I mean . . ., okay, technically, it’s been out in the world since September. I just haven’t got around to saying it until now.
You may as well as me, Why? Aren’t you excited?
And the answer is yes, I’m very excited. Yet, somehow I’m having a hard time sharing that excitement with people.
Maybe it’s just the general 2020 vibes and all the anxiety and weirdness that comes with it. I’m sure that’s at least a part of it — however, another part is some strange block I have about promoting and celebrating my own work.
Example One. Sitting around a campfire with my aunt, cousins, and sister, we were taking turns saying the things we felt most proud off this year. When it was my turn, I rattled off a few things (of which I don’t remember). When I finished, my sister was flabbergasted. “I thought you were going talk about your book coming out. How could you not talk about your book coming out?”
“Oh, yeaaaah,” I said. “Yes, yeah, of course, I’m super proud of that, too.”
Last year, I jumped into National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in the hopes of washing myself of self doubt and depression resulting from years of struggling through a novel that just wasn’t working. The challenge of writing 50,000 words on a new project — something fun and exciting — was meant to help me shift away from a need to achieve the perfect novel (or perfect for me, anyway).
Writing last year’s brought the joy of writing back. The Monsters I Keep is apocalyptic YA horror novel about a teenage girl trying to survive in a world full of monsters. The way the novel was shaped allowed me to tell the story in shorter snippets (more aligned with how I write as a poet). The story presented it’s own challenges, but it was also a pleasure to write, providing a world I was eager to dive into.
It was also a story that I didn’t finish. Last year during NaNo, I managed to write some 40,000 words. Over the course of the following year, I added several thousand more. The first two parts are fairly well drafted, but the third part, the conclusion needs to come together.
Last year, when I started The Monsters I Keep, the world was a different place. I wrote the first two parts of this novel before COVID and all the chaos that 2020 has wrought.
Now, looking back on the themes of isolation and facing off against a world full of monsters hits a bit different. Turns out, I have new levels of personal emotional experience to draw from.
As I start in on part three of my character is coming back to people. It seems strange somehow — after experiencing everything this year has had to deliver — to be writing the section of the novel that’s about coming back to hope.
Then again, maybe it’s the perfect time to be writing about hope.
Good or bad, I’d like to finish The Monsters I Keep. It will still be only a draft, one that will need significant amount of work to make fully readable. But if I can pull this off, then it will be first full novel draft I’ve completed. That would be an amazing accomplishment.
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? How is it hitting different for you?
As I’ve been diving into National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this November, I’ve been trying to root myself into the present moment, focusing on the words in front of me in order to allow myself the joy of writing itself.
Even so, sometimes I can’t help but imagine a reality different from the one in which I exist. My mind drifts, draws up plans for the career, the house, the relationships I might or could have one day. A kaleidoscope of possibilities both achievable and not.
The person who exists in these scenarios is not me. Or not me exactly. Instead, the person is kind of a mirror self with a little mental photoshopping thrown in. An Andrea refracted into something better — braver, wiser, smarter with her money, confident in speaking her mind, and overall easier to love. The flaws and sorrows and doubts all vanish in this reflected persona.
For all my efforts to stay in the present moment, I don’t want to discount the value in such imaginings. As I noted in a previous post, there are points when drifting off into pontnetial furture can hinder progress in the here and now. At the same time, being able to visualize my dreams and goals provides me with a signposts for how to achieve what I want in life.
In other words, it helps to know what you want in life in order to achieve it.
Focusing on the now during NaNoWriMo has been an incredible blessing. I was looking to experience the joy of writing — and that’s what I’ve achieved.
I don’t necessarily want to write every day and I writing is still work, but its work that comes with surprises and delights and deep emotional resonance, when I let go of worry about the future and let myself setting into the process.
Currently, I’m around 10,000 words behind on my daily word count goals — and in all honesty, there’s a chance I might not make it to 50,000 with all my other commitments. (Writing this post is itself a kind of procrastination in that regard.)
But the word count, in and of itself, is not necessarily the point. I’ve written nearly 35,000 words and am still finding the story compelling. The events that have transpired on these pages have through the course of writing managed to both make me cry and creep me the hell out. My main character is messy and complicated and fighting so hard to survive. I love her and my heart breaks for her.
Regardless of where my actual word count lands on day 30 of November, I aim to hold to the story and the process of writing it. The work will go on and change, and I’ll discover new challenges along the way.
I may never reach the glassy perfection in the imagined reckonings of myself — and that’s okay. As a human, I’m messy and complicated and fighting hard (almost) every day to be better.
There is a value of envisioning the high in the sky possibilities.
There is a value in staying focused on the present moment and the tasks at hand.
The way forward (for me, I’ve found) is often through the blurred boundaries between the two.
What are some of your big dreams? What practical ways can you work to achieve them?
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is in full swing, with writers around the world diving into their novel or rebel projects. Words are spattering themselves upon page like rain — either in drizzles or downpours. Plotlines are taking root. Characters are waking up and blossoming into shape. Scenes are growing lush and vibrant.
At least, that’s the blessing I send out to all my fellow writers this month.
When I announced my intentions to partake in NaNoWriMo this year, one of the main methods of preparation was to eliminate all future considerations — all the little thoughts of what this new novel might be or become. In my first four days of working on the project, I have managed to get ahead of my daily goals, reaching just over 8,500 words. Along the way, it has been interesting to observe the little games my mind started playing, jumping past the present to future possibilities. Each time, I had to rein those thoughts in and find a way to keep writing.
Brain Game One: Future Success — The first day of working on my new novel was incredibly successful, which was a surprise and a delight. It had been a long time since I had such a smooth writing day, and I was proud of the words I wrote and the direction the story was taking. My brain, noticing me reveling in the pleasure of my success, immediately began jumping ahead. THIS would be the novel, this will be the one to achieve an agent and a publisher, oodles of money and awards, and —
Knock it off, I told myself. None of that matters right now. All that matters is here in the story. Who is this person you’re writing? What comes next? Stick to writing in the now.
Brain Game Two: Future Editing — As I continued on the second day, I found myself discovering the characters and what would happen to them through the act of writing. I allowed details and traits and events to evolve throughout a scene, allowing contradictions to take place and letting them lie, knowing I could come back and visit it later. My brain, however, would not let it be, insisting on telling me all the ways the previous passages would need to be fixed and fixed immediately.
Thank you, I told myself. But let’s worry about those things at another time. We’re focusing on the first draft. Let’s write in the now.
Brain Game Three: Future Failure — The process of writing is always shifting and not every day will flow smoothly. It was inevitable that self doubt would make its appearance, and it did on the third day. My brain fell right into lock-step, questioning whether these words would be good enough or whether this would just be another novel to sit languid in a drawer, ever unfinished.
Hush, I told myself. Everything’s okay. It’s a draft. It doesn’t have to be good enough. Just keep going, stick with the story and see where it leads. Write in the now.
. . .
As the month continues, I’ll have to face thoughts like this over and over again. It’s a continual process of pulling myself back to the present moment, taking a deep breath, and writing from where I’m at in the her and now. For the moment, I’m just enjoying the act of writing — which is exactly what I was hoping to get out of my NaNo experience this year.
If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo or working on any kind of creative projects this month, let me know how you’re doing. Do you find yourself fighting future thoughts? How do you deal with such thoughts and keep moving forward?
. . .
Note: This was first published in A Seed to Hatch, my (semi)-monthly newsletter on the writing life and things that are interesting to writers. If you enjoyed reading this, please check out the archives and/or subscribe:
I’m a long-time fan of the National Novel Writing Month (belatedly called NaNoWriMo) challenge to complete 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November. (If you want to know more about it, a recent episode of Annotated looks at the history of the NaNo challenge and why people dig it.)
I’m not entirely sure when I first starting taking part — probably around twelve or so years ago (way back in my LiveJournal days). I was immediately drawn in to the sense of camaraderie inherent in the challenge and often attended local write-ins, where I was able to sit down with a dozen other writers at a coffee shop and share in the experience of putting words on the page.
Some of the years, I completed the challenge, and some of the years I didn’t. Either way I always enjoyed the experience — regardless of whether I churned out anything editable or not.
It’s been several years since I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo (the last one being in 2014), and I’ve finally decided that it’s time I jumped back on the bandwagon.