Each time I find myself layin’ flat on my face
I just pick myself up and get back in the race
— “That’s Life,” Dean Kay / Kelly L. Gordon, made famous by Frank Sinatra
The best editor I ever knew, Jonathan F. Kellogg, used to call this “closing the loop” — an invaluable lesson to us both as writers and as managers. When you begin to tell a story, you must finish it for your audience. When you undertake a project that involves other people, you must let them know how it came out.
Previously on “Write in the Middle,” I told you that I’d dropped to the back of the pack in NaNoWriMo. The National Novel Writing Month challenge is to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. This requires an average of 1,667 words per day. In my previous life as a newspaper editor, I wrote a typical 750-word column in about two hours, on average, so figure more than twice that.
Four-and-a-half hours a day, every day, for 30 days is attainable. I managed to do it last year. But, as I observed a year ago, November is a rotten time to be attempting such a feat. It’s a short month, filled with distractions. During the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, for example, people who actually have lives might be living them.
Just Do It
NaNoWriMo’s philosophy takes its cue from Nike: “Just Do It.” To complete the race, you can’t look back, you can’t take time to rewrite and edit. There’s time for that, but it isn’t November. In November, you’re going for distance, not style.
Thus, three weeks into the challenge, I faced the choice most writers will at some point: Do I sacrifice quality of the work, or worse, quality of life? This, it turns out, is a false dilemma. There are other choices.
My 2019 NaNoWriMo project is personal to me, but so are my family, and I need to spend more time with both. I pressed on into the next section of the story, but after taking a four-day breather, and at a more relaxed pace.
I ended November at 36,703 words into my project, but with a stronger vision of my characters — fictional and family — and where their story is taking us.
And thus, although I did not complete the challenge, I came out a winner anyway.