Current Works in Progress

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sheepish grin, begin again.

The two months of silence following my last post may have clued you in, but allow me to confirm what you may have already suspected: this year's NaNoWriMo attempt was, again, a complete failure.

Well, perhaps I should qualify that. I finished up the month of November at a word count of 5155 words - somewhat short of my (admittedly hubristic) goal of approximately 200,000 words. I failed to complete the first chapter, never mind two novels. I didn't even come close to achieving my goals, so in that respect I failed. I did, however, learn an incredible amount about myself, the writing process, and how the one fits with the other. 

You may have noticed, in my last post, that I referred to my plans in terms of how many hours I had available. I ended up setting my writing goals that way - in terms of time spent. This was a mistake. "Butt in chair" is a vital concept for someone who wants to be a writer, but it is a prerequisite, not a goal. I will forever more set writing goals in terms of words on the page, because that is the only metric that means anything. 4,000 words is 4,000 words but 3 hours of buttchair time could be anything from several thousand words to none (psst, it was none more often than not). The goal is to put words on paper, not to sit in front of a computer for a certain length of time.

Goals were an important aspect of my learning experience in this year's NaNo. I learned that I had set crappy ones. The goals I set for myself in November were concrete goals, so I didn't fall into that trap, but they weren't the goals I really wanted to achieve. On the day to day side of things, I didn't want to spend a certain amount of time in front of the computer, I wanted to write a certain number of words. With my goals for the month, I came to realise that what I truly wanted to accomplish was not so much the writing of a novel, but the publishing of a novel. While the writing of a novel is a necessary (and thoroughly enjoyable) step in achieving that goal, it isn't necessarily the best first step.

One of the reasons jumping right into the writing of a novel was a bad first step for me is that I lack endurance. A novel takes a very long time to write. Weeks and months of grinding away at something without getting any meaningful feedback from anyone but yourself. It seems impossible for me to maintain the self-belief necessary to keep plodding away in the absence of feedback. The doubt begins to creep in: I've never published anything. Why would I invest this much time and effort into something without a reasonable expectation of success? Keeping in mind that my end goal for writing a NaNo novel was always to get it published, and also keeping in mind how difficult this is to achieve, these doubts had the not inconsiderable heft of truth and reason behind them.

Luckily for me I was, at one time in my life, a high-performance athlete. I know how to build endurance. I know how to build it safely, efficiently, and (most important of all) how to maintain it once you've built it up. You don't build endurance by going as hard as you can for as long as you can, until you drop from exhaustion. You build endurance by going as hard as you can, for short periods of time, as often as you can. As the time required for recovery decreases the time you perform for increases until you can go as hard as you want for as long as you want and still go out dancing that night. Mind out of the gutter, people.

With that strategy in mind, and with my newly refined writing goals in hand, I have embarked on a new journey.

I am signing up for "Write 1 Sub 1". The idea is that you write one piece of fiction (of any length) every week and submit one piece of fiction (not necessarily the same one) for publication every week for a year. As the first week of January is pretty much over now, I'll be writing two next week and then at least one a week after that. I've got my market listings ready to go, I've got duotrope bookmarked, and I've got a list of story ideas a quarter of a mile long. I'm locked and loaded. Time to build some endurance.

The writing part is under my control. I will write a minimum of 52 pieces of short fiction this year. Submitting is likewise under my control. I will submit a minimum of 52 pieces of short fiction this year. I'm hoping to publish at least one of those pieces, but that is less under my control than the others so I'm not going to state it as a goal (just a hope). Write and submit, this I can do.

Now who's with me?


  1. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for sharing a failure! It's easy to share a success, or to cry about a failure - much harder to turn it into a learning experience to use to help yourself and others. I didn't finish Nano this year, either. Think I'll sign into write one-sub one and write along with you this year.

  2. It does sound like you learned a lot from the NaNoWriMo experience. I read somewhere, and I think it's true: Nobody wants to write but everyone wants to have written. I've written four novels in the past ten years and I think the last two are publishable, but I can't get agents to agree with me. So I blog. It's a great way to meet great people like you.

  3. @Carolyn: I've certainly failed enough in my life to have learned this the hard way - the only true failure lies in failing to profit from experience. If I'd come out of NaNo the same as I went in, that would absolutely be a failure. As it is, I consider it to be experience.

    @Stephen: Stop it with the "great people" business, you'll make me blush...

    I actually enjoy the writing aspect of it, by the by. My point was more that the reason I want to write a novel is to publish it; merely writing a novel with no further goal in mind wouldn't be as satisfying for me. I'm not wired to put that amount of effort into writing a novel if I'm the only one who's going to read it.

    With your novels, all I can say is keep on keeping on. Keep submitting, keep revising, keep going. I'm sure you've read all the same advice I have, and I know you're a skilled enough writer to get there if you want to.


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