Month: October 2015

My Approach to NaNoWriMo 2015 (TLDR: I’m a Rebel)

Ah, NaNoWriMo. You have bested me every year since my first attempt–what, 11 years ago? (On a side note: 11 years?! Christ).

I’ve tried to circumvent the rules of NaNoWriMo for awhile now, in a desperate attempt to recover from the spectacular failures of yore. One year I partnered with a good friend to write some wonderfully twisted short stories. Another year I resolved to write a blog post every day and founded “NaBloPoMo.” Total number of participants: 1. At least for the first 8 days, then that number became 0. Those efforts quickly tumbled into the same deep pit where other NaNoWriMo projects have gone to die.

This year will be exactly the same different. I considered attempting one of the many ideas that were clogging my brain and causing much angst, but decided against it. I don’t think I’ll get very far just winging an entire novel. Besides, I can’t afford to start an entirely new big project at this time–I already have a short story collection and a nonfiction book to worry about!

Call it Progress, Not Failure

My NaNoWriMo approach this year is to continue where another creative project stalled. Over the summer I attempted Great Discontent’s #100DayProject with #100DaysofFlashFictionary: bite-sized fiction inspired by Merriam Webster’s Word of the Day. I posted each story on Instagram, and ended up with 25 entries all in all.

Though I only made it a quarter of the way through the 100 Day Project and technically failed the challenge, without the challenge those stories would have never been written at all. A few of those stories had enough material in them to become bigger stories, and one eventually went into my dissertation for my first MA.

Some might choose to see it as failure. I see it as progress.

So for 2015, I’ll attempt an additional 50k worth of short stories inspired by MW’s Word of the Day. I’m aiming for a fairy-tale theme to link them together, in the hopes of adding to my current short story collection, but I won’t stress if they aren’t fairy-tale related. I guess this makes me a NaNo Rebel, though the “rules” say if the short stories are related thematically then the work counts as regular NaNo.

Anyway, the NaNo admin don’t care about splitting hairs so neither will I. They’ve even created a board for NaNo Rebels, a motley crew featuring script writers, short story writers, academic writers, bloggers and memoirists. My kind of people.


I’m wrapping up this post just 30 minutes shy of midnight, November 01. If failure is inevitable, then at least I resolve to fail as far away from Day One as I can.

(As a pep talk that could have gone better, but based on previous attempts, it works to be cautious. Maybe I’ll end up surprising myself!)

If you’re doing NaNo as well, you can find me on the boards as embeepee. Feel free to add me as a buddy–the more the merrier!


By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Highly recommended. (Thanks again Gabe!)

Oh to be driven by demons

I just came across a Tweet that quoted William Faulkner and his dismissal of writers who don’t write:

I have no patience, I don’t hold with the mute inglorious Miltons. I think if he’s demon-driven with something to be said, then he’s going to write it. He can blame the fact that he’s not turning out work on lots of things. I’ve heard people say, “Well if I were not married and had kids, I would be a writer.” I’ve heard people say, “If I could just stop doing this, I would be a writer.” I don’t believe that. I think if you’re going to write you’re going to write, and nothing will stop you.

Perhaps another time, this quote would have spoken to me in the way intended by the person who posted that Tweet. I would have felt the dustings of self-reproach tickle my skin and feel the heat of an imaginary disappointed glare and think, “My god he’s right! No more excuses! Off I go to go to finish my story!”

The secret to writing is no secret, and manifests itself in various words, but the essential message is this: If you want to write, you will write. You will make it a priority. You will make sacrifices in your life in order to write.

And yet.

As a financially-dependent creative writing student, I have arranged my life in such a way where writing is the priority. Most days I am free to write, at least until my job prospects improve. Every week I am beholden to submitting a piece of writing, and critiquing other people’s writing, and reading books that teach me how to be a better writer. I work at a desk by the window that gets a generous hit of light, and when I’m bored or restless I can spy on people in the office building across the street or study the ads of the double-decker buses caught at the red light. I wish I had a more comfortable chair and higher standards for coffee, but otherwise I have very few reasons to complain.

Yet the words don’t come. Instead, I will do anything but write. Cleaning is a popular option. Another current favorite is art journaling. Sometimes I will find a reason not to go on with a story. More often, the trouble hits before I even turn to the page.

I have too many ideas. They crowd around the tunnel in my mind through which ideas are made real, a tunnel no wider than a speck of dust. All ideas clamor to be first. That’s not the worst of it–they are also ideas in different forms and genres. Young adult. Narrative nonfiction. Personal essays. Short stories. Romance. The breadth of all the things I’d like to tackle could not be any wider

Depending on the day or the news or my mood, one idea might edge in the lead, and I try to coax it out as far as I can. But then–snip!–suddenly our connection is severed. Back it goes to fight amongst the other ideas.

Times like this, I wish that I were driven by a demon inside me. I’m not the type of person who must write a story, at the expense of my physical health and quality of life–but is it wrong to wish that I was sometimes? To feel an almost compulsory urge to write not just something, but a very specific thing, against all odds? To unload some of the burden of writing to an incessant and powerful force?

To be fair, most people tend to not be fueled by demonic possession. It is pointless to compare oneself to someone like Nawal El Saadawi, who in prison wrote parts of her manuscript with black eyeliner and a roll of toilet paper. Also pointless to compare oneself to Herman Melville, who completed Moby Dick in an obsessive haze, vanquishing everything non-whale related (wife and family included) from his mind.

But demon-driven people exist to a degree, don’t they? There are people who cannot stand to watch TV or movies because they’d rather work on their own art, and writers who forgo social gatherings to spend time alone with their words (and probably a glass of something strong). Others write in whatever minute they can grab–standing up, upside down, in bed and between their children’s waking moments.

Ah, but maybe it isn’t a demon that eludes me, but another D-word. One infinitely more frightening, because it requires a mastery of oneself over one’s surrender to the aforementioned demon.

Frankly, I’d rather throw myself at the mercy of a higher creative power*.

I know that’s not the answer. It’s more like wishful thinking. It also serves as a balm for my continuous fear that there is an essential ingredient of writing that is absent in me.

*As I realize that it’s October 31, I’d like to remind the spirit world that this post should not be considered an invitation for bodily possession. Thanks and be good tonight. 

Image attribution: “05.08.14 (CREATIVE 365 PROJECT)” by MICHELLE ROBINSON is licensed under creative commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).