, out.
I’ve taken part in NaNoWriMo four times. 2010, 2011, then in 2013, and finally 2014. Three of which were written from scratch; the second one a “rebel” cause. None of those books have yet seen the light of day. Each experience was trying and amazing in its own right.
The prospect of jumping back into NaNo this year in 2016 would have continued the novelling pattern seen above. Incidentally, it would have been another rebel cause, dedicated to revising the already-written sequel to Book of Wind.
Writing and revising Book of Wind had been a grueling, rewarding, two-year process. After sending it off to a handful of beta readers, it was time to work on something fresh, something on the back burner for a long while. I was looking forward to NaNoWriMo all year for this.
But then ideas came for the sequel, and the decision to hop right in was made. Logic told that letting the story stagnate for too long would only kill the momentum. Not a bad idea, but the problem came down to organization of the chapters already written.
Long story short, I became overwhelmed with the process of revising a story in as little as thirty days, especially when additional content needed to be written in lieu of processing older content, and my brain went kaput.
Thirty days is a generous amount of time to revise a currently 45,000 word novella. No doubt about it. But it was the pressure. The pressure of NaNoWriMo, everything it encompassed, exhaustion of things in my personal life, and the egoic need to succeed just shorted everything out.
So I decided to step back. And that’s a good thing. Revising your novel shouldn’t be a hap-hazard, messy, race to the finish. That’s what first drafts are for. The process of revision is to deliberately slow down and analyze everything you’ve written – see what’s great, what’s redundant, and how many darlings there are to slaughter.
For first drafts, NaNoWriMo is an incredible asset. You sit down, you turn your brain off, you write, and write, and write. It’s such a raw, emotional roller coaster of a thing to do – that more often than not, you’ll end up pleasantly surprising yourself upon reading the manuscript.
I’ll keep working on my project throughout the month. Whether I finish it or not isn’t the point. Reaching the word-count goal – that’s not the point.
Yes, writing 50,000 words in thirty days, from scratch, is an incredible thing to accomplish. But don’t let that daunting number hang over your head. If you’re struggling this month, please know that “winning” NaNoWriMo shouldn’t be the basis for an end-goal.
Sitting down and getting into the habit of writing every single day – that’s the goal. That’s the real test. In essence, that is what NaNoWriMo is setting you up for, if you’re a writer who wishes to take their craft with upmost seriousness.
It doesn’t matter how long you write for each day.
It doesn’t matter how many words you write each day.
Just so long as you make the effort, get into the habit, to write at least a little bit, each and every day. It adds up, man. Believe me.
So if you’re feeling the pressure of NaNoWriMo, feeling the urge to quit – that’s just fine. If it’s too much pressure to keep up with, that’s just fine. NaNoWriMo isn’t for everyone, and quite honestly, life gets in the way, our self-destructive minds get in the way. And that’s totally fine. Just do your best, and know that you at least did your best. That’s the important thing. Take your time, go at your own pace, and things will work out just fine.