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On “failed” experiments and finishing what you start

Was it Woody Allen who said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your future plans”? Are you there, God? Because you can laugh at me now. This “experiment” did not go as planned.

I didn’t blog as intended, nor did I “win” National Novel Writing Month by writing 50,000 words of a novel by Nov. 30. I did make it halfway: I’ve now got 25,000 words of art-imitates-life-I’m-not-ashamed-it’s-chic-lit-goobledy gook.

I gave up on blogging my NanoWriMo attempt — and first attempt at fiction since the fifth grade — about a month into the process. That was around the time I realized that a new blog, an “experiment” that entailed writing an average of 1,667 words a day and, oh yeah, a new day job, would be a bit much for me. I was also slated to travel almost every weekend in November. I gave up on the idea that I’d hit the 50,000 word goalpost around halfway through the month; given the above, 30,000 words by Nov. 30th — or 1,000 a day — would do. Even then, Thanksgiving weekend and the beauty of the Cascades during a five-day jaunt to Oregon early in the month — not to mention some occasionally misplaced priorities and lack of writing willpower (thanks, “Homeland”) — left me sitting not-so-pretty at halfway to the 50,000 winner mark. Those 25,000 words comprised about the first third of the simple narrative I outlined on reporter’s notebook paper sometime around Oct. 31.

I felt slightly embarrassed about all this after reading so many comments from “winners” in the forums on the NanoWriMo website come Dec. 1. But of all my failed experiments this year (and there have been several) attempting to write a novel has easily been my favorite.

I didn’t think I’d end up saying that. As a longtime student and sometimes-practitioner of writing, I sort of agree with the argument that National Novel Writing Month is not too, well, literary. Plus, a reporter with a half-finished “novel” in a drawer is about as predictable as a yoga mat in Dupont Circle. It’s a yuppie goal almost as ubiquitous as running a marathon or mastering DSLR photography. And as with anything that’s popular, there’s a ton of internet vitriol on NanoWriMo, all variations on the same theme: It’s not a very writerly, serious undertaking, and it makes Serious.Book.People very upsetOne such missive goes as far as to call it a “Hallmark Holiday for people who hate their jobs and think that because they love to read and can construct a sentence that they can be novelists, too.” Ouch!

I hope no one ever reads my 25,000-word start to a women’s fiction novel sitting on my hard drive. This was never really about writing; it was about follow-through, which is a struggle for me. Could I have written more words, even better words, if I’d said no to a few more social outings or Damian Lewis’ smoldering gingery goodness? Sure. But after two years of filling Iphone notes, reporter’s notebooks and word documents with half-baked ideas for non-fiction stories (and just this one fiction idea), I’d grown tired of thinking instead of doing.

Here’s the lesson: I seem to operate on about a two or three-year timetable when it comes to personal goals that no one is paying me to accomplish. An initial desire is usually followed by hubris, which is followed by reality, which is followed by baby steps at execution a few years later. In November 2011, for example, I ran a marathon (ultimate Ubiquitous Yuppie Goal).  The first time I signed up to run a marathon, however, it was the summer of 2008 (Desire).  I was on my high school JV cross-country team but hadn’t run so much as a 5K race in the four years prior to signing up (Hubris). At that time, I was a newly-minted college grad with a summer internship at a big daily newspaper in a new and very humid city, freaking out about finding a full-time job and joining the real world in general. Were these ideal conditions under which to train for my first marathon? Reader, they were not (Reality). Eventually I got on with my merry little real world life and squeezed in a few half-marathons and 10Ks between new jobs, new responsibilities and friends (Baby steps at execution). And then one day I’d had it, and decided 2011 would be The Year. It wasn’t pretty, but it happened.

So it goes with this Failed Experiment of 2012.  2013 is The Year. The year to finish the novel or to finally write and publish some nonfiction outside of my day job. November might be over, but you can still help keep me accountable to this in 2013.

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