Failing With Gusto

     NaNoWriMo is officially over and I’m kind of depressed. I didn’t make it to 50,000 words. This year was the first year I really tried. In previous years I started part of the way through November, already at a deficit, and when I never caught up I just threw my hands up and gave up after a week or so. This year brought new challenges, most especially having a 15 month old. I can’t remember if I tried to NaNo last year. I think I was too sleep deprived and depressed to even realize what day it was last November, let alone have the where with all to join a challenge. I also attempted to spend time planning and outlining my NaNo project. Previous years I’ve totally pantsed it.

     I’m trying to stay positive about my NaNo experience this year but I cannot escape the feeling of being a failure. I really had my heart set on finishing and having a winner badge, and enjoying some of the discounts that come with NaNo on certain things. Yeah yeah I know that is silly. In typical fashion for me I therefore feel like I wasted my time since I didn’t do everything perfect and end up a “winner”. That feeling is normal for me but is something I’ve been trying to get rid of.  I am trying to work on being less negative since it really doesn’t help achieve anything. When I have the negative thoughts I’m trying to tell myself that NaNo was actually super productive. It showed me how important writing really is to me. I have been feeling so anxious and antsy with no creative outlet. November was a much happier month for me creatively. Instead of sitting being bored at work I got my required stuff done and then wrote. Or brainstormed. So that when I got home I had a great idea. The unfortunate part was that I couldn’t quite seem to stick with my NaNo story. I got way more into writing short flash fiction pieces which I discovered during November of course. I also had some days I really just needed to zone out at night and get to sleep early. And my holiday knitting is now desperately behind.

     The biggest thing NaNo helped me with this year is showing me that I need to practice this. I can’t just jump into NaNo and write the Next Big Novel and become famous. I will have to just use my good looks for that instead. Ha! I kid. As far as writing fame goes, I can see now that writing every day is the important thing. If you want to be good at anything you have to practice it. Even with incredible natural talent you only become professional if you practice. You’d think I’d know this considering my life long musical practice. It’s hard to see how certain lessons apply to other aspects of life when you are new to doing them. I also do better when I have a bit of a competition aspect to things I do. So I found a challenge for writing practice by signing up for the 750 Words December challenge. I can use it to write blog posts, journal, or write creatively. I can access the website anywhere (work, home) and I’ll get badges! So if anyone out there needs writing motivation outside of NaNo, 750 Words is a great place to find some. And 750 words is a great amount to get a flash fiction piece started or add a good section to a longer piece.

     So yes, another NaNo is over. This year, however, instead of feeling like I’m done trying to write for another year, I’m getting ready to just keep going. To make every month a NaNo. Maybe the goal won’t be 50K in a month, but there will be a writing goal and I will keep writing. So that is a prize I haven’t gotten in years before.


NaNo Day 20 – Give Me A Badge!!!

I joined Wattpad last night and started browsing around. They are a NaNoWriMo sponsor and so I figured it can’t hurt to check them out. I have to admit, I’m not sure how much I’ll use it. The site seems littered with teenage angst and emo fanfic. Which, okay, have fun kids. That is a lot healthier way to express yourself than I had as a teenager. We had LiveJournal. And we wrote nasty things about each other and read nasty things other people wrote about us and then deleted it on second thought but too late damage done. At least creative writing is good practice for school and life. So go ahead kiddies, write your fanfic. I may spend some time trying to seek out adult groups and writers and just focus on them. I already added a few NaNo peeps I found from forums on that site. I decided if I do use Wattpad it’ll be for practicing flash fiction. I started reading more and more of this thanks to various sites that use this technique (hello Chuck!) and am really excited about adding this to my writing arsenal. Practicing writing a long book takes a lot of time. But if you want to practice a bunch of the key writing skills in say, a day or so, flash fiction seems to be where it is at. You can just jump into story meat, create tension, and then end with a bang, all in less than 1,000 words. Learning to draw that out will help for novel writing, but having the skills developed of how to create tension quickly or evoke emotions quickly or whatever goal your flash fiction has is an awesome exercise. Plus, I don’t want to post longer pieces that I might want to craft into something marketable someday. Some practice work and getting feedback on it seems safe to post on the interwebz though.

As far as NaNo progress goals I’m pretty stalled. I loaded my word count into the NaNo site last night and it told me I’d get to my 50,000 words on December 28th. Disappointing. I keep telling myself I need to use all my downtime, even ten minutes here and there, to write. But it just keeps not happening. I’ll wind up reading blogs about writing or searching NaNo forums or various other electronic distractions. I’m also now hitting this wall where I think my story is good but I don’t know how to keep developing it. So I keep brainstorming and coming up with ideas that I don’t think work for my NaNo novel. But man, they’d make super cool other novels. So then I start thinking I should write that instead. I then ask myself, can I just add the word count of a different story into my NaNo novel and say “Hey! It’s writing right! Maybe I’ll decide to switch the story to story #2 anyway!” But I kind of personally feel like that would be cheating. I didn’t set out to write short stories for NaNo. I also haven’t even gotten to the real action of the story I started writing for NaNo. So it’s not like I finished it, it’s too short, and now I’m going to write a whole other story to get my 50,000 words. So. No cheating for me.

For the measly time that is left in NaNo I may try to get my writing juices flowing by using this journaling time to do a flash fiction piece instead of expounding about my personal issues. Then try my hardest to use the best of my other free time to write my NaNo story. And I may have to let go of the idea of “winning” NaNo. Sure, I really wanted that winner badge and the pride of having finally completed a NaNo after years of trying. But I’ve made it farther this year than any other year, and sticking it out until month’s end would be an achievement in itself for me. And I feel at this point that I will definitely keep writing. I’ll write into December and January until my story is done. And then I will edit. And then maybe I can switch to a new story for a while. If anything, NaNo has really jump started me into doing something I’ve wanted to do for a long time – write creatively. If only you got a winner’s badge on NaNo for achieving that!

I Want To Be

The shower thought of the day was “You have to stop thinking ‘I want to be a writer’ and start going ‘I am a writer'”. I then realized after having this thought that I think wanting to be a writer is silly. Not for other people. But for me. It is. It’s silly. Growing up I always expressed myself creatively. I was in plays, musicals, took voice lessons, played piano, taught myself new musical instruments. I played games with myself in my head to get things like homework done. I pretended I was a world famous journalist whose important essay on geologic rock formations (or whatever) for my earth science class wasn’t really for earth science, it was for Time magazine (or whoever) and it was going to rock the world. I played that game with myself a lot. My writing assignments were for important magazines or books. And it made it so much more fun to do them.

Somewhere along the line I got it impressed upon me that being creative was not a career. Sure, you could have a fun hobby of that, but to be successful and financially stable you must have a real job. I also got a bit pushed into graduate school (that’s a whole other post) and while I wanted to quit halfway through it, I didn’t. I told myself I had to finish. And I did. But that didn’t stop me from hating what I studied and not wanting to have a career in it. Strapped with astronomical student loans that I didn’t really understand how large the payments on them would be, I have now been stuck in a career and job I sincerely dislike in order to make ends meet. Such is life.

So when I tell myself I can be something else, I feel stupid. I feel like a kid wanting a unicorn and to be a fairy princess for a career. Being a writer? Being in the creative arts for a career? Ha! That is for someone else who didn’t fark up their money situation like I did. That cannot be for me. It makes me die a little inside. Part of me that needs expression and fulfillment through creativity has been quietly crying inside my heart for that past 13+ years. I also tell myself I’m too old now to switch things up. I had a chance when I was a teenager, or even in my 20s. But now? In my 30s, I’m too old to make a change. I have to be an adult now. I have to be responsible. And how can changing careers be responsible? No no, I have to just let my creative urges be a hobby and just be happy with that.

But I can’t. I just can’t! Spending my days at an office job that is stifling my creativity and boring beyond belief is not a life I can live anymore. So I have to be the change right? Nothing will change unless I change it. I can’t just want to be a writer anymore, I have go out and be a writer. Or a musician. Or whatever. Obviously I can’t throw all responsibility into the wind. That would just result in more distress. It wouldn’t be fair to my family either. So it adds another piece to the change it up puzzle. How do I keep my day job and do something else with enough dedication that I may be able to make a career of it one day? This is a large conundrum. It’s the place where my eyes start to glaze over and there is a buzzing in my ears and I feel beyond stressed out and want to throw my hands up and give up. I think it’s the reason why NaNoWriMo became so important to me this year. And why the fact I’m failing at it is making me even more dejected. Somehow I pinned my hopes of changing my life onto completing NaNo. If I could really dedicate myself to writing (almost) every day for NaNo then maybe I can be committed enough to changing my life that I can actually change my life. I’ve already documented a lot of the hurdles I’ve felt here. Today adds more. How do I stop feeling silly and childish for having a dream and pursuing it? And why is that even stopping me? Who am I silly and childish to? My parents? Forget them – they had their chance to influence my life and they put up roadblocks instead of helping. My husband is supportive. So am I worried friends will laugh and go “ha, silly Rebecca, always wanting to do stuff she fails at.” If it’s true I keep failing it’s partially, if not all, because I keep stopping myself. By over thinking. By not living in the moment. By imagining the future and thinking it’s impossible. I just need to calm down. I need to stop trying and start being.

Easier said than done.

The Abyss of NaNo

My lack of ability to decide on plot points is killing my NaNo writing. I’m pretty settled on and happy with my main character. I think about her a lot. It’s easy to do. She’s kind of the girl I wanted to be back a few years ago. I know where I want her to start in the story and where I want her to ultimately end up, but I have no idea how to get her from Point A to Point Q. I have a few ideas about key interactions I want her to have or places I want her to go. For example, I want her to have a quest story. She needs to go somewhere to do something or find something or find someone or leave something or . . . crap . . . see? I don’t know. I know where I want her to go, because I have this imagine in my head of this scifi universe I want to create. I have some pretty clear images in my head of places to take her. But What. The. Fuck. Is she going to do there?

I don’t know.

And I’m getting really frustrated. As is my usual train of thought I start going down the “Well you must be making a mistake” path. Oh, gee, having a hard time? Well clearly you aren’t cut out for this creative writing thing. Better just stop. I’ve kind of conquered that thought though. A bit. Last night I was really hurting to get myself writing, but I did. However I spent half my writing time with my head in my heads going “Ugh that was so stupid this paragraph is boring what am I doing where is this going AAAHHH!!” So that was productive. I patted myself on the back for even writing anything at least. I now have successfully written about half a dozen different openings to the story. And I’m not talking even in-depth openings either. These are bare bones 1,667 word openings that go nowhere. Here is typically what happens:

1) I come up with something I think is an awesome opening line. I write it. WEE! Here I am! I’m writing!
2) Okay the second sentence needs to be just as awesome and make me feel just as warm and fuzzy as the first.
3) Time passes.
4) Okay I need more than just one sentence to keep this ball rolling. Just start writing and we can edit later and I’m sure once I’m on a roll the magical lines of perfection will just ooozzzeeeeee out of me.
5) I write. I actually write for a while! Lets say I write for 42 minutes.
6) I stop. I start re-reading what I just wrote. Oh god . . . that last paragraph was utter garbage. Like, seriously, what the fuck?
7) Okay, I can get this back on track if I just edit it. I may lose some words for the war of the word counts but they’ll be honored later with other better words so it’ll be fine. I start editing.
8) I stop. This crap can’t be edited. It’s boring descriptions of boring things that just need to get cut. But I’m writing this for NaNo! I just need WORDS right?! I can’t cut things right now.
9) I realize I need a drink.
10) I realize it’s gotten too late at night for a drink and I should just go to bed.
11) I toss and turn in bed all night thinking about what drivel I wrote and thinking about how I can get it back on track.
12) I get up in the morning and decide I should just ignore last nights pile of poo on the page and start over.
13) I start over at #1.

Quality. I’m sure this is what Stephen King does too, right?! Oh Mr. King – evoked as a pillar of authordom – do you, good sir, write pages of drivel, hate them, try to edit them, decide they suck, throw them out, and start all over the next day?! Oh wait you don’t? Cool.

Being new to this whole idea of making an effort to write something good (because lets face it, in any situation growing up where I had to write something for school, I half-assed it as fast as possible with no real editing and I turned it in and forgot what grade I got on it promptly after getting my grade) I’m at a loss to know whether or not this is just “part of the process”. Will something finally stick? If I just keep re-doing the opening again and again and again will I eventually tumble on one that I love so much it pushes me into the next part and the next? Do I just make my main character walk around town until I stop describing the color of the stones she is walking on and the smell of the breeze coming out of the sewer and have her actually be involved in something and have feelings?

I am floating in the abyss of uncertainty . . . I hope there is chocolate in here somewhere.

A Fifth of NaNoWriMo Please!

Hello Day Five. I guess all my November posts are going to be about NaNo. It is kind of all consuming in my life right now. Day Four didn’t go so great. I got stuck in the self-doubt loop where, though happy with my Day Three writing, I started to doubt where I was going again. I’m finding it hard to pick scenes to write when I have no idea where I want my story to go. What is the end? Without knowing this, how can I lead my characters to it? Though I have read a bunch of “how to write” articles lately that kind of bash that thinking. You aren’t supposed to lead the story anywhere, you’re supposed to let the character do it. Huh. This seems ridiculously foreign to me. How do I let a thing I’m making up lead me around? How do I relinquish control to an imaginary character that I am building? That makes no sense to me.

Then I had another brainstorm epiphany when drying my hair in the garage this morning (don’t ask). The “What do I want to write” question was floating around in my head. It also helps that my husband and I are watching Once Upon A Time on Netflix (we just started Season 2) at night. This is providing a lot of inspiration. I am not writing about fairy tales for my NaNo novel but my story wants for magic, and there is plenty of that in the show. So this morning while flipping my hair around in my usual drying fashion it hit me. I want hovering space stations in my story. And I want my main character to be a descendant of some hugely magical family. And I want her parents to be dopey and “missing”. They’re constantly on space cruises or something and my character wants to find them to ask questions but never can (subplot anyone?!). I might make the magical family history one of evil too. Maybe my main character’s parents are the ones who ended the evil by just hiding their skills, which is why she knows nothing about it. Or maybe they’re practicing some sort of shunned black magic and she has to pick between them and her new magic career. I realized I want magic to be part of her career path. It isn’t just for personal use. She’s going to have to use it for some job related purpose.

But then I started to think about the girl I have on the page so far. I’m not sure she’d want any of this. I’m not sure what she wants. I know how she is feeling where she is – and with these new writing urges and plot points I’m going to have to scrap some of the crap I’ve written already (after NaNo – or rewrite it to fit the new ideas) – but I have no idea how she is going to feel about finding out any of this or getting to space travel or whatever. Maybe that is what people mean by letting your character guide you? Do I just sit down and start writing the fun things I want to write and just see what pops into my head as a reaction?

As a result of all this thinking I wrote nothing yesterday, so I have writing to make up tonight. Though I don’t think that will be an issue tonight. I’m really determined to write out the scenes and explain the new magic world ideas I came up with this morning. Even if the result with be disjointed masses of inconsistant goo. At least it will be words, and another night of writing practice I didn’t have before. Though it is tempting to just play Pokemon X and zone out to television.

I am finding it difficult to squeeze in reading time too. Usually I read at work during breaks or times of boredom, but now I’ve been wasting my time on NaNo forums and writing down brainstorming ideas for my book. Side note, it feels weird to say I’m writing a book. Who am I to write a book, let alone a novel? It sounds like a little kid who wants a unicorn and to grow up to be a fairy godmother kind of thing to me. “Gee, teehee, I’m writing a book!” I still struggle with finding a point to all the writing if the world wil never like it too. What if I write these 50,000 words and then it just sits there, and never gets published, or read, by anyone. What if I never write another thing? Will it be satisfying enough to say “Well, I tried! No more dreams of being a writer, off to find a new dream!” They make drugs for my kind of crazy don’t they?

What Will Day Four Bring?

The self-doubt has once again set in. I really only had a brief sketch of an idea outline in my head for my NaNo novel. I know I want my MC to be involved in a Society Within Society. Something hidden and special, that only select few get into. At first I thought it would just be an application system to get in. The Society would observe you doing . . . whatever . . . and based on your natural abilities you’d get in. Then I changed it, because magic would be so much cooler! So okay, now my MC lives in a futuristic world and is a bit of an outcast because she has things going on in her head that other people don’t. She doesn’t talk about it because she was told not to, but one day she starts to figure out how to control it, and then the magical society shows up and YAY! Fun and gummi bears and magic wands for everyone! Okay, so I didn’t want it to be like magic wand magic. More like, being intuitive and able to access some sort of realm that others can’t. Then I started thinking that was too close to copying other authors whose works I love. Don’t want to be opening myself up to infringment suits! So then I started thinking I’d change things a bit. The Society Within Society now had some magic, but primarily their powers would come from advanced and really cool technology.

Awesome! Look at me with all these ideas! But as I started to think of what I wanted to write next, after my epically good session yesterday, the self doubt arrived. The hyper critical mind started barking at me. I was merely copying the genius of others. I have such a shakey system I will never write well about it. I need to know my magic or tech or both systems inside out before I can write them out. And I don’t. I don’t even know what I want the system to be, let alone:

What are they doing?
Why are they doing what they’re doing?
How are they doing what they’re doing?
What are the limitations of what they’re doing?
What are the costs of what they’re doing?
What characters will I create for the new society?
Wait, now should this really be Sci-Fi?
Should I make up a planet or a space station or some shit?
Would my MC even like doing whatever the crap they’re doing?

I started off wanting my MC to get pulled out of her humdrum life where she feels largely unhappy and doesn’t get to be herself. I wanted her to go on a magical adventure, and find new amazing cities to visits, shops selling curious wares, someplace her creativity would flourish and help others.

But where is the conflict? Will there be evil there? What kind of evil? What do they do?

I started thinking about all the things I don’t want my story to turn into. I don’t want to write a murder mystery. I don’t want to right about tyranical governments that suppress everyone and now people are trying to rebel. I felt like a lot of my Society Within Society ideas were starting to travel to that type of thing, in order to achieve the right feeling of boredom and suppression for my MC. But I don’t want to write about that. I want to write about the fluffy unicorn farts and that nifty over the ear headset that lets people hear what dogs are saying and crap like that. But I just cannot figure out a point! What is my point! Without a point, how do I have something to shoot for with my continued writing?!

Oh the glories of this process. I’ve never gotten this far into it honestly. So I guess I can throw that pat on the back into my piggy bank of positives and hope these issues clear up by the time I go to write tonight.

The Terror of Day Two

Day Two of NaNoWriMo was a bit of a bust. My first writing session on Day One got off to a bumpy start. I tried to attend my local NaNo event. Life and family came first though and I didn’t arrive till pretty late. There was barely anyone left there writing, and those who were mentioned their thousands of words written already and were mostly chatting. Loudly. And then the room we were in was also an area for used book purchasing. Suddenly, after maybe 45 minutes there, hordes of college aged hipsters (yes, hipsters) began to mingle and search for used books. Loudly.

I felt awkward and silly. I’ve always done badly with social situations. Really badly. I had gone hoping to introduce myself, jump right into the group, but once presented with the situation I felt so, well, ridiculous. Why? I don’t know. I may try to attend a future event, but arrive on time or only fashionably late instead of ridiculously so late no one else is writing anymore.

The writing I managed to do, a mere 500 words or so, I hated. Even as I was writing it I said to myself “This is not the tone I wanted at all. This is not the way I wanted things to start. This is totally a chapter I want way later into things but now I’m writing it at the start and it’s hard to not remember I wrote this and try to start again. AARGGGHHHH!!!!” I came home and wrote more. I got up to 2K words, and I did manage to jump back in time and do a new start. I actually felt really good when I closed the laptop for bedtime on Day One.

Then Day Two arrived. I brainstormed in the shower, which is really the best place to brainstorm. I came up with what I thought was a super amazing idea!! I wrote it in my Novel Brainstorming Notebook (also super important to brainstorming). Then I went out with the family for lunch. And we ran errands. And we got home. And I thought more about it. And I thought even more about it. And then I realized it was dumb. What a dumb idea. So cliche. So done. Like, lots of times done. Plus, I probably stole it from some book I read. Because I’m not capable of original thought.

Then bed time for the baby came. And I was free to write. So instead I browsed NaNo forums. I tried to find posts to give myself motivation to just write my stupid idea. I mean at least then I’d have my word count. Instead I just browsed my time away, till I was passing out tired. And I went to bed. Without any additional NaNo’ing.

I also chatted with a friend during the forum browsing. I told him how I was having anxieties and fear, imagining that my novel was so stupid no one ever wanted to read it. Let alone have it published so I could validate my existence with being a Super Famous Writer. I then realized I am constantly trying to validate my existence with things like this. I have to prove that what I’m doing isn’t a waste of time by having other people think I’m amazing. I do this at work. I drive myself insane trying to do extra work so that my manager notices and tells me what a good job I’m doing so I feel like my time spent there in the right way and my life is somehow meaningful. Now I’m doing it with this novel. I’m even afraid to tell people I’m writing it. I think my family would say they want to read it when it’s done. And then man, what will they think of me when it’s a pile of drivel?!

My friend said I should put the worries aside and just write the book I want to read. I’m still working on letting go of my perfectionism with this project. Now I also have to let go of the validation psychosis. I’m really just seeing how crazy I am. I guess that is sort of good. Maybe if I actually follow through and do this I’ll be committing self-therapy and be less crazy. Actually . . . doubtful. Okay I take it back. I’m not crazy. I’m a child of a generation that expects instant results and minimal efforts for those results and bases identity and worth on being able to be perfect without trying.

I can overcome this! But now I have to figure out, really figure out, what is the story I want to read that I can write for me? My current ideas and characters are riffs on my life. Characters closely related to how I am, the obstacles I currently feel in life. But they will get to overcome them. They will get to live in a world full of fantastical happenings they never even knew about, but get to be involved in, and love, because they open their minds to the possibility. When I write it like that it almost sounds cool. But the actual logistics are bogging me down. And my inability to write in the tone I want (comical and light and tongue-in-cheek) is really frustrating me. I guess, practice practice practice? I better stop this post then and go off to practice in my NaNo space instead.