I Just Failed My Novel

I haven't written anything this month because I was busy. There was so much writing to do this month. There's my short story for my workshop, which I ended up revising and sending in to a magazine as a manuscript, and the first 30 pages of a screenplay for another class. Then there was my novel. My NaNoWriMo novel.

NaNoWriMo is the odd abbreviation for National Novel Writing Month. It is, essentially, a marathon for writers. You have 30 days to write a novel. Go. Some people liken it to a religious experience for writers. There is no real, tangible prize or any recognition. There is just a community. This is for writers and their own benefit. So, how are you supposed to write a novel in 30 days? How could you expect quality to come from such a rush job?

That's the thing. It's not going to be good. It's going to be an unedited first draft, but at least you've got it done. For writers, the internal editor is always a problem. The internal editor stops you from actually getting shit done. He or she is like the opposite of your muse. He or she tells you everything you write sucks, and bugs you until you go back and spend an hour revising a short paragraph. Writers, generally, are very familiar with this character. NaNoWriMo is designed to circumvent that. By providing such an outlandish, intense deadline, writers are forced to learn how to shut their internal editor up and just keep the story going.

It is also a testament to the journey that writers take when investing in a story. Web diagrams and other brainstorming activities are great. But ideas also come when you actually just start writing. Your story takes twists and paths that only occur to you while you're writing it. That's why writers are always describing the process as a "journey," or as if the story itself was sentient and revealing things to the writer. It's why some writers do not consider themselves creators, but instruments through which ideas create themselves. One writer in a NaNoWriMo e-mail (As a member, you get weekly pep talks from established novelists. How cool is that?) described it as finding the hidden door in your imagination, and learning how to access it at will.

I found out about the concept sometime early this year. It wasn't November, so I marked my calendar for when I could start getting excited about it. I was determined. When November finally came, I sunk my teeth in. The goal is to write 50,000 words by the end of the month. That equates to about 1,667 words a day. Simple. I can write that much in an hour. How is it that only 13,000 out of 80,000 finished in 2006?

This month, I found out. The first few days were a breeze. The first few thousand words came, like water, as I established my main character, Geoff, a college drop out and the town he lived in, San Huerta, a place similar to everywhere. No magical twists and turns, but I was on the way to 50,000. But it didn't stay that way. Things happened, things got in the way. I took a trip out of town up north, and knew I'd have no time to write, so I didn't bring my laptop. I came back late, exhausted, and slathered in homework. Each day deprived me of sleep more and more, and I found myself not having the brain capacity to stay awake, much less write a thousand words. "I"ll catch up on some weekend," I would say to myself.

But that's no excuse. What really happened was that after taking that week or so off from NaNoWriMo-ing, I found it easier and easier to just not write the novel. I would work on my short story, or my screen play, or some more private writings. It's the classic procrastinator's disease. I put it off hoping to make it up some other day.

I made one final push to get my wordcount up from 8000 during the last week. But it was hard. I had no idea where I wanted to go. None of the miracles had occured to me, and frankly, my story was boring (as expected.) I sat, looked at the 30 pages I had written, and I realized I wasn't letting myself have fun. I was so firmly stuck in reality, in mediocre lives that I didn't want to write about Geoff. I didn't want to continue Geoff's story because it wasn't fun.

So I stabbed him.

I stabbed Geoff and set the building he was in on fire. He didn't die, it just shook him up and put him in the hospital. A plot device, yeah. But it became fun again. I threw out 5,000 words in one sitting. They came out in a tumultuous rush, like I had finally found valve on the faucet. It felt good, and it was fun. It taught me a lesson about envisioning stories and making sure that I'm having fun, not just writing something that I think has credibility and depth and meaning. Fuck that literary bullshit if it isn't fun to write.

But it wasn't enough. In the end, I'm finishing with something like 17,000 words. I just couldn't see myself having time to write 9,000 words a day to make it in time for the end of the month. It would truly become a marathon if I attempted that. I didn't have the time, what with finals and my student organizing life caving in on me. So I had to close the book on my book before it ever really got off the ground.

Yet, I felt bad for Geoff. His life was cut short because I was too busy and procrastinated for too long. He was a victim of a senseless, random crime. He didn't find direction in his life, he didn't reconnect with his family and he didn't resolve his internal struggles. He never got the girl.

So before I gave up completely, I gave him an ending. It's not a novel, not a full story, but it has an ending. It became like a metaphorical send off, a way of not throwing in the towel, but going down with a fight. I wrote him an ending that put him on a path toward a future. It didn't have to be a bright one, but it was a perpetual possibility, and that was enough. It was a decent charity from writer to character.