Microsoft told me it was 50,010 words. I am sure Bill Gates does not lie. So my consternation was great when, as I plugged in my novel writing word count total for National Novel in a Month last night, their word counter told me I had only 49,909. Now, normally, 91 words would be a breeze for me. Some of you know this, as you often wonder when my blog posts are ever going to end. But you must realize, it was 11:55pm, and if the word count was not in by midnight, I would not “win.” Faster writing one has never seen. Nor worse, I can assure you.
Some background for the uninitiated: National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo—you just want to be part of it to get to say that) is a month set aside each year (November) in which those who sign up manically attempt to write 50,000 words on a novel. Or, as they put it, “Thirty days and nights of literary abandon.” If they manage, by midnight on November 30th, they “win.” And I am nothing if not extremely determined to win once I set my mind, or pen, to something.
I did this for two reasons: One, I had a novel sitting since last spring that had three chapters finished and no more. It needed finishing. It wanted me to finish it. It sat there every day looking at me accusingly because I had neglected it and thinking it just might ask for a divorce soon.
The other reason was that it was part of my Happiness Project Group promise for me to find time in November, and one of my goals therein was to find more time to write. Thus, a predetermined goal and time frame seemed perfect.
It was. Even at my age, there is nothing like peer pressure to light a fire. Which makes me think abut the value of something like NaNoWri Mo for all of us.
I don’t know if it can be blamed on too many choices in our culture, too little direction, or too much independence. All I know is I know an awful lot of people who want to light a fire in their lives, but they have no idea how to do it. And just like my desire to finish my book wasn’t going anywhere as long as there were other desires that were far easier to pursue, so their desires sit somewhere looking good, if a little lonely, but not at all productive. Admit it and ask for help? Heavens, that’s just not the American way.
Enter me, sitting at my computer all day yesterday, after having slacked off at the beginning of the month and having had unplanned and unavoidable interruptions in the middle of it. Woefully behind in those 50,000 words. I typed for nine hours. I took two breaks to scarf down some noodles generously made for me by Youngest Child and to watch the Grinch for twenty minutes so my brain could function again. I’m letting you know now, now this is not optimal. For mental health or your writing content. My personal favorite paragraph was the one that went:
“I have to take a nap! I have to pee! I’m not sure which one is more necessary. I am sure I have to sit here and can’t do either one until I reach 35,000 words because I’m making myself, I can’t get up, no, no, no, no, no–there. All done. Goodbye.” I hope I remember to delete that one in edits.
And for what? Sure, I get a Tshirt, but we all know another thing to sleep in is not worth nine hours of insanity and carpal tunnel syndrome. No one was going to call me and razz me on the phone because I had fallen short by 4,000 words. So why? Because I signed on for it, I had a goal, and for as long as I have known me (and some days I forget how long that is), I have never been able to admit defeat easily. Plus, I knew if I quit, I wouldn’t go back for a long time.
I went to the website at 11:35, ready to plug in my words and claim my fame. And the website said, “NaNoWriMo is over.” What? Hey—I have twenty-five more minutes! You cannot deprive me of my God-given right to twenty-five more minutes! I may have said some things to my computer a pastor ought not say. I was pretty tired.
After about twelve minutes of fiddling, I discovered my personal settings page and the fact that, though I had originally set it to Central Standard Time, it had not taken, apparently. I have no idea what continent it thought I was on, but it was one where midnight had already passed by to the chagrin of unfinished writers in, maybe, Uganda or something. I changed the settings, went to my page, and tried again. Success! The page was open, and the words went in At which point I found that our word counters did not agree. I do think Bill gates should trump in that one, but yo can’t argue with a machine. Especially with five minutes left until midnight. Went to my manuscript, put in a hundred more words of pure drivel, give or take, back to the website, and plugged it in. At 11:58. “Congratulations—you’re a Winner!” never looked better. At least, I think so, since my eyes were not completely open.
There is a lot to be said for structure and accountability from outside of you to get that fire going. Its not a thing to avoid but to embrace. This, from a woman who has avoided structure most of her life. There is a reason I get “random” on that personality test so many of us take. I don’t like to be told what to do or have constraints put on me by anyone else. But when I avoid it, when I say, “I can do that myself”–I don’t. It never happens. Those fires sit there in embers that won’t ever make anything warm or burn any evil away from the world around me..
Now, instead, I have 50,000 words on a book I’ve wanted to write. Some of them are very horrid, badly written words, but they are words I didn’t have before. And that is progress. Thank you, outside structure, for giving me something to shoot for. Thank you, God for giving me a personality that will not give up. Thank you, three cups of Earl Grey, for making today possible.