on Failing NaNoWriMo Just to Feel Something

from sprinkler splashes to fireplace ashes, i gave my blood sweat and tears for this.
i hosted parties and starved my body like i’d be saved by a perfect kiss.
the jokes weren’t funny.
i took the money.
my friends back home don’t know what to say.
i looked around in a blood-soaked gown and i saw something they can’t take away.

It is December, which means I have failed NaNoWriMo again, just like I knew I would. It is my sixth unsuccessful attempt. Look at how I’m so cute and optimistic in the fall!

On this day two years ago, I published the post “What I Learned From Failing NaNoWriMo (again).” I’m sure it had a point that felt revolutionary to me, then. Everything feels revolutionary to me. It’s my best/worst quality. I have to have an epiphany like twice a week in order to survive. My epiphanies from 2020’s attempt:

-I am capable of writing so much more than I think.

-Not every story needs to be a novel.

I still finished that attempt with a sense of accomplishment. I wrote over 30,000 words! Sure, at least half were totally not usable. But still! I had an idea that I believed in, that I thought was timely, and may be commercially marketable in some way. I desperately wanted to start a project I could finish. I wanted a break from short stories after focusing on them exclusively for years. I wanted to have written.

After NaNo 2020, I did not sit down to seriously write again for like, a year. Even in the year following, I found it almost impossible to get back in the flow state. The beautiful 12 hours a week schedule I’d religiously stuck to in the months following my MFA graduation were long gone. Granted, there were other life changes that made this difficult, but it was the initial breaking of the routine that broke my stride. I was burnt. Any attempts that followed were born from me wanting to write because I was supposed to. I wanted to have written. I wanted things to start happening in my writing career, but I couldn’t do the work.

This is great the personal drama of my writing self–I can’t be jealous of the achievements of others because I don’t write. I could be a writer if only I could write. Poor poor me.

I’m sure there are people who don’t have this problem. People who can write novels in a month, perhaps. This problem has a simple solution, but it feels insurmountable. I knew trying to pull a novel out of my ass in the November was going to lead to the same desperate end result as the last try, but I needed some discipline. I needed a shock to my system. What if I let myself care more about writing and less about literally everything else?

So instead, I made my own rules. My only goal for Nano was to get back into my writing routine. No insane word count goal. No guilt-ridden making up of missed days. It had to be healthy or it wasn’t going to work. Instead, I made it my goal to try and write for an hour a day throughout the month. I did it first thing in the morning to tell my brain this is the thing we’re prioritizing. I kept track of word counts and still made a tentative goal (30,000… very much unreached), but some days I only wrote 100 words in five minutes before bed. I didn’t make myself feel bad for anything except not showing up. I only participated for the first half of the month (which I kind of anticipated, due to my schedule). I actually worked on the same WIP I began in 2020. It’s a lost twenty-something pandemic restaurant novel with a love triangle and a deeply unlikeable main character. The same story I’d decided toward the middle of 2020’s Nano didn’t need to be a novel, so I though maybe it could be a novella. I resurrected it a few months back when I needed a project to workshop and decided to give it a try as a novel again. I carved out a few chapters, workshopped it, hated it, and decided to start from scratch to fill in gaps in the story. I gave it a real go. I made Pinterest aesthetics and a playlist and an accountability thread on Twitter. I answered the questions the first draft had left open. I romanticized the shit out of drafting. It felt like moving muscles I’d thought were atrophied. Feeling accomplished and motivated for the first time in years, I was high on the feeling that I was really giving this story a chance.

But not every story needs to be a novel. And that’s okay.

Even if this is a novel that I wanted to have written. Even if I think this is a novel I might be able to sell. Even if all I really want is the accomplishment of having finished something, and I’d already written a combined 100 pages of it. None of these are good reasons to ignore when your work is telling you to move on.

So this is just another National Novel Writing Month post in which I end without a novel or having written for a full month. None of that matters. I needed to remember that I want to write to write. I want to do the work because the work is what I love, what has to be done in order to survive. I guess you could say that’s today’s epiphany.

Anyway, back to short stories.

xx, Tab

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