Realizing my limits

Have you heard of National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo? It’s where you challenge yourself to write 50,000 words in the month of November. The idea is that if you reach this mark, you will have a first draft of a novel to move forward with.

I’ve done NaNo before. I’ve won it twice. My first winning NaNo idea is what I’ve spent revising off and on for three years. It’s become my #1 project. I’m still revising it, and am now working with a small critique group with it. We meet twice a month basically and discuss chapters and give advice and input on how to make things better or clearer or less wordy or more wordy…it’s writing talk with other writers and coffee.

It’s been a good thing. It keeps me honest with my revisions. It gives me a series of mini-deadlines – “Revise chapters 13 and 14 by the next meeting.”

This is all good.

As October started, I thought I could manage revising and drafting a new NaNo project. I’ve had this story idea in my head for about two years now, one I’ve backburnered in order to give my attention to the first more completed work-in-progress. I’d love to get working on it. NaNo would be the perfect opportunity to do so. I still had my critique group to keep me on task with the more progressed work-in-progress.

I made a plan. I plotted it out. I chose character names, place names, other names. I researched a few things. I set up a special notebook just for this new puppy. I did all the fun “I’m going to write a book!” stuff.

And on November 1st, I started writing.

I was doing well enough with NaNo. I had plotted out how many words I *had* to write per day to make it to 50K by November 30th – just over 1600 a day. And I was doing it.

And then, the date for my writing group loomed.

I realized I hadn’t touched my #1 project. I hadn’t revised anything, and I had to add a whole new chapter to make previous changes work. So I buckled down to my desk chair and worked on writing that needed chapter.

Except that meant I wasn’t now working on my NaNo work.

“It’s fine, you have time,” I said as I switched from revising to NaNo work.

But I woke up the next day, still having to finish writing the one chapter and revising at least one more (they all need revision, to give you perspective) and one day closer to my group’s meeting, but still needing to do NaNo work…but I also had a last minute school meeting for Maura, which I had to go to because Maura, but that meant that I was losing a good three hours of writing time (because when I’m just going to sit home and write, I don’t have to do socially acceptable things like showering or putting on “real clothes”, unlike school meetings where they appreciate both. ) And then there was the logic of “Well, I’m out of the house anyway, and we’re going to need toilet paper and such…” and there went another school-time writing hour.

And I had a moment of clarity.

I couldn’t do both.

I am not currently  in the position to do both.

I cannot start drafting in earnest one novel while revising another one.

I just do not have that much free time. Not while there are things like grocery shopping and parenting Maura and teacher meetings and the desire to get a decent night’s sleep. I only have so much uninterrupted time in my day to devote to writing, and two projects are proving to be too much.

And I am okay with this.

NaNo, this time, hasn’t been about drafting a book as much as making sure I get writing time in daily, so I don’t feel like I’m giving up my first goal, my main goal of NaNo. Trying to juggle two projects was an experiment. It didn’t work. And that’s okay. I now know better what I need to do.

Some might call it excuses, but they’re not. It’s my reality. It’s okay to accept the reality of the situation you’re in. Telling me “Don’t make excuses!” doesn’t help me. Instead, it makes me feel like I have failed somehow, makes me feel guilty that I apparently am not trying my hardest. It’s just not helpful. It is setting me up for failure. Because I can’t, at this time, manage all of it.

In realizing that I can’t manage both projects, I actually feel more able to work on the one. I know that I am doing the most I can. I am setting myself up for success. 

So to all the other parents out there who have a special someone in their life who often takes top priority on your list, but who are trying to keep working on your own dreams, I have this to say –

You are doing your best. Your best may not look like someone else’s, and that’s okay. Forget how others do things. Figure out how you can do things.

You do you, and don’t let anyone tell you it’s the wrong way to do it. They aren’t living your life. They aren’t trying to achieve your dreams. They don’t get to set your goals.

You do you, and I’ll stand off to the side and give you two thumbs up and say “You’ve got this!”

[image description: a red British telephone box lamp, a Kermit the Frog mug, a vintage black typewriter, and a sign saying “Living the Dream” hanging off it]