Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Secret of My Success

It's November 2, 2014 and that means thousands of writers all over the world are hunkering down and trying to write a novel-length something before the end of the month. A "novel" is most loosely defined as: 50,000 words blarged onto a page of some kind. Our friends over at Dictionary.com have this to say about it:

"A fictitious prose narrative of considerable length and complexity, portraying characters and usually presenting a sequential organization of action and scenes."

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is an organization that exists to ensure more books get out into the world. They tend to lean more toward my loose definition of the word "novel" and simply ask for writers to jot down 50,000 words (roughly 250 double spaced pages using Times New Roman 12 point font) in one month. Do this and you will, by their definition, be successful. You will "win", and you will get a fancy certificate to prove it. Here are mine from the last two years:



The one from 2012 ended up being an entirely different book altogether when it was "done done". That is to say after the 50,000 words ended up on the page I needed to write another 30,000 words to finish the story. Then I changed the name of the book and took out a big chunk of it and wrote another 20,000 words before finishing the first draft for good. 80,000 words total and it still needs a lot of work. 

The one from 2013 saw the 50,000th word hit the page on November 26 and I used the last 4 days to finish off the last 5,000 words from the previous project. So where is it now? Collecting dust. I hate the story. It's taking forever to just get to the bloody point (pun intended: it's a serial killer novel). That's a bit of a lie. I actually like the story but I'm having a hard time actually telling it. So it will sit in a virtual drawer for a while and I'll revisit it. Some day.

So, the big question is: have I been successful?

Arguments for:
I have two certificates from the Office of Letters and Light that say I was. I have a full on completed first draft of a novel, that's actually being edited (or was until November rolled around again. I really want another certificate). 

Arguments against:
I don't, however, have a book for sale on Amazon, no one has read more than two short chapters, and I have not received a penny for either of them (reader tip: that's how most authors get paid. In pennies. Literally PENNIES a book. Remember that next time you think every writer eventually makes Anne Rice or Stephen King money).

Well here's the thing: you don't get to decide, at least not on my behalf.

You don't. It's as simple as that. When it comes to my success, you don't have a say. I frequent Facebook quite a lot, and sometimes dip my head in the Twitter stream and I see lots of stuff that tells me, "Successful people do this!", "How to succeed at this!", "This many steps to succeeding at whatever it is!", and do you know what? It's mostly just shiny people with good teeth telling you that to meet their definition of success you need to be more like them. 

Ugh.

Now let's be clear, if you are getting paid by someone to do a particular something then they get to decide. If you have a contract and the terms are laid out plain and simple (or as plain an simple as those things get) then that's what decides. If you have defined success as some number of sales or some number in your bank account, then other people may be involved (by buying your book and/or giving you money), but it's still your definition of success.

This year for NaNoWriMo I have defined success differently than in the past. Why? Because I can, that's why. I am going to try to write a complete novel from a story perspective in at least 50,000 words. That means by the end of the month I will have something that can be edited. No loose ends. No missing chapters. "THE END" boldly written at the bottom. Oh, and I will do one blog post on each of the Sundays in the month of November as well (five in total).

I will get a certificate for the novel and I will proudly display it. It will represent my success this year and no one will be able to take that away.

So go out and define your success and then do whatever you have to do (legally, please) to achieve it. If you're a writer then use NaNoWriMo however you want to help you down the road to success. Need to edit a few hundred pages? Good! Set daily goals and a monthly total and get to it. Need to finish off that novel you've been working on for the past 23 months? Good! Use NaNoWriMo to do it. Want to crank out 30 blog posts in 30 days? Good! You see where this is going?

You're in the driver's seat.

You get to decide.

If you will allow me a Yoda moment... In control of your destiny, you are.

Use The Force, Luke. Use The Force.

~ Andrew

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