I Won NaNoWriMo – Hooray! (And So What)

This was the first year I participated in NaNoWriMo, and I completed my 50,000 words in 30 days. I have two simultaneous reactions to this accomplishment: Hooray! and So what.

Lemme ‘splain.

The Hooray Part

I did it, and that’s something. That’s worth a cheer. Do you have any idea how many millions of people in the world think: I should write a book, someday? Me, neither, but holy shit. it’s probably up there with white people who have opinions about Ferguson.

Next, think of all the people who have at least started to write something, but never finished. That’s a much smaller group. Again, we have no idea about real numbers, here. Perhaps it would be generous to guess it’s only a few million souls.

Now, we’re down to the number of people who have tried to write a novel, and used NaNoWriMo as a way to accomplish that goal: a smaller number of people, no question. Last year, only 310,095 participants won (hit 50,000 words in 30 days).

There were plenty of times during the past 30 days I didn’t want to write. There were days when I wanted to quit. The way I tend to sabotage myself is to wait until the brink of success and then develop some kind of problem or just mentally check out. I know myself well. I also know others do this, too, and when you see it in another person, it’s so much more obvious. I made myself more aware of this by watching episodes of Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen. The denial and mysteriously badly-timed problems on these shows were painfully obvious to me.

And yet I still managed to pull a psychosomatic fast one: during the last week and a half of NaNo, I got sick. My brain turned to oatmeal. I was too tired to write, but then when I laid down, my mind would race and my body’s sensations would get all confused (I call that “sickesthesia”) and I just couldn’t sleep. Plus sinus pain, headache, and a rough cough.

There actually were a couple days when I wrote nothing. The next day, instead of writing 1,667 words, I had to write 3,334 words. Except I couldn’t do that, either, and so I had to continue playing catch-up day-by-day. Thankfully, I got over it just in time to finish and win, writing over 3,000 a day for the last several days.

Despite my divided self trying to both succeed and fail simultaneously, the light side of the Force managed to outshine the dark. Even when I wasn’t sick, what would often happen is I’d be writing and I’d feel tired and sleepy. Sometimes, I gave in and really took a nap. I wanted to be up later after everyone else was in bed so I get more done.

Mostly, it was just psychosomatic resistance. When I played online games addictively, I would also get tired, and yet, most of the time, I managed to power through and keep playing. Why? Because I loved it and I was motivated. If I could do it for Guild Wars 2, why couldn’t I do it for my first novel?

The biggest bonus of winning NaNo was simply proving to myself that I could do it, because once that threshold is crossed, there’s no going back. There’s no more wishing, no more wondering, now there is only the doing, and that leads me to the “So What” part.

The So What Part

I did it, I proved I could do it.

Well, so what?

I didn’t do anything that writers don’t already do every day, and without the Dumbo’s magic feather of NaNoWriMo. Now that I’ve set the bar at this level, I couldn’t live with myself if I ever go below it, again. There will come a time when my life as a writer will be more than just pumping out at least 1667 words every day. There will be, in addition to writing the new stuff, revising and editing the old stuff. Publishers and agents will be sought. Setting up on Amazon or whatever will need to happen . I haven’t even thought about this stuff, yet, because all I want to do right now is finish one book, and everything else is distraction.

I wrote 50,000 words.

So what.

The average fantasy novel has over 197,000 words.

I have three more NaNoWriMos to go before I even have a first draft anywhere near that territory.

Not that hitting a certain word count is the goal–believe me, it’s not. But I don’t think you can call yourself serious about what you do without awareness and context for your work. And even though I did write 50,000 words in 30 days, and that’s the only requirement for winning NaNoWriMo, I’m barely a third of the way into the story events and plot.

There is much more to do before I even have a finished first draft.

The ultimate lesson is that now, every day is NaNoWriMo.

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