I don’t like to lose. But I did. What is worse is that I lost a contest where I was only competing with myself. I lost NANOWRIMO, the month-long competition to write a 50,000 word novel. The only prize is self-achievement (and a cute little digital badge.)
A mere 3 days ago, I was on track to win. As recently as day 28, I was speeding toward the finish. I’d been consistent, writing every day, ticking up and up. I’d done everything right. (See below).
A meteor crashed into my backyard and out popped tiny pink aliens covered in fur with giant heads and small bodies. They snuck into my house in the middle of the night and whisked away all of our electronics because they ran out of electronics on their planet and it’s their main source of food. Then they ate all the electronics and paper, just for good measure, in a 100-mile radius so I couldn’t finish my book.
Obviously, that is not what happened. But it’s much more interesting than the truth.
Life got in the way. Two days before the end of NANOWRIMO, work (aka, my day job as an editor that pays the bills) got very busy, like 24-hours a day and don’t sleep busy.
This work schedule didn’t leave much time for my second, and much less lucrative job, of being a YA and MG novel writer. But that wasn’t the reason I lost NANOWRIMO. I failed because of my own over-achieving ambition and inability to set realistic goals.
I failed because of my own over-achieving ambition and inability to set realistic goals.
If I do something, I do it all the way. There’s no half-assery in me. (I know half-assery is not a real word.) When I start something, I don’t stop until it’s done and done well or extravagantly. If I throw a party, it can’t just be a little get-together. There has to be a theme and more theme-related food than is needed and decorations that make people gasp and, well, you get the picture. (See literal picture below. Not my handiwork but representative of something I might do.)
I attacked NANOWRIMO the same way I attack the rest of my life. It is kind of like when I clean out my closet. I make a huge mess and then spend hours and hours cleaning it up, not stopping until I’m weary, covered in grime.
But when I clean my closet, I’m focusing on one goal. I don’t try to clean my closet and also paint a room in the same day. At least when it comes to physical labors I know my limits. In writing, I don’t know my limits yet, probably because I don’t want to have limits.
In writing, I don’t know my limits yet, probably because I don’t want to have limits.
For NANOWRIMO, I wanted to do it right. I had to write a new book. I couldn’t count the time on the ones I’d already started. (Why? Because I’m a over-achieving lunatic. We’ve established that, right?)
With only the breath of an idea, I opened my laptop that first day and wrote. The story gathered and formed into a sort of strange monster with too many limbs and several heads. It was ugly and raw and I loved it.
Instead of writing linearly, as I normally do. I wrote scene by scene and then began to tie it all together, sometimes not so successfully. It didn’t matter. At times I’d spit words out onto the page for hours, blind to the aches in my back and fingers. Other times, I’d struggle to figure out where to go next, not seeing the way to connect my story islands together. It was freeing.
In an effort just to get words on the page, I fell back in time, becoming the little girl who used to sit on her twin bed with its purple comforter and scribble until she filled an entire notebook, not turning back the pages to see if it was any good. Just writing to write. Just writing because there was no other way to get out the thoughts and emotions in her brain, something she could only do through stories. I found that girl again and it felt good.
If I’d focused on her, that girl I’d left behind on my childhood bed, I might have won NANOWRIMO. Instead, my adult self, with its need to always do more, be better, an “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” mentality, wouldn’t cede power to some wide-eyed inner child.
On weekends and during other pockets of time when I could have been working on NANOWRIMO, I continued to write and edit a YA novel I’d previously started and revise and submit to agents a middle grade novel. I kept up on my blog. I scheduled and attended book events. All while balancing a regular life of work and family. (Although balancing is a poor choice of word to describe me. I really careen back and forth like a boat in a storm.) I thought I could do it all.
I couldn’t. I failed. I am not a NANOWRIMO 2017 Winner. I didn’t get the cute yellow badge or the feeling of satisfaction of accomplishment that clearly drives my everyday life. Instead, I’m a loser. But I think that’s OK. I even made myself a loser badge. I’m a loser. There. I said it. And the world didn’t end.
Instead, I’m a loser. But I think that’s OK.
I can’t do it all and that’s OK. Not only did I get 46,907 words into a new novel, I learned a pretty valuable lesson. The experience might be more important than the win.