Failing with Grace

…Wow. Words I never thought I’d type. Ever.

“I Suck.”

We’ve all been there. You probably deleted something you spent hours on and replaced it with those two simple words.


So yeah. I failed NaNoWriMo for the first time in like five years. And that hurt worse than breaking bones, burned more than the fire in my hearth, and all around just made me feel like a total and incomplete waste.

But I shouldn’t feel this way. I know. You tried your best, you gave it your all. Better luck next time, champ.

Even in my failure though, I accomplished something that many people never thought they could do. And for 30 days I was a champ.

My total writing output for the month was a little over 60,000 words. But that’s winning, isn’t it? You’re supposed to write only 50,000!

My NaNo this year was to finish my novella and write the first half of a standalone novel all the while outlining and index carding two other books.

Way too much on my plate. In the end, I charted 37,258 on my standalone and mixed the rest up with my novella and a couple of index cards and a sample chapter or two for Night Watch. And redesigned my webpage. That was excruciating.

If writers are gluttons for punishment, and even a tad sadistic with what they do to these poor little characters on paper, than web designers are masochists. And my heart goes out to them.

Seriously. That stuff is hard.

But, now my grand total on the standalone is 25,111. Don’t ask. The pruning sheers were excellent. And justifiable.

Given all the freak accidents and bad luck that befell me this month, 25,111 is something to be proud of.

Then why don’t I feel like such a hero?

Because I don’t have anything to show for it.

Except for 25,111 words?! That’s more than most people write in their lifetime.

I think part of it stems from my reckless abandon as I chased the finish line and impulsively checked my word count every five minutes.

I wrote scenes that were 1,000 words long because they needed to be 1,000 words long. I didn’t force myself to stretch a paper thin premise for an extra 600 words that I knew it didn’t need.

Because what would that accomplish? A little check mark on my daily planner.

Big stinkin’ deal.

I can’t help but prune as I go along. Even when I turn spell check off, I still see that tiny little oopsie and I go crazy. Out, damned spot!

Were they distractions? Yup. Were the necessary distractions. You’re damn right.

I’ve never “not finished” a book because I got hemmed up on the distractions of the craft. I’m the type of person that would prefer to do something write (yes!) the first time rather than go about and redo it six times when it could have been perfect on the first.

I know this NaNo will get finished. It just won’t be done for the month of November.

Because you can’t microwave dinner and call it a gourmet meal, no matter what the pretty packaging will try to convince you of.

And even though I spent a good three hours designing a pretty cover that I hoped to have on a printed ARC for next week, it’s okay. Because I know something that pretty deserves to be on something that twisted.

But, when it’s done and I approve, I know it will go next to all my other books. If I’m going to put my little pile of dreck next to Stephen King and Jeff Abercrombie, then you can bet I’m going to do the best I can to make it FIT on that shelf.

You can’t dress up a rusted out Beetle to make it look like a brand new Benz.

And my little books keep company in high society on my shelf.

So, I won, even though I failed. But I won. I know, it doesn’t make sense, but it does. The point is, you don’t need one month out of the year to prove you can write. You can do that every month. And every day. Even if you failed, you still accomplished something.

And something is better than nothing.

So, did you guys win NaNo this year? What beat you down? Did you celebrate your success?


6 responses on “Failing with Grace

  1. Louise Broadbent

    I did ‘win’ but I never felt like I did. I didn’t celebrate or really acknowledge my achievement. I think it’s because I wanted to write a novel in a month, not just 50,000 words (which wouldn’t be long enough, anyway) so even though I did manage 50,000 words in a month, I felt like I failed because it’s not a novel. And I think that’s a real shame, actually. 50,000 words in a month is very impressive for me, I can admit that, but I still don’t feel it.

    Maybe I’ll feel like a winner if I ever get this novel ‘on track’. Or maybe I’ll never feel that way. Even if it gets accepted by an agent or, miracle of miracles, published.

    I guess I’ll have to find other achievements to celebrate.

  2. Evan

    Good post, Dave.

    You mention that it’s not worth stretching a scene to 1000 words just because you have to write 1000 words that day. I might have agreed with that statement at one point or another, but I’ve had a bit of a change of heart. Last year, I did a very strict 1000 minimum word count per day while I was working on a first draft. I honestly finished scenes, like you, in a few hundred words. But the extra words often brought to light great surpries. I would say the extra words didn’t make it into the final draft 75% of the time, but some of my very favourite moments in the whole book ended up coming from those extra words. In those extra words, I found myself exploring characters and dialogue exchanges in ways I might not otherwise not have.

  3. Colette

    @Louise: I can’t help feeling that you should treat yourself to something, even if it’s just a favorite candy bar or a new pair of socks, and congratulate yourself on meeting a goal. I think that’s what keeps us going when we feel like our writing sucks, or we don’t have time…those daily, weekly, yearly goals. We’ll be writing a theme week on goals in January, but definitely take time to celebrate and pat yourself on the back. You accomplished something worthwhile.

    @Dave: I agree, you won. In striving for a goal, we at least move toward it. I believe that applies to so many things in life. You only fail if you give up. As long as the goal is in mind, you still believe, and you’re still making efforts, you’re moving forward.

  4. Clancy Metzger

    You don’t suck… by any stretch of the imagination. You accomplished a lot! I, on the other hand, really did suck when it came to NaNo. It was my first official attempt and I succeeded on meeting my goals on Day 1 & 2 and then nothing. Nothing the rest of the month. At least not on my novel.

    Take heart in all that you did do and know that some of us hold you in high esteem for that 🙂

  5. Frank Morin

    Keep writing. Period.

    I think NaNo is useful because it encourages us to set lofty goals and focus more than we might otherwise. I did not do NaNo because I was not ready. My planning for the next novel was not complete, and I was in the middle of editing a previous ms. For me, NaNo will be January.

    I think as writers, one of the problems we have with celebrating the little successes we reach is that we’re always looking ahead to the next project, the next draft. The work is never finished. And when we do type “the end” and actually mean it, then the work is starting all over again with a blank page 1.

    Are we nuts? Absolutely. Will I stop writing? Never.

  6. KDAlex Post author

    Here’s the thing Louise, whether it’s done or not, or even if it meets your lofty or low expectations, it’s done. It’s 50,000 words you didn’t have before. Even if in the end, you only keep 5,000. Or just the name of your main character. Or his nikes…whatever. You did it. And it’s worth celebrating. Just take a breather, enjoy your earned victory and shiny certificate.

    I never expected to F I N I S H this book in NaNo. I knew it was too much to tackle. The story couldn’t be told in 50,000. I’m estimating at least 85k from start to end. My new estimate is 50,000 will take me to the end of my second act in a three act story.

    The point is, Colette is absolutely a hundred percent right. You did it, you won. Whether you feel like a winner or not, it’s one helluva achievement.

    I got into the whole NaNo thing years and years ago because I always wanted to write and I read voraciously. In my naivete, I said “Hey! I can do this!”

    And I tried. And tried again.

    But, most of my failure stems from the fact that every year I set myself up I end up blowing things up and inflating my head and my goals to such expectations that it’s impossible to meet.

    In 2009 I was actually really proud of my accomplishment. I wrote a whole novel, I think it was like 60,000 words. Yea, it was still kind of short for a full length novel, and there were parts with holes big enough to drive a Mack truck through, but it was done. And then it was edited and improved. I went from 60,000 to around 75.000. Not “full length” by many standards, but complete. You know, in this world of door stoppers, a 75,000 quick beach read really really makes me feel good.

    Anyway, in 2010 I decided to raise my bar a little bit higher. I wanted to write a book for my great uncle after I got some terrible news. I inflated my expectations so high that it was impossible to be anything but let down.

    And I learned from my mistakes: 2011, I set my bar even higher!

    And it rolled down hill.

    This year, my NaNo got Skyrim’d. But, after everything going on, the last thing I could do was bring myself to lift the lid on my laptop and actually write. I probably should have, it would have made me feel better.

    But, I self-medicated with escapist fiction and other things that I’m not all that proud of.

    Ask the Fictorians. They know me. I was AWOL from like the second to last week of October up until maybe a week ago.

    Everything is all about growing up. It’s a learning process.

    We’ll all get there someday.

    I’m just riding on the back of turtle swimming toward a double rainbow.


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