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On “failing” NaNoWriMo 2014

December 22, 2014

On “failing” NaNoWriMo 2014

So even though I haven’t been posting here as much as I ought, I did post a series of meanderings over at Writer’s Digest over the NaNoWriMo insanity. The last post I somehow missed, but it’s live right here. You can click through all the other bits I shared from that final post, but I wanted to share the post here because it’s important.

So, read away, losers.

So here’s the thing. If you’re being technical, Jonathan and I didn’t win NaNoWriMo. Neither of us hit 50,000 words.

But I’m not upset in the least.

Why? Because NaNoWriMo isn’t just about “winning” really. Sure, you get a nice little badge and you can share an icon on your blog and social media. But at the end of the day sometimes (and this has happened to me) what you end up with is more work than what you started with.

From the outset, Jonathan and I wanted to use NaNoWriMo as a tool. Not an event. The focus, for us, was kindling a fire, carving out some time in our equally hectic lives to do a project that neither of us could manage alone. Did we do that? Hell yes we did. To the tune of around 70,000 words, we’re more than halfway through the book, and getting into the nitty gritty now. The deep collaboration. We had no way of knowing, starting out, where that would take us, where we’d end up. But once I hit about 35,000 words on my part of the story it became clear that we had to work more closely—and more slowly—to get the rest of the book right.

The most amazing part of the whole process has been sharing a brain. Well, not exactly. A space. That’s why we called our blog Two Brain Space—instead of going it alone, Jonathan and I have been able to bandy about when we’re stuck for ideas. And going back and reading what he’s written always inspires me to tweak and improve, and sometimes figure out entire sections of the book. It’s a thrilling, wonderful process to share an imagined world with someone who isn’t you. Like playing pretend all over again. But, in our case, with more spiders.

Defining your own success is a totally hackneyed concept, sure. But if you lost NaNoWriMo this year, don’t despair. You’ve started something amazing. Something no one else could do the way you’ve done it. You’re not a loser.

Stephen King’s On Writing was a big influence on my process early on as a writer. And he’s the one that’s forever lodged the concept of excavation to me—that we’re not so much writing books as we are excavating them, like archaeologists. Not every writer has the same experience or the same tools.

And NaNoWriMo is just one of those tools. What matters is that you become familiar with the habit of writing. That even when November is over, you’re finding those whispers at the back of your mind telling you to dig a little more. You’re out there finding new tools to help you dig out that dragon skeleton. Or maybe it’s a cavern to another world. Or an old spaceship. But you’re the only one that can do it, the only one that can find it.
So NaNo losers, let’s celebrate! So long as you’ve honed your skills and fine-tuned your approach, you’ve won.


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