I blew it! *throws confetti*
I completely bombed! *tosses streamers*
I fucked up! *hires petting zoo*
I’d imagine most people aren’t that excited not “winning” NaNoWriMo. But I am. Kinda. Lemme ‘splain.
I realized when I finished writing everything in my outline on November 15th at 34,000 words that I wasn’t going to make 50K by the end of the month. Not because I’m not physically or mentally capable of writing that much – I probably could’ve. But when I reviewed what I’d written, I realized that I didn’t need fifty thousand words.
Inkchanger isn’t a Stephensonesque tome or even a standard 300-page paperback. It’s just not that complicated a story. (Which is not the same as saying it’s simple. Draw your distinctions carefully.) All it means is the story is going to be the length that it takes to tell it.
So I stopped writing when the story was over, which I know is blasphemy to the hardcore NaNo-er. But to me, the idea of writing a bloated, useless leviathan of language just to stand in the “winners” circle felt more than silly; it felt wrong. To cram another 16,000 words of bullshit into it that I knew I’d delete as soon as possible seemed an utter waste of time, talent, and temper. Bugger that for a game of soldiers, as my literary crush, Commander Samuel Vimes, likes to say.
However, while I’ve made the right choice, the logical choice, the creative choice, Perfectionist Ellie is down on the floor screaming like a toddler who’s had a glimpse of her Christmas presents and cannot wait 25 more days.
I didn’t win!
I didn’t write 80K like KR Green!
I won’t get to put that badge on my site!
I won’t get to brag about how cool I am!
WOE AND DESOLATION UNTIL THE END OF DAYS!
To Perfectionist Ellie, I quit NaNo because I’m a big, whiny loser who should’ve just given up on this whole novel-writing thing before she even started because there was no way it was going to turn out as the glistening gem of excellence she imagined it would be. She thinks quitting would have been better than failing because at least then I wouldn’t have to go through the pain of trying and falling short.
What Perfectionist Ellie fails to realize is that there’s a subtle but all-important difference between failing and quitting.
Allow me to quote heavily from my latest inspiration/obsession/stalkee, Chuck Wendig, who’s written it far better than I could have in his brilliant post, Failing Versus Quitting: Your Lack of Confidence is Neither Interesting nor Unique:
Failure is necessary. But quitting is not the same as failing.
Failure provides powerful lessons. It affords insight. It allows you to have a whole picture that you can one day hold before you and say, “I see what’s wrong with this picture, now.” Quitting is standing there with a half-a-picture. An incomplete image. And more to the point: an incomplete lesson.
Failure is stepping into the street with a gun at your hip and standing across from your foe — clock strikes noon, she draws, you draw, bang bang, gunpowder haze, smoke clears, and you drop while she keeps standing. That’s failure. You drew. You fell. Maybe you live to fight another day. Maybe you learned something about the next time you need to draw that gun. And everybody knows you fought with honor.
You did the deed. And the deed is done.
Quitting is you hiding in a fucking rain barrel while the gunslinger passes you by.
Failure is brave. Quitting is a coward’s game.
And I am no coward.
I didn’t quit; I failed. Gloriously. Purposefully.
In my failure, I’ve learned a totally new skill/craft as an adult. I’ve buried myself up to the armpits in the sticky, gooey, viscous muck of novel-writing, daring myself to swim. I’ve uncovered an unforeseen love for protracted writing sessions (and large quantities of sweet coffee). I’ve done things I didn’t know I was capable of.
And what has my failure yielded me? What do I take away?
I’ve embraced the need for a story to tell itself in its own time and the need to push it to its edge just to see what happens, like a set of totally hot twins that can’t help coming on to you. Nobody can tell me that’s not worth it. Plus, I’ve got nearly a complete second draft of my manuscript and am powering on, full steam ahead, knowing that I’m not a quitter, knowing I’m in the right place, knowing I’ll tell this story until its done and not a word more or less. You don’t get that shit from being a quitter.
So, yes, I’m glad I failed National Novel Writing Month in my first year. Call it justification or denial or whatever, but I know better. Where some winners will shamefully shove their 50K in a drawer, never to be seen again, or they’ll arrogantly publish it as sheer gold, I’ve got a real, functional, living novel that I’m taking all the way to the end, wherever that may be.
I failed so I can win in all the ways that matter.