Why I didn't Do NaNoWriMo and State of the Novel Address

I don’t know how long NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) has been around, but I first heard about it in 2013.  I kept seeing that word pop up on blogs but had no idea what it was.  I was absolutely delighted to find out that it was a yearly occasion during the month of November in which writers all over the world focused on one goal.  Write a novel in one month.  Don't worry too much about form or style.  Just sit down in front of the computer screen and get the words out.

By that time, I was almost two years into committing myself to seriously working on an abandoned novel manuscript from 2009.  I was tired of thinking about writing a novel and decided it was time to do it so by the time NaNoWriMo 2013 rolled around I was in 80,000 words with hopes that by the same time next year I’d be done.  Maybe I’d try my hand at NaNoWriMo then.
Novel excerpt because I said I would a long time ago and never did

My state of the novel address is a bit late this year.  This one is from November 2013 and here is another from November 2014

My novel was officially done in June 2014, but any writer knows that is also just the beginning.  Within days of putting it aside I found myself bursting with new ideas and changes.  I let my mom read it a month later and took a break.  It took her a little while to finish it up, but she returned it with tons of notes on grammar and wording.  I did all of those basic edits and then was thrown back into editing mode.  Every sentence, every word, every comma was questioned.  I added, rearranged and jotted notes in my iPhone whenever a new thought occurred to me, which was all the time.  It was a good thing, but kind of awful at the same time because it was all consuming and I didn't know when it would ever end.  My manuscript grew longer and longer with each round of edits and I still didn't know how I felt about any of it.  Some days I thought it was good.  Other days I wanted to throw it in the garbage.  NaNoWriMo 2014 came and went while I was caught up in a never ending cycle that I have come to know as editing and revision hell on earth. 

After the first two major rounds of editing I could tell my manuscript was getting far too long for no good reason and so began a cutting spree.  It is super hard to cut words after working so hard for each and every one, but lots of words don't necessarily make a manuscript better.  It had to be done.  Words and chapters that would serve no other purpose than to bore a reader were chopped and I whittled it down to where it sits now at 104,500 words.  I needed a real break so I put it aside and haven't looked at it in four months.  I did some some research on finding an editor, finding an agent, and self publishing.  You know, just to see, but that's it.

With the novel finished 2015 might have been a prime year to do NaNoWriMo, but I couldn't do it.  I've had a few ideas cross my mind, but nothing I was ready to jump into yet.  I can't start something new until I figure out what to do with the old one.  This novel was my baby.  My first.  My labor of love.  I put so much of myself into it and I'm having a hard time moving on.  I haven't published it and I haven't decided not to.  I think it's as good as it's going to get without additional feedback and editing.  It is definitely time for someone who isn't my mother to read it, but I can't bring myself to let anyone else lay eyes on it.  If I have any intention on going any further with it I'll have to get over it, but that is just the thing.  I don't know if I want to.  I mean, of course I do.  What person painstakingly pulls 100,000 words from the depths of their soul and doesn't think about publishing someday?  The question for me is not if I want to, but if I can.   It's hard to admit to yourself about something you put so much work into, but I don't think my manuscript is good enough for traditional publishing.  There is a big difference between my manuscript and the glossy ones I see in bookstores.  The kind of books that are good enough to land an agent and a publishing deal.  I'm not saying it never could be, but it's not there yet and I'm not sure if I am capable of getting it there.  Getting an agent is a long shot even if your manuscript is stellar, but anyone can self-publish anything they want these days so the question becomes if I should.

I won't publish something just so I can say I'm a published author.  That title means nothing to me if I don't think what I published is any good.  And I'm not saying it's not any good, I just don't know if it's good enough.  I don't know that it meets my criteria for being publish worthy and there is all kinds of self doubt about whether or not it ever could.  It took me two and a half years in my spare time to finish.  That is a long time, but I don't care if I worked on it for ten years.  I think it's far worse to put out something you are uncertain about than to not put it out there at all.

I'm proud of myself for finishing what I started.  That was always my one and only goal.  Finish.  I wanted to know if I could string together thousands of words and make a complete story that someone might find enjoyable or interesting.  I did that.  It may not ever be published, but I did what I set out to do.  I wrote it.  I polished it up.  I told a story near and dear to my heart.  I'm proud of what I did and it took a really long time but neither make it publishable.

Writing a novel is so much harder than anyone ever thinks it will be.  There is so much that goes into it and then there is even more that goes into making it better.  Some days it flowed and other days it was like pulling teeth.  It was hard, but I really enjoyed it.  I liked spending my Saturday mornings at the coffee shop searching for the words that had already formed pictures in my head.  Getting new ideas was a rush.  I loved the process of getting it all to come together into one cohesive piece with characters and colors and dialogue.  I love writing and so it was genuinely something I did because I have a passion for it. 

Maybe my manuscript is chalk full of potential or maybe it's as good as it gets.  Maybe NaNoWriMo 2016 is just the thing to get me motivated again or maybe that many words in so little time is too much pressure.  My monthly goal seems laughable now, but it was only ten pages per month and that was typically limited to weekends.  Maybe I'll look at my novel with fresh eyes and muster the courage to pursue it further or maybe I'll decide to keep it just for me and me alone.  Maybe some day I'll figure out the meaning of life.  Time will tell.  It always does.


Kate said...

That's awesome that you've finished! I understand the need to want it to be up to your standards--I think that is why I struggle so much with my two different novels I've been trying to write. I want it to be perfect, and I question everything I put into it. You should definitely be proud of yourself for finishing, because many of us never make it to that point!

Kari @ Oh, For The Love Of Stories said...

I relate so very much to every single thing in this post. Especially the idea of not feeling like your story is good enough in comparison to others. I mean, I'm not even done with my first draft and I want to toss it every other day. But here's what I try to remind myself of (and what I think you should remind yourself of to, judging from that excerpt up there which is fantastic writing btw):
Don't compare your beginning to someone else's end. I've heard that when it comes to writing you will always feel it could be better. Published authors have looked back on their first novel in a series and thought they could write it better if they rewrote it now. And yeah, sometimes realizing that your MS could be better is disheartening, but it's important to look at so many other things as well. Aside from the question of "being better", your story is so much more than the way that it's written. It is its themes and messages and what it means for the person who reads it. It is whether it all comes full circle and whether it means anything at all.

For instance, I devoured Twilight in college and I loved the entire series. I look back on it now (and with a critical writer's eye at that) and think "eh, it wasn't all that great." I still rewatch the movies all the time, but I haven't reread the novels because I'm certain it will lose it's magic for me. But that was it was, years ago. Magic. At 20, I was dealing with the whole "boys conundrum", trying to figure out what it meant to "date casually" and whether that was something I even wanted. And despite all of Twilight's downfalls, it was instrumental in helping me figure all of that out. For some Edward's "controlling nature" screamed of domestic control and the like, and I'm not diminishing that aspect, but for me... for me, Twilight ensured me that I shouldn't settle for casual fooling around when I could and should have someone who truly loves me. -- That could be your book. Your book could do something like that for someone else.

Now that I've rambled enough here (lol), I'll end by asking: is it "not good enough for traditional publishing" because you're not happy with your story? Or is it not good enough in comparison to those on the bookstore shelves? Because if it's the latter, I urge you to remember a little book called To Kill A Mockingjay. TKAM is a classic by any standard, however, Go Set a Watchmen...well, that was quite a mess I've heard. Harper Lee submitted GSAM to editors and was rejected, but someone saw the potential in it, worked with her and helped her polish the best parts of it into a book that we all know and love. Just one example of how a raw product can be polished into something that shines like gold. I have no doubt that there's gold in your story too.

Kari @ Oh, For The Love Of Stories said...

And by "Mockingjay" I of course mean "Mockingbird", but my little Hunger Games obsessed heart just won't quit :)

Hi, I'm Susannah! said...

Wow! That's incredible that you've finished!!!! What an amazing accomplishment! I hope you're able to get it published! <3