Failing NaNoWriMo

November has a lot going on. It’s the beginning of the holiday season. Obviously, it’s the month where Thanksgiving is celebrated in America. It’s also No Shave November. Most of my guy friends had fun with it and saw it as an excuse to not shave for that month. The month of November also has significance for other interest groups such as: Peanut Butter Lovers Month and National Sleep Comfort Month. I hate Peanut Butter. On a cold day, I’m comfortable sleeping in. Too bad, I can’t use Sleep Comfort Month as an excuse, because I have adult responsibilities. As a writer, I heard about National Novel Writing Month a few years ago from another writer in my writer’s group in Portland, Oregon. The NaNoWriMo challenge is about group motivation and taking up the purely intrinsically rewarding challenge of writing a 50K word “novel” in a month (non-fiction, short story series, and memoirs count too). NaNoWriMo helps me write and it’s encouraging to hear other people’s word counts. And, there are write-ins in the local cafes and libraries. I tried to hit the 50,000 word goal and missed it. At least I tried. I’d rather try something and fail than do nothing and stay in the safe, comfortable but terribly boring bubble.

My friend Beni wrote an encouraging article about failure. I recommend reading it when you get a chance. She moved to Mumbai after growing up in Canada and the US. When someone makes a life decision or tries something:

A life change of this magnitude begs a few reasonable questions and a host of uninvited other questions that serve no purpose but to make you feel like an idiot

She’s probably getting a host of questions and comments that serve no purpose other than making her feel like an idiot. I got those when I moved to Singapore last year and then ended up moving to Boston. At least, I don’t have a boring resume. Even those who attempt a less-risky task such as writing or taking up a new hobby deals with naysayers. It may not be as bad. But, it’s still ridiculous.

In our Pinterest-ified, phony world, it’s refreshing to hear a straight up, no BS style. (So, thanks again Beni). Think about it. Everyone flashes their ideal life and successes online. Yet, no one realizes that success involves hard work, failed attempts, exhaustion, frustration, and commitment. My theory is that our Pinterest-ified world that glorifies a self-centered and self-promotion attitude makes people have unrealistic expectations and maintain a myopic teenage attitude of thinking they are invincible. Thus, a person becomes less patient and empathetic towards another person’s journey that includes failures. Some people seem to have more failures because their journey is not a straight path but involves mountains, valleys, and treacherous and unclear paths. A writer’s pen life will have its ups and downs. If I don’t take risks, I’d turn out to be one of those boring basic bitches with nothing interesting or substantial to talk about other than drama and BS. 

I’m failing in the sense that I’m having trouble meeting NaNoWriMo’s 50,000 word count by the end of November. This is the only time I’m envious of housewives who have the flexibility. During the second week of this month, I started a new long-term temporary position. It’s not easy balancing a 9-to-5 gig, being a new stepmom, and writing.

That’s life and definitely no excuse. Writing is about making time and commitment. It’s funny how some non-writers and newbies have a romanticized perspective of writing, and think writers and creative folks are magical being who can flawlessly conjure up masterpieces. Then, there are people who always wanted to write a book but hold unrealistic expectations. I can sympathize with one frustrated MFA professor who had students saying they had no time for their writing assignments or reading assignments, which is unacceptable for a grad student. As I try to sympathize with the grad student, I think our culture demands multitasking, busyness, and running around. I try to not overload my plate and OK with saying no. I’m no people pleaser and have no remorse over politely turning down requests or taking paid vacation time. I’m the kind who gets excited about everything and need variety in my life. I just have to try different things, meet different people, venture out to new places. I want to do everything and experience all the fun activities, people, and experiences offered by life. Then, I realize that I’m too exhausted and can’t do it all. I’m also getting used to a new lifestyle of being a new working stepmom. I get the little guy ready for school before I drive off to work. Then, I realize that I have visitors for the holiday season. 

Having no time to write is not an excuse for me. I carry an iPad around and write while waiting in line or for appointments, in the bus, breaks and lunch, and any down time. I also pencil in writing time in my calendar.

NaNoWriMo is a good way to remind me of the purpose of the first draft. The first draft is meant to be my own space to experiment, play with words, and enjoy writing. I’m strictly a “write first, edit later” type of writer. When I’m composing the first draft, the priority isn’t target audience, correctness, or anything related to publishing. The emphasis is creation and getting it done.

In the beginning, I was psyched out and completed roughly 18K words by the 2nd week. Then, I burned out. I’m struggling with a neurological condition that leaves me exhausted, fatigued, and in physical aches. I’d rather not name it to avoid discrimination. It confuses people because I do not look like an ill person at all. I can go to the gym (but I have to be careful and avoid certain types of exercises). I go to the gym to keep myself healthy as much as possible. I look fine and normal. I have plans, dreams, goals to accomplish but my body cannot keep up with me. It can be a nuisance. It’s that proverbial thorn in the flesh. This thorn in my life revealed to me that I’m no superwoman. No one should try to be and it can be hard in this world that demands so much from you. It also revealed to me that there’s more to me than what I do. No one’s self-worth is determined entirely by what they do. It’s sad that our world is so task-oriented that elderly and disabled people are put away and hidden or worse assumed to be lazy and mooching off welfare.

I wasn’t hard on myself over NaNoWriMo. I simply wanted to finish my novel by the end of November. It’s a friendly, fun competitive endeavour such as arm wrestling with your friend at a party and you get super-competitive in a fun, hilarious way. It’s the type of competition where you can laugh about getting beaten for the 10th time.

I’ve gotten past the denial stage. At times, I have been overcompensating for my illness with steeper goals and higher stakes. I just want to feel “normal” and as if I am still living a productive normal life. I have no desire to be treated like an invalid or leper. My ambitious mindset could have also been from the fact that I was raised by Indian immigrant parents who have high expectations. I grew up traveling around the world and enjoy seizing adventures. Dreaming big is fun and exciting in itself.

Failing NaNoWriMo was a mirror to my soul. I got to see that it is perfectly acceptable to let go and try things. I’m not overly disappointed. Attempting NaNoWriMo gave me the boost to finish several chapters. Through NaNoWriMo Write-Ins and local activities, I had the chance to meet new people that I would have otherwise not met.

I’m still writing that novel and having a great time with it. Think about it: if I’m not enjoying the writing process, then why would an agent, acquisitions editor, or reader enjoy it?


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