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I started writing this post in the mindset of December 31st. I was going to cross off all the things I didn’t do this year that I wanted to, and when I looked at the list and while a lot of it is impossible—I can still get a few checkmarks on that list. So I’ll hold off on that downward spiral list, and go to a simple November goal: Finish NaNoWriMo.

I failed. You can say, “But you still have x hours left to finish!” As I type this at 6:45am (post time is different, I know), I am at roughly 19,000 words. I do want to get my word count higher, but that’s for me. It’s not for NaNo anymore. Even if I had the day off and wrote every hour for the rest of the day, I’d be hard pressed to finish. And that’s saying something.

I think the most discouraging part is that I could have finished. I was on track to finish on time. I made myself a lofty calendar that actually had me finishing a week early. When I sit down to write, I can write about 4,000 words in an hour and a half.

I can do it.

But I didn’t.

In a lot of ways this is very depressing to me—there I go, failing again.

I don’t know how much you all know about positive thinking, but I like to think it works. If you want to be miserable, you will be. If you want to change something, change it (I believe this wholeheartedly but putting it into action is often a problem—but you have to try). If you are sick, and you are a pessimist, you’re more likely to remain that way. On the flip side, even with a terminal disease, sometimes positivity can get you one extra step; I’ve seen it and I know people who have experienced it.

Your mindset is the problem. It’s the battle.

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I’m going to write about something different today. It’s not related to writing–I might make it so, but it’ll be a thin line, grasping for a connection to make it relevant.

But I’ll say it anyway: there are moments in life that I’d love to write down, but that just don’t translate too well. It’s like when newbies try to say they’re embarrassed in a romance language and end up being pregnant. Or better yet, the subtle difference between inveja and ciúme. They both mean jealousy, but one implies coveting someone’s possessions. The other could be taken to mean wanting someone for yourself. I felt ciúme when my boyfriend talked to a girl, and inveja when she won the lottery.

And if you use the wrong word, or even the right word the wrong way, then the whole situation has changed.

Not eveything in real life translates to the written word. There’s scenes I want to write but they belong on film and love, well, I know love exists in books and stories, but it’s more complicated than that.

Even the best love stories can feel contrived and maybe that’s because they are in life, too. Love can be perfect or hateful or arrive late. In fiction, it can be larger than life, magnified to get the subtleties of real life out there.

This all comes from me thinking about the ways I met my last two boyfriends. I either wasn’t supposed to meet them, or it almost didn’t matter. I’m not saying I want to write a love story–I’d say I’d be clumsy at it at my best–but it got me thinking. I wouldn’t even know how to translate it into story.

I met my Brazilian boyfriend at a party in 2008. January, some day in late January. I think it was a Tuesday.

It almost didn’t matter.

I had a boyfriend at the time, and he was a love who I realize now was just an excuse to stay out of my house, get affection from somewhere, anywhere, and to also keep away from people who could have been good for me. Before you judge me: he was five months in on his returning home to Guatemala. He is the reason I had to change my cellphone number.

But this Tuesday something shifted. I don’t remember much about the day except that I bought a pair of exercise pants and a green tank top and matching earrings at Target. I also remember talking to my high school boyfriend; we both ended up outside of Maryland, me at school in Pennsylvania and him somewhere in West Virginia. He wanted to come up to visit. I hadn’t seen him in over four years. He said it was the closest Chipotle and his friends loved going. He said he still had feelings for me, all that time later.

It was a buzz, an electricity. I was excited and nervous and I don’t remember why but he either never came or couldn’t get to where I was.

I went to my Brazilian Carnaval celebration, a little sad but happy with friends. We danced and sang on stage and in the crowd were a lot of middle aged Brazilians and then a pair. Two guys, older than me but younger than I’d dated before.

I joked to my friend, “I’m gonna get me that one.”

It was a joke. It was harmless.

Within a few weeks we were together, which is a longer story than this post requires.

Now, our relationship was short. It had a timer on it, maybe a little egg one, and it buzzed. Times up.I was devastated. I wasn’t me. I was sick, I’d cry in the Cathedral [of Learning], tell him that since he ended it he couldn’t say he loved me though my heart lifted when he typed the words (in its shortest form, he went back to Brazil).

I don’t think I have ever felt so much pain from a romantic love, and I’m not sure I ever will. I think the fact that I never will again is healthy. If you lose yourself when you’re broken apart from someone else, were you really your own to begin with?

So I spent a few weeks with a knot in my stomach. I went out but I didn’t want to. I showed up to breakfast with my friends drunk for a while. I hated me and I hated the situation, and then I was back home and it was that much worse.

The Saturday I got home, a girlfriend wanted me to go to a party with her. I didn’t want to, but after spending the afternoon crying and talking to my Brazilian ex, and listening to my mother in the background, I figured getting out of the house might be the only way to deal.

I don’t remember what I said, but before I threw on some party clothes and shut down my computer, I told that boy I loved him. I would love him forever.

Eight hours later I was at that party I didn’t want to go to. And after hours of being a wallflower, one of the things I’m best at, I had made some friends.

I’d met someone.

I am still with him.

Is it the healthiest way to start a relationship? Maybe not. But I remember the knot loosening in my stomach, and I found myself, and once I did that, the world gave me a present.

They’re not great stories. But I wouldn’t even know how to write them. There’s a lot of coincidence and a lot of disbelief–really, you just gave up like that?

No, I still loved him in my own way, and it wasn’t a lie what I told him that day–I always will. But I can relive that night of the knots untying and myself unravelling. And I think the world does things just to play tricks on you and sometimes to let you know it doesn’t do it all in spite.

And that’s why I think regrets are worthless. Sure, I kinda wish I could see how that night would have ended up if my high school boyfriend had showed up. Or that I hadn’t stayed with the deadbeat for so long. Or that I still lived in Pittsburgh, or maybe Brazil, or maybe that I started a new life in Texas.

But all that is dependent on one moment happening or not happening. If you regret, then there’s something in your life that’s wrong. So stop trying to fix the past and instead fix the situation you’re in.

But how do you write that in a book?

I used to be on the internet a lot growing up. Every day. Hours at a time. And I don’t mean the hour or two I might spend on a Saturday morning or a Sunday afternoon. I don’t mean watching YouTube videos of cute puppies or watching Fala, Sonia! for the millionth time, even though I feel a bit bad for laughing at her.

I did more than that.

I have friends who are still great at procrastinating on the internet. I can if I try hard enough, but my internet is slow, and with the effort I’d expend finding something worth wasting my time on–well, I could catch up on all my DVR shows. That’s right, I’m a TV slob. All I need is something good to watch, and I’ll walk on the treadmill all day long (or a good book to read).

I promise there’s a point to this.

But when I was fourteen, I talked on forums all day long. About Harry Potter, mostly, though I might have had some other interests in there. I had three or four threads of story (aka fanfic), and only the same people read it, but we were friends of sorts and read each others’ work and wrote a lot. I wrote a lot back then (original and fanfic), more than I do now, even though I wasted a lot of time wandering through the internet. I don’t even know how l found so many things to entertain myself, but I did, and still managed to crank out at least a thousand words a day.

But, I never finished a story. At least, not one longer than a couple thousand words. Except that one about the mermaid–it might have topped out at 9,000 words, and I finished it, but that one belongs buried in folder upon folder on my hard drive.

The only stories I ever outlined were loose outlines, general plot background and story setting more than anything else. Brief character sketches. Everything else I wrote was either a short story or I decided what would happen as I went along. In the case of fanfic, it never got far, though I guess I just assumed it didn’t matter–Remus wasn’t going to get the girl in the 70s, anyway, so what more planning did I have to do?

Wrong.

Now, I’m still behind in NaNo, but I reached 10,000 words the other night. My goal was to reach 13,000 words last night, but it didn’t happen. But I’d like to think I have a good excuse: I was outlining.

See, the book I’m writing for NaNo is part 1 of a three-part series. It might be a three-part book, or it might be a trilogy–I don’t know yet, and I’ll find out once I’m done writing it. But when talking to Rachel the other day, it reminded me of something that’s been bothering me for a while: the ending.

I have part 1 completely outlined (and approved–I’ll get to that in another post), and I knew how I wanted part 2 to end. I completed it last night, and the amount of words I used to finish the outline would have gotten me to my 13,000-word goal for last night. But I chose to outline instead.

And here’s why: I don’t know how part 3 ends. At all. I know the direction it goes in, but how do you end a war? I don’t think anyone in the real world knows how, so how are my characters supposed to figure it out?

I’d love to just write through the outline I have for book 1. And maybe I should do that. But I ultimately know what I want this to be, and by delaying the ending I could get more frustrations in the future that I could write out to avoid now. In fact, by writing part 2’s outline, I found out a lot more about a major character than I would have simply by writing part 1.

So my goal for today, while ultimately is to get part 1 to 18,000 words, is to write the outline to part 3. I want some semblance of an ending. It could be subject to change, and I might find a better way to do it as I write along. But I need a direction to go in and I need to know the motivations of every single one of my characters, even the ones I haven’t meant yet.

My outline for part 1 has been good to me. Sure, I’ve only exhausted the first two bullet points (of 27), but when I’m writing I know what the next scene is. I’ve never written like this before, and once I just trust my outline, the words pour out without much effort. There will be a lot of editing in the future, but at least I’m getting the content down.

So if you’re stuck for NaNoWriMo or with anything you’ve ever wanted to write, I suggest an outline.

It’s worked miracles for me and I’m more excited about it than ever. I’m loving knowing what my characters are going to do. Both of my outlines are relatively short (5,000 words combined for what will hopefully produce 100,000+ words combined), so I don’t feel like I’ve already written the book, and neither one would make a particularly good short story. But I can look back, and it’s a map, and it shows me the places I have missed or where a character should really be in that scene.

Not everything is solved. I still get frightened of the blank page, and new things crop up that I wasn’t expecting to deal with. But that just means that my outline is serving as a plot structure, but it’s not telling my novel what it has to be about. It means my writing gets to enjoy the ride and the themes, but the plot’s already there for it to follow.

I don’t know, but I’m starting to like it. Do you outline?

Well, it’s day 5 of NaNoWriMo and I’m behind.

I’d like to say I’m surprised, but I’m not particularly so. This week simply didn’t go the way I wanted it to, so I spent time moping and cleaning very small things around the house and trying to destress.

I did, however, manage to just get up to 4500 words.

So far, I guess I’m ready to keep and expand upon maybe 1500 of those words, though a lot of rearranging is going to happen–but that’s way in the future.

Other than the stress, I think the fact that I’m still turning off my editor is hard. I tried Write or Die, but I hated everything I wrote for that and can’t think of anything I’ll keep.

My pacing is far off, but I’m slowly getting to my next point.

I guess I just need write a lot of words and see where it takes me.

My goal for the weekend is 10,000 words. I have to go grocery shopping tomorrow, but I think I’ll start the morning off by going someplace out of my house for the first time in the past 5 days to write. I usually wake up earlier than Mike, so that should buy me an hour or two of morning writing.

Tomorrow’s goal: 5,500. Ideally, I’ll get some good writing out of that, too.

If this scene I’m trying to get to keeps stalling, I’m probably going to skip and write the end of this book and work backwards. I’m currently struggling, though, in trying to get the characters to interact naturally, and to have my MC move forward in the plot all while knowing what’s going on around her. Not to mention, I’m still unsure of how to include all of this backstory that’s needed to understand what’s going on.

I may have to return to my outdated starting point: as soon as my MC arrives, in the middle of a heated auditorium and listening to a speech.

I guess I’ll see how tomorrow goes.

It’s 8:09am on Tuesday, November 1st. I think I thought this day would never get here, and here it is. And I’m procrastinating. I’m really going to have to go see what the library’s all about, or maybe get fat in Wegmans’ cafeteria if I ever want to get writing done.

Sure, they have fast internet, but I’m finding that I’m getting bored faster on the internet. So if I hunker down there, I’ll be typing away, get a few thousand words in today! Whereas here, at home, I have episodes of Charmed to watch, not to mention the new episodes of shows like Once Upon a Time and House and Terra Nova and American Horror Story and Our America with Lisa Ling (I generally like ignore the fact that OWN is one of our channels but guys–you HAVE to watch this show!).

But, for now, my dog is “screaming” outside, so I’ll let him in and go feed the both of them.

On tap for today:

  • Procrastinate by watching Charmed.
  • Finish my outline, like I should have last night.
  • Play with my dogs, ’cause, well, they’re living creatures.
  • Procrastinate by reading Sarah’s poems (I meant to do this BEFORE NaNoWriMo!!!).
  • Write.
  • Write.
  • Write.
  • Yell at other people to write.
  • Do some more writing.

Yup, a loaded day. I also have a target: preferably no excessive procrastinating in the morning (for instance, I can watch Charmed if I do it while outlining the novel), and absolutely no procrastinating between the house of 3 and 8pm.

So maybe I should make dinner now.

Every time I think too hard about NaNoWriMo, I get this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Like I’m nauseous or I ate too much candy, which is always a possibility. I get nervous that I won’t finish. I fret that the characters won’t work out. I worry that they’ll all be Mary Sues and Gary Stus, just with weapons and powers (oh, wait, that’s about on par). I think that when it’s done, it’s going to suck, and even my friends who helped me work through some of the larger kinks in the novel (aka, I still call it “the dragon book,” but there are no dragons) will go, “Jess, what did you do?”

But I guess that’s what it’s like to have an actual goal. To have told so many people whose opinion I value that I’d be embarrassed to not at least make a valiant effort. To have a plot and an idea that I’ve been wanting to write so long that the thought of giving it up to something tangible is frightening.

In a good way. So I’ll suck it up, and so will you.

Best of luck to all of you doing NaNo! We’ll need it and a bit of iron will.

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