NaNoWriMo Week Four: A double-barrel word deficit

A WordsDay Special

It’s crunch time.

I’m about 8K words off-pace on my novel, and I only have a few days to go.

I’d like to say this update on my National Novel Writing Month project, which was due on Thursday, was delayed because I was hammering away at my novel, but no—I was giving thanks, just like most other Americans.

While I stuffed my face with turkey and sweet potatoes and collard greens (yes!), my novel sat, alone and lonely, quietly whispering my name and saying, “We’re falling so far behind on NaNoWriMo, we’ll never catch up. I thought you had this?”

NaNoWriMo’s website suggests that I should be at 43,334 words. I’m at 35K. That means I’m staring down a double-barreled 8K deficit. That means I have 15K words to crank out in four days. That means I have to average 3,750 words a day in order to win.

I got this.

I think.

I can do 4K words in a day pretty easily, so long as I physically have the time to sit and write. But that’s been my problem: I’ve been crushed for time. Life keeps getting in the way.

It is, I believe, The Great Challenge for all writers. Life gets in the way—as it does for everyone—and so it becomes a struggle to make sure writing remains a top priority.

Those who know me know I take my writing seriously enough that it falls high on my priority list. The things that bump it have to be pretty damn important.

Thanksgiving comes, what, once a year? It’s hard to pass up that kind of fantastic celebration of family, friends, and food. Yeah, I suppose I could just hold off until next month, because Christmas is basically the same thing but with presents and a tree, so maybe I could bump Turkey Day—but hey.

Because of the holiday, an old friend from out of town came home for a week, so I spent some time hanging out with her. I’m told that beautiful women have been the downfall of many a fine novel, and perhaps mine will be the next to fall victim, but it’s a once-a-year thing, so I really can’t pass that up. Perhaps I should’ve better planned for that, but I really didn’t think I’d be hanging out with her as much as I did—and no, I’m not sorry about it one bit, especially because she found the whole novel-in-a-month thing fascinating. (NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty suggested, in his book No Plot? No Problem!, that cute women would “no doubt be impressed by the crazy novel project”—and it’s true! She’s asked me about it every day since, which has been one more voice in a chorus of supportive people urging me onward.)

But holiday-related stuff aside, life got in the way in other ways. I managed to get sick, for one thing. That, of course, saps anyone’s strength and can be hard to work around, no matter how much Day-Quil you swill.

I also got some potentially calamitous news from a close family member, so that threw off my game.

Plus there was the usual busyness that comes with work. I can pin part of the blame, too, on SUNY-Binghamton, The Cult, The Black Ryder, JFK, Marvel Comics, and the city of Cleveland.

In other words: Life.

Sunday, November 21 was NaNoWriMo’s Write-a-Thon, a day intended to encourage writers who might’ve been lagging behind to catch up. I spent the day conducting a writing retreat for a bunch of my students, which was totally great fun but didn’t do a single thing toward advancing the word count on my novel.

I had intended to go to a write-in that evening but had to shuffle plans at the last minute. “It’s probably good you weren’t able to make it,” my regional liaison, JessAnn told me. “We didn’t really have a write-in…. It was more of a talk-about-anything-in.”

A few of my writing buddies seem to be struggling toward the finish line. Looking at their word counts online, some have fallen further behind than I have. A couple have given up.

From Madrid, Anna Maria Ballester Bohn wrote to tell me that she hasn’t lost her stride. “Mostly, I still have a grand time when I sit down to write,” she said. But only mostly. “I definitely will be glad it’s over,” she adds. “I’m beginning to feel the drag and the pressure.”

Because she jumped to such a huge lead because of her vacation during Week One, she’s hoping for an early finish. “Thanks to my great start, it’s not so much going to be a mad sprint but a leisurely sauntering,” she said.

In Cleveland, Jen McConnell had fallen behind, then jumped ahead, but then, in the past couple of days—because of the holiday—fallen about 3K behind. “I don’t want to take too much time away from my family during the holiday,” she said. Still, she was well past the 40K mark, so she’s in good shape.

For Jill Smith, in Bradford, Pa., the holiday was actually a chance to catch up. “I’m thankful that I’ve caught myself up and there won’t be the ‘mad dash’ to the finish line like I thought there would be,” she told me. “I’m still moving along and I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to write a little more each day to lesson the blow at the end. I’m planning on doing a lot of writing this weekend between breaks of turkey and some good beer!”

And Jill was true to her word: I saw her out Wednesday night, having some good beer. So was I. We talked about our novels and the fun we were having writing—and the steam we were blowing off that night by not writing.

But now it’s time to build up steam again, to push forward, to crank out those last few thousand words. I have friends who’ve already passed the 50K-finish line, and others who have nearly reached it.

I can do it, too. I got this.

Yeah. I got this.

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