Yes, that title does refer to NaNoWriMo. No, I am not participating. Kind of. (Warning: this also somehow turned into a blog about anxiety.)
Last night was The Used! It was as surreal as I thought it was going to be, and maybe even a little more. It was very weird in a wonderful way. They played a lot of old music, and while I was ready for that, as soon as All I’ve Got started playing, I felt like I was in a time machine. Small, angry teenager Mary was losing her mind. It was definitely bizarre to see Bert onstage, too, though not in the way I thought it would be. I talked about, on Monday, how he’s kind of what Alex looks like in my head. And while he is, and while I thought seeing him onstage was going to be like seeing Alex onstage, last night was more about Alex being right next to me in the crowd, also losing his mind. He would have had so much fun last night. Suffice to say, I had a heck of a lot of fun last night. My neck and shoulders hurt today from headbanging and pretending I’m younger than I am, but it was well worth it. They didn’t play my favorite song (Buried Myself Alive), but they did play Taste of Ink (there’s a small video up on my Instagram if you’re curious!), so that was pretty cool.
No one is surprised when I say that I was feeling major Alex vibes on the way home. I fell asleep thinking of him, and drove to work this morning in his brain. With that in mind, I started to think about NaNoWriMo this morning. If you’re not savvy with that ridiculous acronym, it’s National Novel Writing Month. I have never participated in NaNoWriMo, and I don’t intend to start now. I respect everyone that wants to participate in it, so before you put on your defense gear and jump down my throat, let me explain.
<<< This is why NaNoWriMo sounds like a terrible idea for me, personally. When I was just a wee thing, I was terrified of the world. I couldn’t order my own food in restaurants. I would not approach new people, and wouldn’t talk when new people were introduced to me. In the third grade, it got so bad that I spent months sleeping on a cot in my parent’s bedroom. I need the last thing I say to my family (and cats) is I love you just in case they die before I see them next. To this day, I have such terrible memories associated with vomiting that if I start to feel nauseous, I actually start to panic. Sometimes, it’s just little things. Every Sunday, I hard boil eggs for the coming week for lunches. Every Sunday, I look up the same recipe on AllRecipes, follow it to the letter with timers set on my phone, and then, on Monday, when I’m cracking the egg against the side of the table at work to peel it, it gets a little hard to breathe for a second while I stress over whether or not it’s going to actually be hard boiled inside, or maybe I screwed it all up, and I’m about to crack a regular egg and spill it everywhere. Sometimes, it’s a lot bigger than that. I’m going to meet Maggie Stiefvater in a couple weeks on her tour for All the Crooked Saints. This will be my fourth time meeting her, but only the second time I will actually manage to say something to her. The first two times, I stared at her in utter disbelief and then ran away. I do this with most “celebrities”. I’ve met Breathe Carolina three or four times, and barely managed to squeak out a hi before running for the hills the last time. I felt like I was going to actually die when I met Will Francis. Once, I turned around and walked in the other direction when I saw Pierre Bouvier coming toward me. When I met Rachel Brathen a few years ago, I blacked out our entire conversation. I remember walking up to her, and then walking away. I have no recollection of the actual event. My dad videotaped it, so I know what I said to her, but that’s the only evidence that it actually happened. This isn’t just meeting famous people nerves, either. It’s actual panic. I can’t breathe. My throat closes up. My hands shake. My heart is planning a grand escape. Sometimes, I get a little dizzy. It’s not fun. And I get mad at myself every time because I have these amazing opportunities sometimes, and I can’t do it. During The Academy Is…’s anniversary tour for Almost Here, we accidentally got let in with the VIPs even though we had normal tickets. I was so confused why we were being let in early, and then I noticed that everyone was wearing wristbands and oh holy no way there was William Beckett. I pleaded with one of the security guards until he let us go back outside into the line because I could not meet them. It just wasn’t even a remote possibility. However, someday I want to meet Brendon Urie and be a coherent human being, so I’m working on it.
Last year (was it last year? two years ago?), I went to see Maggie on her tour for The Raven King, and I practiced what I was going to say to her the entire way up and while I was waiting in line. I’ve been wearing the same mala beads on my left wrist for years, and I use these to count breaths during signing lines, when I’m getting blood drawn, while on the phone with customer service, anywhere that makes me anxious. I counted them right up until I was standing in front of her, and I remembered everything. That was the first time I ever successfully engaged with a “famous person” and survived. I’ve already started rehearsing what I’m going to say to her in a few weeks, and I’m confident that it will turn out well.
Wow, I don’t know how this happened. I did not intend to word vomit about my anxiety, but it relates to why I don’t do NaNoWriMo, so I guess it was inevitable. Everyone who knows what this month is and knows that I’m a writer gives me a hard time for not participating in it. Well, folks, this is why. Imagine all of the above is an everyday thing, and then imagine trying to tell yourself you’re going to write 50k words in one month. Yeah, no. That’s a terrible idea. If I did, I’d immediately start making up charts with how many words I had to write a day, staying up late just to achieve that word goal, panicking on days when I couldn’t manage it, abandoning even the mere idea of reading, feeling like an utter failure when the words I forced myself to write weren’t great, and then scrapping all of it at the end of the month if I even managed to make it throughout all of November with 50,000 words. The funny part is, I can manage 50k words in a month no problem. But tell me that I have to, and it’s never going to happen, and suddenly my favorite month of the year has turned into a war zone.
This is not to say that other writers shouldn’t participate in NaNoWriMo. I actually think it’s a really neat idea. It’s a fun sort of challenge to see what kind of quantity you can produce under pressure even if the quality isn’t top shelf. And, hey! You’ve got most of a novel, or half, by the end of the month, which is pretty stellar.
So, with all this said and done, no, I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo. Kind of. I’m not going to tell myself I have to write 50k words in one month, but if you’re curious about what my writing count looks like through the month, I am going to be posting an update with each blog. Which means not only do you get a look inside how much I write in a week, but also a little more of my process. How’s that, you ask? Well, see above–I keep word count charts that I update at the end of every day if I’ve written that day. For the month of November, my goal is to edit the first 15 chapters of Saints, possibly start part two, and also, maybe, probably, work on Alex the Destroyer. (No one’s surprised, including me.) I’m going to paste the charts below. They’re broken up into Chapter/Words before NaNoWriMo/Total/Words post NaNoWriMo/Total. For Saints, there’s already some stuff in the post section because I started edits a few days ago. For Alex, there’s nothing, and there are also some chapters that are blank on the before side. This is because I’m already on Alex’s second draft, and I know there are some chapters I need to add in, but I haven’t written them yet.
|Chapter||Words before NaNoWriMo||Total||Words post NaNoWriMo||Total|
|ALEX THE DESTROYER|
|Chapter||Words before NaNoWriMo||Total||Words post NaNoWriMo||Total|
As you can see, I’ve only written about 1300 words in the last eight days, all edits for Saints. With my regular charts, I also keep a running count of page per chapter and total pages. I do this for every novel, too. I’m not saying it’s something you definitely need to do, but great segue way here to something I totally did not plan on talking about.
I have had countless people tell me it’s about quality, not quantity when it comes to writing. You’re right, but you’re also wrong. Because yes, you’re never going to get published if you’ve got a poorly written book. You’re also never going to get published if you hand a 300k word manuscript to a YA agent. (Good lord, who even has time to write 300k words.) Really, 200k is too much. 100k is pushing it, but you might get a read. Think I’m just making these numbers up? Writer’s Digest published this article in 2012, and if that’s too old for you to believe, here’s another one from 2015, another from 2016, and finally, one from June of this year. The numbers are pretty much the same through the years with some small fluctuations here and there. So yeah, quality matters. But if you want to find an agent who will publish you, so does quantity.
I’m not saying make charts, and keep a running count of how many words each chapter is. I am saying keep an eye on your overall word count. I do individual chapters because I like my chapters to have an average length, so if I’m coming out at 2500-3000 words per chapter, I’m going to try to keep it that way throughout. That’s not going to happen every time, obviously, but I enjoy reading novels with a familiar pace, so I try to write those, as well. But make sure you know where you’re at. Make sure you know where you should be in the end. Right now, Pen boys is 180k words. As an urban fantasy young adult novel, I’d like to get that down to at least 100k words. I know cutting 80k sounds like a crap ton, and it is, but it’s totally doable while keeping most of the story intact and just getting rid of extraneous words (and a good chunk of that flailing in the beginning). Alex came out at 99k words. As a fiction young adult, I’m going to try to get that down to 80k or so. Both of these novels were written freely, just me putting words on paper and seeing where the world took us, but as I sit down with a second and third draft, it’s about fine-tuning it, reshaping it into something I can believably see existing on shelves.
So, here’s to you, November. I’m going to write when I can, read a lot, snuggle with my cats, meet Maggie and try to remember to tell her just how much her words mean to me, overeat on Thanksgiving, practice yoga, and hopefully come out with most of a novel on the other side. I’m not going to stress out about writing 50k words in a month. I am going to continue tracking how many words I write, and I’ll post updates occasionally to check on my progress, but it’s just going to be a chill month.
And for those of you participating in NaNoWriMo, my hat’s off to you! Good luck, godspeed, and stay hydrated. Hoard snacks, take breaks to go outside, and spend at least five minutes a day dancing. You’ve got this. Also: don’t forget to read. And if you’re only going to read one book in the entire month, read The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. It takes place in November, and it’s about death-defying stunts, as well.