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Why I failed Nanowrimo, and how I’ll be doing things going forward

Posted by Shannon Haddock on November 30, 2014 in Jake's Last Mission, NaNoWriMo, Writing process |

I failed at Nanowrimo this year, but I’m okay with this.

There are reasons I could have failed that I wouldn’t be okay with, things that would boil down to just laziness, but that wasn’t the case this time.  True, there may have been a day or two in there where I played around on Flight Rising when I could’ve been writing, but that’s it, just a day or two.

I failed for the following reasons:

First, because I spent the first week, week and a half, of November sick, sick enough that had I had a “real” job, I probably would’ve called in for at least some of those days.  I know there are authors who say writing isn’t a job you can take even a day off from regardless of how bad you feel.  Those authors have never read the kind of crap I come up with when sick.  I’m not talking bad punctuation, I’m talking adding honest-to-Gygax liches and dungeon crawls to Star Wars sort of crap, to use an example from a game I GMed.

Second, because I choose a bad story to do something like Nanowrimo with.  Not, I must say, because it was so complex like someone on the forums warned me about when I mentioned it.  No, the problem was that I had far more of it already written in various forms so a great deal of what I was doing was rewriting, which is a more time and brain power consuming process.  Just writing I can do very quickly.  The parts of Intertwined Lives where I’m making new shit up tend to go very fast, unless they’re the ones from Kayden’s viewpoint, but the bits where I’ve got to read what I already have, figure out what of it to keep and what to trash, fix narration since the previous is in third-limited over the shoulder of a character who’s not one of the narrators of this, and so on,  those bits are going very slowly indeed.  I can’t just skip them and come back to them later because what exactly happens in them will have major ramifications later.

Third, and probably most importantly, I learned that I’m just not the kind of writer who can make the actual writing career part the most important aspect of her life.  Actually, I’ve been learning this one slowly since May.

You see, I released Jake’s Last Mission in April and, to put it mildly, it didn’t sell well.  So, I did research and embarked on a quest to get it reviews to help it sell.  Well, the easiest way to do that was review exchanges and review groups.  So from May through September or October I spent hours each day reading books I didn’t necessarily have any interest in, or at least not enough to have voluntarily kept reading, so I’d get reviews.  In the future I’ll stick to one-on-one review exchanges so I can control what I read and so there’ll be, hopefully, less mismatch between what a reviewer’s expecting from my story and what it delivers, because this was helpful, but not as helpful as it could’ve been and the toll on my life was not worth it.  Reading shouldn’t be a chore and this was making it one.

I also started trying to update this blog twice a week, do networky stuff everyday, and other things like that.  Meanwhile, I kept wondering why I never seemed to get any writing done any more.

I’ve figured it out.  Reading books I’m not interested in to review them, updating my blog according to the schedule I worked out instead of just whim, networking more than clicking Like or whatever on amusing things . . . that’s taxing for me.  That’s far, far harder than sitting down and churning out a few thousand words.  Yes, I know it’s important and if I never do it I’m never going to sell and all that shit.  I don’t care any more!  First of all, I’m pretty sure that’s bullshit.  I’m not selling because I’m writing space opera novellas.  It’s that simple.  My wife writes teen romance novels that sell well with pretty much no promotion.  Science fiction readers are damned picky, and novellas don’t sell well regardless of genre, according to surveys I’ve seen.  So, oh well.

It’s not even a time thing, like it is for so many authors, which is why I thought I could do it since I don’t have a “real” job.  For me, it’s an energy thing.  It’s mentally exhausting to spend that much time each day as Shannon the Professional Author instead of Shannon the Person.  They’re different.  Shannon the Professional Author is, has to be, far more concerned with the ramifications of everything she does.  She can’t make a comment on a famous author’s blog that’s got horrendous typoes in it, nor can she be as vitriolic as Shannon the Person gets.  Mustn’t alienate potential readers!  Checking my phrasing and spelling may only take a few more seconds, but it sometimes takes a not insignificant amount of mental energy to force myself to choose words that aren’t so loaded, to pay enough attention to my hastily typed comment to make sure I didn’t get “to” and “too” mixed up, etc.  Combine that with the reading stuff I’m not really interested in to review it and trying to write blog posts when I don’t really feel like it just because it’s been so long, and by the time I can just sit down and write, I can’t.  It’s not that I don’t feel like it, though that’s probably the phrase I’d use at the time.  It’s that I can’t.  I’ve used up too much mental energy and need to do something where I can just turn my brain off completely.

There’s also that by spending all my time and energy on that stuff, I wasn’t getting new material to work with.

Ray Bradbury said:  “The time we have alone; the time we have in walking; the time we have in riding a bicycle; are the most important times for a writer. Escaping from a typewriter is part of the creative process. You have to give your subconscious time to think. Real thinking always occurs on the subconscious level.”  I wasn’t getting that.  By the time I’d recovered from the energy expenditure of networking and blog writing and reading books to review, it was too late to do anything.  I tried, but mostly what I succeeded in doing was feeling guilty for the time I’d spent playing video games or reading books for fun instead of writing.  Because everybody says you have to write every day, after all.  I know that’s not true for me.  I know I write best when I write only three or four days a week.  But when I’m not even getting those three or four days, I feel horribly guilty regardless of the reason.

No more.  My early New Year’s resolution is to stop letting what I should be doing according to experts if I want to treat my writing career like a real career rule my life.

I’m not going to adopt a write just when I feel like it thing.  I know myself.  I am lazy.  I’ll never push past the hard parts if I don’t have a goal to shoot for.  I also hate failing, so I’ll give myself a 20,000 word a month goal to shoot at, because I know I can do that easily, but I’ll no longer let myself feel bad over reaching it by writing 4,000 words a day for five days instead of 1,000 words a day for twenty days.  So long as I’m not procrastinating and trying to get it all done in the last five days of the month, it’s fine.

I’ll still do detailed reviews of some books I read, including, of course, the two I’ve agreed to review that I still haven’t, but if I feel like leaving just a one sentence “This was pretty good, but overrated” sort of review, I’ll do that instead.  I also will not be making myself read everyday whether I feel like it or not.  Reading should not be a chore, as I said above.

I’ll try to update this blog at least once a week with the regularly scheduled stuff, but actual posts will be done when I have something to say, so some weeks there might be five, some there might be none.  I’ve put off writing some stuff I wanted to for it because I’d already made a post that week.  That’s fucking stupid.  If I’ve got something I want to say, why not just go ahead and say it then?

And, above all else, I’ll try to remember that even the days where I don’t do anything related to my writing career are still days I spend working on it, because even a day spent, as the day before yesterday was, reading the truth behind comic book urban legends contributes in some way to what I later write.  In this case, it made me think about what’s really important in adaptations of works, why I like X-Men:  Days of Future Past but would like to string up everyone responsible for the a made-for-TV version of Little House on the Prairie I saw once where Ma told Pa she would divorce him if he insisted they move to Oregon.  I’m not sure I can manage to explain this well, but it boils down to “There’s a core at the heart of every character and story that you shouldn’t violate.”  And that is useful for my writing because some Universal Nexus stories originate in the long-running rpg version of the setting.  There are always differences in the final story and the game, but the core is always there.  Stolen Time had, I think, two lines of dialogue and the overall plot in common with what happened in-game.  The core of the characters and the story itself was the same though, so it worked.  And I know by admitting that I borrow from rpg sessions I’ve just lost some potential readers.  To them I say “Go fuck yourself.  Take your pretentious attitude elsewhere.”

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