Why I’m Retiring From NaNoWriMo

So long and thanks for all the words!

I’ve spent the last ten years doing National Novel Writing Month every November. 50,000 words in 30 days, and despite the sometimes soul-crushing, wrist-ruining, alcoholism-causing amount of work, it’s been a blast and I don’t regret a moment of it.

I’ve been a cheerleader for NaNo, I’ve attended events, I’ve crawled the forums and bought the merchandise and I’m not here to shit on NaNoWriMo. NaNo is a great. The community is great. The experience is insane in the best way. If you’ve never done it, and you like writing or want to just try a new challenge, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.

Then why am I retiring? Well, the fact is, I just finished my tenth NaNoWriMo, all of which I’ve completed successfully. That’s 1 million words I’ve written during NaNo. 10 is a good round number, as is one million. Plus, there’s agreeable symmetry – I started my very first NaNo writing the very first Deadgirl novel, which ended up becoming my first published book. And I just wrote the last Deadgirl novel for this recent NaNo, which bookends things nicely.

But it’s more than milestones and gross auto-backslapping. The fact is, my life is in a very different place than it was when I began 10 years ago. At age 22, I was living with my friends, working crazy hours as a live theatre tech, getting home at midnight and chugging a beer and throwing myself at the keyboard until the dawn came. Then I’d wake up at 10am, swim through a vat of coffee, and write until I had to go back to work. I didn’t have a wife, I didn’t have kids, hell I didn’t even have food in my fridge. I’d eat one meal a day – drive thru – on my way to work because I’d been so wrapped up in writing that I’d forgotten to eat. (Somehow I was still very fat, I cannot explain this. Wait it’s all the beer, nevermind I figured it out).

And no one could say boo about it. If I was burning the candle at both ends, so what? It was my candle. Go get your own candle if you want to be the boss of the candles.

But over time, things change. I moved in with my girlfriend, we got married, we went through the rollercoaster of employment-unemployment-oh-God-we-can’t-pay-the-gas-bill-employment again many times (thanks recession). We got married, we danced, we had candlelit dinners. We went on vacations, we went wine-tasting, we spent way too much money on more dinners. I got a job with regular hours. We had one kid, and this year now another.

So, I get home from work and my wife and two kids are there and I want to squish all their faces and teach Dash how to lightsaber fight and help Wyatt learn to stand up and maybe have a conversation with my wife if the Lord of Light permits. But it’s November, which means I have to lock myself in my office instead and spent the next three hours banging my head against the desk and bleeding onto my keyboard. Because . . . reasons.

Self-inflicted reasons.

The fact is, I like writing. I love writing. But between marketing my old books, submitting new books, editing fresh books, and worrying about NaNo, I’d forgotten that fact. Writing = stress. Writing = time sacrificed from family. Writing = anxiety. Well, to be fair, a lot of things in my brain = anxiety, but that’s a tale for another day.

Luckily some powerful antidepressants and a good therapist have reminded me of the truth – I write because I like writing. I write to relax. I don’t write to become the next Stephen King, I write because it’s what I’d be doing anyway. If you locked me in a cave on Mars for the rest of my life and I never saw another living soul again, I’d write. Maybe it would be scratches on the cave wall or just stories in my head, but it’s just what I do. It doesn’t have to be heavy. It doesn’t have to be EVERYTHING. And it definitely doesn’t have to be some kind of competition.

So, I squeezed through this NaNo, somehow, despite a toddler and a newborn and Thanksgiving (two Thanksgivings, actually) and an anniversary vacation and Thankstaking and work and food poisoning. Not because I had to – I’d made this retirement realization before I’d even started this year – but because I wanted to end on a high note. Stopping at year nine would be ridiculous.

Also, segue into procrastination: I’m one of the world champion procrastinators, and I realized recently that I’d started using NaNoWriMo as a kind of procrastination release-valve. I barely wrote this entire year because I knew NaNo was coming and, hey, “I’ll do it all then.” And the fact is, for years now, I’ve written more during the month of November then I do the rest of the year. And rather than using NaNo as a strength or a jumping-off point, it became a crutch. Why work throughout the year when I can grasshopper around and play a shitload of Final Fantasy XV? November-Bobby will handle it, no problem. That guy is some other guy, and he sucks.

My last, and most petty reason for retiring from NaNo: I’m starting to feel like a dumb asshole. I’ve written something like six manuscripts now, a few of them published, and me bragging about finishing a book isn’t really that impressive. It’d be like if a dentist jumped on his Tumblr and hooted to the stars every time he pulled a tooth. Yeah, we know man. It’s your job. Nobody cares.

Hell, I barely care anymore. You know what I did last night to celebrate finishing NaNo? I saved the doc in my Dropbox, I drank a glass of water, and then I took the trash out. Woo, slow this crazy party train down.

Now all this may come off as a humble brag, but I can assure you that my extremely low sense of self-worth would never allow such a thing.

NaNo began as a kick in the ass for me, and it was a kick in the ass I desperately needed because I was a lazy no-goodnick pissing his time down the drain and talking about “someday writing another novel” after my disastrous first fantasy book that was literally the worst thing to ever be written by a literate person.

NaNoWriMo helped me grow my craft, taught me about deadlines and discipline, and I recommend it to anyone who is in that phase of their artistic growth. But now I just need a regular, year-round writing schedule that fits neatly into my crazy life of boring dad stuff.

Rather than write 50,000 words in November, why don’t I write 15,000 or 20,000 words a month? The second (more sane) way ends up being a TON more words per year, plus without the rusting fallow phase where I do nothing (combined with “ugh I’m the worst” self-flagellation for six months).

So that’s what I’m gonna do. I’m a writer. I should just write, and live my life, and remember that I do it because it’s fun.

Which, hey, isn’t that the whole point?

 

Picard Dancing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Bobby Johnson

Part-time swashbuckler and professional writer, Agent Bobby lives in Southern California and goes by the names "B.C. Johnson," "Banjo Bob," and "The Amazing Spider-Man." His "Deadgirl" book series (think Buffy meets Stephen King) is available for Kindle, Nook, and even old dusty paperback and can be found at bc-johnson.com. When he's not writing or playing video games, he can be found writing about playing video games and occasionally sleeping.