The Little Story That Could

Never Give Up

It’s actually not a “little” story at all. In fact, according to an article I read years ago, at over 153,000 words, my novel would be considered by some to be a super novel.

I’m talking about my yet-to-be-titled NaNoWriMo 2016 novel, which I just finished minutes ago.

I’ve been waiting to make the “I finished!” announcement for a while. I thought that I would finish on my spring break, which was over two weeks ago. And I did spend two days in a row typing over 10,000 words, which got me a lot closer to finishing, but as I’ve learned with my novels, they never cooperate. They’re like children, each of them different, each with its own set of challenges. Good lord was this one unruly. It’s the longest of my NaNoWriMo books, and it’s taken the longest to write. I thought, at the outset, that it might be more of a novella, that I might not have enough story to fill out NaNoWriMo’s 50,000-word minimum. Ha!

I’ve adopted a motto from one of my favorite movies, Galaxy Quest: “Never give up, never surrender!” I know that NaNoWriMo considers WriMos winners if they successfully write 50,000 words from scratch during the month of November, but when I first undertook the challenge in 2013, I decided that I was done with leaving manuscripts incomplete. Even if the book will never see the light of day, I have to at least finish it, give it the chance to someday be edited into shape.

So that’s what I’ve done four times now. It’s a personal goal, but one in which I take pride. Years ago, when I was enrolled in a fiction workshop in college, one of our assignments was to write a piece of short fiction and have it critiqued by our classmates. The second part of this assignment, upon which our final grades were dependent, was to then take the critiques of our classmates and edit our stories. Some critiques were worthless, some priceless. But the assumption was that none of us walked in with perfectly crafted pieces; there’s always room for improvement. One day, nearing the end of the semester, I overheard one of these classmates pouring out his woes to our professor, how he “just wasn’t feeling it.” Yeah, I’ve had manuscripts like that. There’re lots of them, sitting in files that I haven’t touched in years. But when someone assigns me a task—especially for a college class!—I do my best to complete it. I couldn’t believe the nerve of this guy, saying that he couldn’t do what was required, yet he still expected a pass.

Whenever I feel like giving up on a story, I think of him and what a lousy excuse he made, and I realize that I’m not going to do something lame like that, even if I’m only myself letting down. I didn’t spend months on this to just give up. I haven’t put off editing other pieces that desperately need attention for nothing. I fought writer’s block and wrote… maybe not like a boss, but like someone who takes writing seriously. It’s not about producing something perfect. It’s not even about following an outline to fruition (conflict introduced—check! love interest refuted—check!). It’s about giving the story the chance to have its say—especially if it ends nothing like what I expected at the start.

I finished, and now I have the satisfaction of another novel under my belt. I haven’t let myself down. Breathe, edit, repeat.

 

My Gift

Have you ever had a dream that seems a little silly, but you can’t help but hold onto it anyway? Like driving by a beautiful house every day that you know you’ll never be able to afford but imagining yourself living there anyway?

Well… but who says you won’t live ever there? So many people give up on dreams that aren’t necessarily impossible, just difficult to attain. Sometimes life makes it very difficult to hold onto our dreams. Sometimes we get bitter, assuming that those who do achieve their dreams have some secret inner track that is unavailable for the rest of us “normal” people. Sometimes we give up.

Probably my longest-held unfulfilled dream is that of becoming a published author. Well, let me rephrase: an author who is published in the traditional sense. I do have books under my belt, and I do make a (tiny) income freelance writing, but back in high school, I thought that I could go to college, major in English, improve my writing skills, and somehow earn an annual income as a novelist equal to (or more than) what my husband makes.

Not only did majoring in English do absolutely nothing to further my writing career, but the idea that becoming a novelist can bring a steady income is one that seems less likely every day. It’s harder than ever to find a literary agent and then a publisher, and even they can’t promise positive or lasting results. Books get remaindered all the time, and there go the hopes of more starving artists.

In the face of this and many more discouraging statistics, it would be logical to give up on my dream. And to be honest, this dream does come and go. When my first son was a baby, I wrote very little. It suddenly wasn’t very important to me, both because I was tired and focused on new motherhood. I wrote when I wanted to, and I wrote what moved me, but as far as a career, I almost let go of the dream completely, unless someone reminded me by asking how my writing was going.

Other times, I’ve wanted my dream so much that it almost caused physical pain – and I guess that is possible, if you consider the toll anxiety can take. It’s not fun trying so hard and being rejected over and over and over and over… need I go on?

But most of the time, I live in a cycle of writing with pure joy and energy and plowing on because I know that joy is just around the corner, if only I can stick with it. That’s how this last year has been, starting with my first NaNoWriMo experience in November 2013.

If you follow my blog, you know that last year’s NaNoWriMo was the joy and energy, and this year’s I just had to plow through. Although I won (by writing more than 50,000 words in the month of November), I’m still chipping away at my novel. I would love to finish the first draft by the end of the month, but things really have to change if I want that to happen: I don’t think I’ve ever procrastinated so much when it comes to writing.

This isn’t writer’s block. I’ve had that before, don’t care for it much, but understand that it’s a normal part of the writing process. What this is is writer’s exhaustion. Three days in the past week, I neglected to write at all. I was so busy that I forgot, and I was too tired to even care all that much.

Except.

Except that I realized that I missed it. I make time for all kinds of other things during the day, all of which are important, but why is it that my novel gets shoved to the side? No, it’s not paying the bills, but since when did that become the sole criteria of what’s important to me? If I have to dedicate five minutes at a time to get it done, at least I can go to sleep at night feeling like I haven’t let myself – and my dream – down.

My dream will never have the chance of becoming reality if I don’t do my part. Which means I have to start querying again. Which means editing last year’s novel and finishing this year’s. After all, my books won’t write themselves, and I can’t expect an agent to just stumble across my blog and send me an email – “Hey, Sarah. You sound talented. Do you happen to have a novel I could represent?” Yeah right.

Stranger things have happened, I suppose, but this girl isn’t going to sit around and wait for a miracle to happen. Writing may present a challenge, but it can also fill my tank when it’s empty. I owe myself this gift. The gift of five minutes a day, the gift of keeping my dream alive, the gift of trying to make it become reality.

And if it doesn’t work… well, I’ve always loved dreaming.