Another National Novel Writing Month has come and gone. Maybe you pushed through and collected your intangible little badge. (I did. Nary a free drink nor swooning supermodel in sight so far. I have been lied to.) Maybe life got in your way and you got distracted. Maybe you stopped caring about your book. Maybe you just stopped feeling like writing. Maybe space chimps replaced your brains with Captain Crunch and you liked it. Life rolls on.
So let’s say you didn’t finish Nanowrimo this year. Should you feel bad about that?
Yeah, I think maybe you should.
Bear with me.
About two-thirds of the way through this year’s Nano, I struggled a lot — as I do pretty much every year. (November really is a terrible month for a project like this, especially if you’re not used to daily output. Newcomers to Nanowrimo invariably discover this with keen astonishment, many of them waiting for that mythical “better month” when, presumably, life will stop happening.)
I was way behind. I disliked my story. Other time obligations intruded. I lost sleep. My fingers hurt. Walking Dead was on. And so forth.
A couple of friends tried to cheer me up. Hey, if you don’t make it, that’ll be okay, they said. You can just pick it up in December, champ. No big deal.
Only it was a big deal, and it took me a little while to parse out why attempts to comfort me and let me off the hook only aggravated me further. And then it hit me.
If you didn’t make Nanowrimo, and you’re unhappy about that, then it means you were serious. Or, at least, you wanted to be serious.
And if you fell short of your goal and didn’t feel the slightest bit bad, then maybe what you were doing didn’t mean much to you in the first place.
This is true of everything in life, not just writing. There’s nothing wrong with feeling bad about missing the mark you were shooting for — as long as you get back up and try again. Reams of cliched platitudes have been built on this fundamental principle.
Yes, Nanowrimo is a big, frantic communal goal, and falling short, especially when you see other people go racing past you, can hurt. But don’t lose sight of why it hurts — because, presumably, you really want to write.
Don’t let that disappointment turn into something bigger than it is. It’s not a sign you “don’t have what it takes.” It’s not a soul-crushing insight on your total lack of character. Don’t start playing Pink Floyd’s “Time” over and over while squinting into the middle distance and crying. I said stop it.
Now, maybe Nano didn’t work out for you and you feel just fine about it. That’s cool too. It can be a sign you’re not serious, but that’s not necessarily the case. Plenty of writers start out with Nanowrimo and reject it without blinking an eye. Not a thing wrong with that, as long as you replace it with a process that gets your ass in the chair and words on the page. Whatever works, as long as it works.
But if you find yourself feeling crushed by this year’s Nanowrimo — take your time. Get a little sad about it. Get mad at yourself if you want to. It’s okay. Work through it.
Cool. Now get back to writing.