Sunday, 8 November 2015

What I Learned By NOT Finishing NaNoWriMo

by M Joseph Murphy


Although I've published four books, this was my first year attempting NaNoWriMo, Honestly, it was the first time there was a break in my writing schedule. I decided to do something completely different. Normally I write paranormal thrillers and epic fantasy. My NaNoWriMo book was pure thriller, a story about a sex addict who becomes the target for a serial killer after posting an exhibitionist video online. I even threw together a quick cover. The NaNoWriMo site suggests there is a link between adding a cover to your work in progress and actually finishing it.

If you're not familiar with NaNoWriMo, it stands for National Novel Writing Month. The challenge? Write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. To non-writers this sounds impossible. But all it amounts to is writing around 4 pages a day (around 1600 words). I normally write 5-6 pages a day and quickly found myself outpacing the deadline even though I was in China for the first few days of the month.

That's when I made my first mistake: I got cocky. I was so far ahead of schedule I decided to take a break. I started writing every other day instead of every day. Fortunately for me, this book quickly took on a life of its own. The words flowed out of me like a man possessed. In 10 days I reached the half-way point.

Then life happened. On Saturday the 15th, my husband complained of abdominal pain. I assumed it was just hold over from our trip to China. He'd experienced a bit of intestinal unpleasantness halfway through the trip. Hours later he was moaning in pain with near constant stabbing pains. He told me he thought it was his appendix. I thought he was being overly dramatic.

Not so much.

We went to the hospital at 9:00 in the morning. By 10 at night, he was in surgery to have his appendix removed. I suppose I could have brought my laptop to the hospital and wrote while in the waiting room. Or I could have left him there and gone home to write.

But I realized something.  Some things are more important than finishing a novel.

Maybe that's not the message we're supposed to send. Like you, I've heard the stupid slogans: You're not a writer unless you write every day. I call bullshit on that. Whoever said that should do some research on famous writers, many of whom did not write daily. I write most days and, like I said, I already have 4 books published. So, yeah, I am a writer. But you know what's more important?

I'm a human being. What kind of jerk would I look like to abandon my husband at the hospital on our anniversary just to get my daily word count in? The next few days were spent keeping him company and trying to distract him from the pain and annoyance of recovering from surgery.

Again, I'm sure I could have found some time in the following days to write. But each time I stood to leave, one thought formed in my mind. On my death bed, what would I be more upset about: not writing that day or not spending time with Rob?

It was never a question about finishing the novel, it was a question of finishing it by the artificial deadline of November 30. It only took 4 days before my husband could function on his own. By then I was far behind in my word count and made the only decision I regret: I stopped writing.

Like a 5 year old, as soon as I realized I couldn't win I decided not to play. I couldn't write 25,000 words in 10 days...only I know I can do that because I already HAD done it in the first part of the month.

So here are the three things I learned from NaNoWriMo:

  1. Some things are more important than writing. If you don't get that, I feel sorry for your family.
  2. Don't get lazy. When you're ahead of schedule, keep plowing. You never know when life is going to throw you a curve ball. You can use the breathing room.
  3. Don't stop. Missing a deadline is not an excuse to stop completely. Keep working even if you don't "win" NaNoWriMo. The important part is the novel, not the award.