NaNo Is Not For People With Kids

Photo by paloetic, via Flickr

I don’t know whose bright idea it was to pick November for National Novel Writing Month. I think I can safely say it was not someone with children at home.

When I was first exploring the whole writing scene and I encountered this crazy idea of writing a novel in 30 days, I read all the advice posts with bemusement. The advice boils down like this:

  1. Don’t cook, don’t clean, don’t socialize.
  2. Write junk, even if it consists of “I don’t know what to write,” until you figure out what to say.
  3. Whatever you do, don’t stop and correct or tweak anything you wrote earlier.
  4. Tell your family you are off limits for thirty days.

And that last one, right there? That’s how I know this sucker is meant for people without kids.

Consider the following:

  1. syringes
    Five brand-spanking new syringes–one each for the antibiotics prescribed.

    My two middle children have racked up five, count ‘em, five, antibiotic prescriptions in the past six weeks, to accompany the four, yes four, doctor visits.

  2. Between the two of them, those same two children have had five sick days in November.
  3. Between the two of them, I have been up one to three times every night acting as nurse every single night for three or four weeks.
  4. Quarter end and parent teacher conferences fall during November for, as best I can tell, everyone in the known universe.
  5. Quarter end and parent teacher conferences include days off school. And they don’t overlap from one school to the next, at least in my case.
  6. And who among my readership thinks it is even remotely possible that any child is capable of, much less willing to, consider Mommy “off limits” for thirty days?
  7. This. Just this.
What happens to my computer when I pause for a bathroom break.

And oh yes–hello: Thanksgiving!

I tried NaNoWriMo once before, sort of as a test run. I think I got to fifteen thousand and had to admit defeat. I think I was delusional, actually, because I had a nursing baby that year.

I decided to give it a whirl again this year, because I was feeling intimidated by starting a new novel, despite having so many ideas for it that my head is ready to explode. This seemed like a good way to knuckle down and just get started, because that is, after all, the hardest part. (Except for the editing. And the re-editing. And the re-visioning. And the querying. And…well, anyway.)

I knew going in that I wasn’t going to “win” (which means hitting 50K), but I did expect more success than I have experienced thus far. It’s not bad, but the type-A German in me tenses up as my bar graph falls farther and farther below that line on the NaNoWriMo page.

The tough thing about starting a new project is that ideas aren’t enough. If the ideas are all involved in some disorganized Bacchanalia in your head, it’s slow, careful work to sort out the threads and put each element in its place. In the past few days of October I created a decent outline (also against the NaNo rules, I read recently, but to that I say, “Whatever!”), but even so, all the subplots and the enriching details are hard to grab hold of and organize. I don’t know the characters yet. I’m just discovering their voices. It’s a catch-22: I can’t really write their stories until I know their voices, but I can’t discover their voices until I’ve written their stories for a while.

As you might imagine, first drafting is a very uncomfortable process for me: not so much I-think-I-can-I-think-I-can as I will-if-it-kills-me-I will-if-it-kills-me.

But at some point in the process, I reach the continental divide, and things start to click.

I’m not there yet. But I can see glimmers.

Someday, perhaps my kids will stop requiring four doctor visits, six sick days, two weeks of middle-of-the-night nursing care and round-the-clock Supreme Court decisions over the blanket on the couch, and I’ll actually be able to do this thing for real. Until then, NaNo is more what we call “guidelines” than actual rules.