En Guarde, NaNoWriMo

The end of the year draws nigh in long strides. Halloween is next week, which means we’ll soon see the onslaught of Christmas goods in two stages (the day after Halloween and the day after Remembrance Day), followed by the frenzy of early December and the laid-back slide of the last week of the year, and then boom, 2018.

November has been perhaps the busiest part of my fourth quarters for the last decade. It began with essays in university all falling around the end of November; then, I discovered the challenge of National Novel Writing Month; and now I’ve added a fundraiser, Extra Life, into the mix. Apparently I’m a masochist who longs for his postsecondary days and assigns himself several projects to clumsily juggle.

I’m not the most prolific writer. That’s no secret; look at the archive of this blog and it’s an abundantly clear fact. I’ve fallen back to a weekly bastion of creativity, a ritual where I set 60/90/120 minutes aside to write, brainstorm, or whatever. I sneak other bursts in where I can, between my day job and my family life and my hobbies and other obligations and the way my brain slides into a vegetative apathy after the day’s mundane chaos.

Every November I tell myself I’ll use NaNoWriMo to kickstart the creative engine. I’ll stick to the routine and emerge in December, a rough but finished manuscript clutched to my chest.

It’s worked once.

Well, that’s not exactly right or fair to myself. In 2011 I started a novel, dropped off after a couple days, and later finished what I started on my own schedule. This became a manuscript I’ve revised twice and still intend to publish someday.

In 2014, I “won” NaNoWriMo. I fell behind or missed a couple days, and made up for it with some mad sprints on the weekends. In the middle of a hellish twelve-day work week I tripled down and finished my novel a day early. I celebrated that victory by dropping everything like a bad habit. That was when my journey as a parent began, coincidentally, as well as my work for other outlets. The manuscripts and my other fiction ideas drifted to the wayside as I prepared to become a father and tried to work on non-fiction projects.

Three years later, I still haven’t gone back to that last manuscript. I’m a little afraid it won’t be worth the hassle I put into it that month, or the stagnation that followed. (What I need to remind myself is that wallowing in its Schrodinger-like status – so long as I don’t look at it, it’s a triumph and a failure – is equally harmful.)

I made an honest attempt in 2015. With the absolute chaos that followed a month after my daughter’s birth, I managed to jot down two dozen pages of plans and outlines for a brand new endeavour, separate from the fantasy world I’ve crafted. I even kept up the routine for a couple days – until I realized I hated the project altogether.

Last year I didn’t register properly and instead resolved to Just Do Something, Dammit every day in November. It could be work on the articles I was writing, or planning and outlining other things, or full-on writing fiction – so long as I did something everyday. I can’t say I held to it, but I made a honest effort and beat my most pessimistic estimates.

Now I’ve planned another new project for NaNoWriMo 2017, semi-related to 2015’s disaster. Hopefully it goes smoother. I have a better approach (not committing myself to slave in front of my desktop anymore, but embracing all the toys the cloud brings to my disposal), I have a better road map for this novel, and I’ve left myself some wiggle room. If I don’t feel like writing the particular piece on any given day, I’m going to give myself the leeway to work on something else instead, like an article or a different story or a plan for my guild’s roleplaying endeavours.

Let’s see how this shakes out.

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