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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why I Am Not a Novelist

This year, I am a proud NaNoWriMo loser.

I don't think the great people at the Office of Letters and Light want those of us who don't finish our novels in the thirty days of November to call ourselves losers. Those who finish are winners, but those who don't are still participants. Some of us participated more than others (and less). My idea was good but my motivation on 27 of the days was pretty terrible. Sometimes it was because I was legitimately busy with raising three kids, trying to run a household, work a couple of part-time jobs (including retail with holiday hours that start in November). Sometimes it was because I chose to spend time with my spouse over time developing and writing my store. Sometimes it was because I had the flu (that was horrendous).

And sometimes I just didn't want to write. At all.

I had plenty to say (anyone who knows me knows I have plenty to say, and most of it is stuff no one but me cares about). I was proud of my story idea and was developing two characters I loved and admired. The original idea had morphed from a kind of quirky romance into something that asked deeper questions about how we fall in love, who we fall in love with, and the permanence of the human body and the human spirit. I plan to keep writing my story long after November ends. I don't know if it will ever become a novel. Sadly, fewer people read short stories than read novels, but I feel my story may be better told and explored as a short story.

What did I get most out of trying to participate in NaNo this year? I learned more about myself as a writer than ever before. I studied creative writing in high school for two years, then writing and literature for four years in college. The years since then have been peppered with attempts, some noble and some foolish and some just stupid (which is much worse than foolish). But none of it taught me what NaNoWriMo 2012 did:

1. I need space of my own to write. I need to be able to have music or silence, to have no human or domestic distractions, and to be able to be fully dressed or the opposite of fully dressed.

2. I need dedicated writing days. Making myself write every day is counterproductive. I can do Facebook statuses, text messages, and Tweets every day. But writing for writing's sake just frustrates me. The two days I set aside for writing at home I KILLED IT. Tens of thousands of words.

3. Dialogue is not my strength. I need to find good examples of dialogue and study those writers if I ever want my characters to have decent conversations. Right now, my narrative is like the Italian countryside in spring and my dialogue is like a Swedish fishing village in winter.

Just those first two discoveries were really enough for me. I realized I still like writing (I wasn't sure), and so that makes me more likely to want to make the first two on the list happen. I told my spouse that if I were to become a "serious writer," I would need a place, like a teeny tiny office where no one could find me, and I would have to go there a couple of days a week. It would be like my job on my off days from my real job.

The prospect of finishing the story is very exciting. I don't know when it will happen, or if any story is ever really finished (I have unfinished poems from 1993). But I'm sure I will tell everyone!

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo this year, or any years prior? Did you finish? Under what conditions do you do your best work?


  1. I have been following your path with this since you began it. I am a writer unbeknownst to most every person. I started a novel two years ago and it is left unfinished. I want to finish so bad and I know the ending, but I am stuck with the middle/climax of the conflict I have set up. I feel that eventually it will come. Inspiration comes at weird times I have discovered. I have actually written entire novels in my sleep. I hear what you are saying about short stories. And it may as well end as a short story, but for now in my mind it is still a novel. And Dialog too. But, where is it written that novel must have tons of it. Some novels move perfectly and wonderfully along with little said that way. Poems are a way to bridge the gap I think between the periods you are working on the completion of a novel. I have them dating back to 1981, of course they get worse before they get better. But, I think they are a creative outlet to let your juices flow so to speak until your novel finishes itself up to you. I will be waiting to read your finished work.

  2. I didn't try nanowrimo this year becuase I have three novels unfinished and thought I should really concentrate on finishing one. I did write about 15,000 words in the most current one this month. Still not finished.
    I definitely think long sessions of writing are better than a little each day, because I forget where I was going. But where to find the long stretches? A problem.

  3. Daisy, I have a similar issue in that I know lots of certain events and situations that I want to occur, but my transitions are troublesome.

    Christie, I can not even commit to showering daily sometimes, so it seems silly to commit to writing daily!

    Thanks for commenting!