On Choosing Defeat

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Well friends, I did not Win.

I did not cross the finish line. I did not write 50,000 words in 30 days.

“BUT WAIT!” the hoard of supporters, eggers-on, and blind followers cry, “There are still over TWENTY-FOUR HOURS left!”

But, fair followers, I have chosen defeat. I have chosen to not pursue a valiant effort to its bitterest end, which, most likely, would mean anxiety, depression, bad nutrition, headaches, and eye strain. I could still win, but I can no longer succeed.

For if I insist on forcing my entire life into the obtuse and arbitrary timeline of an inherently good motivational event, then I will ruin the experience. I will not feel good about writing a (very, very drafty) novel, I will feel briefly exhilarated about throwing my good sense to the wind and getting a gold star from a computer program.

That brief exhilaration would then be overpowered by the repercussions of spending 24 hours practically killing myself not over a story worth writing but a word count. That 24 (or even 48) hour period would leave me (and not only me, but my family and employer as well) out of sorts and recovering for at least of week. All so I can say, “I did it!”?

But I did do it. I did not write 50,000 words in 30 days, but I wrote 39,303. And you know what? If I only count the days I actually wrote, I wrote 39,303 words in only *17* days. Ka-POW.

You know what else? I still feel like writing (well, writing more of) my novel. And I feel like I want to do this again next year. Had I been pushing to the finish line right now instead of writing this very post (current word count: 285), I guarantee you I wouldn’t want to look at this novel again for a year, and I definitely would be having second thoughts about next year.

Because I am choosing defeat, I will have the energy and sanity to pursue the discovery I made in my final push last Saturday (this being Monday, future readers), which is that if I wrote 2,000 words a day (which takes 2-3 hours), I would write 600,000 words in a year (assuming I skipped 65¼ of them). Do you know how many novels that is? 8-10. Eight to ten novels in one year.

Friends, if I finished this month in a flurry of agony, of pushing myself to the limit in order to not finish a novel but a quota, of putting my family through Really Bad Mood Noël and (perhaps) not even “winning,” do you think I could look at that discovery in December and say, “Why don’t I spend an hour and write!”?

In case any of you are wondering, I really do want to win. I want to have a bright green full word-count-progress bar that turns purple with WINNER! in big fat letters so all your friends can see it. Maybe that can be me next year.

But maybe next year I might also have full word-count-progress bars on one or two, or even five or six other novels! Think about it! The excitement is so titillating, it makes me want to start right now!

But for this year, this month, I choose defeat. Therefore, I will succeed.

I would also like to share with you my favorite pep talk of the month which I shall re-read year after year from Lemony Snicket. Please enjoy.

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10 Things Every Author Can Learn from Watching “Throw Momma From the Train”

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Another NaNoWriMo encouragement post!

It has been my happy lot in life to be fairly “well-connected.” Among my most prized connections is that my mother’s former college roommate is a very successful author and happens to be married to another very successful author. I had the privilege of visiting with them over a long weekend in high school and of the many things we did and talked about, one was watch the 1987 blockbuster smash Throw Momma From the Train.

This, I was told, is a must-see movie for every aspiring author. It has fundamental truths presented in both the positive imperative and the exemplary negative. I now pass on to you, from the notes I found from years ago, the top ten things every author should know after watching this film.

  1. A writer writes. Always.
  2. Write about what you know.
  3. If you don’t know, learn.
  4. You have to have a motive.
  5. Never, ever worry about finding “the perfect word.” You can use a thesaurus later. Just write.
  6. Never leave your car lights on if you’re drinking on a beach at night. (Actually, that’s a good rule for just about anyone.)
  7. Even if your (one) book is a bestseller, you’re not going to afford a beach house in Hawai’i and diamond earrings.
  8. The same situation told by different authors often turns into completely different stories.
  9. Never, ever read classic picture books as part of foreplay. Ever.
  10. A writer writes, always. Ergo, if you’re not writing, you’re not a writer. (Yes, I did use that one twice, but it’s the important message of the film.)