Admitting defeat

Sometime around 10:45 last night, the NaNoWriMo novel died after a relapse of plot problems and increasing indifference.  The relapse began on Wednesday when I realized that, despite finishing Part 2, it was more or less unusable.  It wasn’t the direction I wanted to take things. At the time, I didn’t see this as critical. I was eager to write Part 3, but as I started down that direction, I realized that a rewrite of Part 2 would require some minor changes in Part 1 and who knows how it would impact Part 3. I found myself stalled, unable to move forward, and I eventually realized that this was a graveyard spiral from which there would be no recovery.

The novel died quietly in the night.

I don’t see this as a complete failure for several reasons:

  • Part 1 is really outstanding and I plan to cannibalize it and make it into a long novelette or short novella.
  • I learned more about the novel-writing process than ever before
  • I wrote a lot, and for me, any writing is good practice
  • Most importantly, it taught me that I am not yet ready to write novels and that I should focus on what I am getting better and better at, which is writing short stories.

This last point is the most significant thing to come out of any of the NaNoWriMo’s that I have so far attempted. Last night I realized that I should be focusing on my short fiction. I am not trying to be a full-time writer so there is no need for me to be writing novels. I don’t think I have reached the maturity or level of experience to write a novel successfully.  I think this might come with time, but that I shouldn’t force it. I should stick with short fiction and focusing on writing more of that, and moreover, selling more of that. I love short fiction, and I am getting better at it and I should be taking advantage of my recent successes to write even more of it.

This is what I will be doing, therefore. My goals for 2011 will reflect this, and I will discuss that in more detail when I post those goals closer to the end of the year.

I am partially done with Story #8. I also have a small amount of Story #9.  Story #10 will be the cannibalized version of Part 1 of the novel. I might not finish these three stories before the end of the year, but whatever I don’t finish will carry over to next year. Next year my focus will be entirely on short fiction. I may even skip NaNoWriMo next year to maintain that focus. I want to get as good as I can get at the art before I move on to something else. Maybe I’ll try novels again a few years down the road, but for now, it’s short fiction.

This is an invaluable lesson. You can’t be everything. I have friends and colleagues who are outstanding novel writers. I am not. But I’m getting to be a half-way decent short story writer and with more practice, maybe I’ll even be pretty good at it one day.

I’ll tell you this, though: when the novel passed last night, it came as an enormous relief. Admitting defeat was, in a way, cathartic.  I am looking forward to getting back to short fiction.


  1. I so enjoyed your Nano posts about your process. I wish I could look at stories in the 3 Act structure, but I’m just not there yet! Was *so* jealous of your word counts, and sad that the novel has ground to a halt. But it sounds as if you’ll end up with a solid novella/novelette, so as you say, not really a defeat.

  2. Yeah, I was going strongly there for a while, and it was only when I decided that I couldn’t use part 2 that everything began to fall apart. To be honest, the “3 act structure” was an accident, a coincidence. I’ve heard of this kind of thing for screenplays but I didn’t know it applied to novels as well.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the posts. And yes, Part 1 will definitely make a good novelette and with one sale to Analog so far, I’m going to try and get it into Stan early in the new year and strike while the iron is still hot.


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