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Swoon Author Kimberly Karalius: “Poor Jack” and the Stages of Losing NaNoWriMo

This year’s NaNoWriMo has finally come to an end. Stretch those cramped hands. Get your butt out of the chair. Step outside and enjoy being blinded by that sunlight. The time for frenzied writing is over — as far as this big annual event is concerned. We’ll talk more about that later.

I, for one, am very happy to see December. But as I made this journey with my fellow Swoon authors this past month, I reflected on the experience of participating in National Novel Writing Month. I also watched The Nightmare Before Christmas for the millionth time, and only just discovered how close Jack Skellington’s journey is to the one we make whenever we set out to write a new novel in November. One song in particular, “Poor Jack,” pretty much sums up my feelings this year (and probably every year, since I haven’t won yet!).

Even though participating in NaNoWriMo this year was a last-minute decision, I still believed that I could win. Maybe it was the gorgeous dragon T-shirt that NaNoWriMo designed for the winners this year. Maybe it was the thrill of writing this month not only with my friends, but side-by-side with my fellow Swoon authors. But as November 30th came to a close, I could not ignore the truth any longer….

nano status

I was nowhere near 50k. Like Jack, my first thoughts were to wallow in grief (that cotton candy ice cream in the freezer looked really good). How did I drop the ball so badly? What was I doing during all those plateau days that NaNoWriMo so kindly recorded for me? Oh yes. That’s right. November throws the biggest curveballs. My plans of meeting that mighty word count had been ruined by some pretty amazing experiences, like a much-needed getaway to Disney’s Boardwalk and spending time with my brother over Thanksgiving. My copyedits for Love Fortunes and Other Disasters had arrived too!

This month didn’t work out the way I had planned, but you know what? NaNoWriMo plans rarely do.

Part 2

Let’s put this in perspective: I wrote something this month. More than something. A substantial amount of something.

Despite any distractions I had, I did put down 15K of a brand-new novel. My villainous MC is having trouble telling readers what his Secret Master Plan is. The time period is vague. And I’m not sure when the zebras and rum raisin desserts are going to show up, but they will. That’s okay. These characters no longer exist just inside my head. However first draftish they are, they managed to make it to paper. November can be magical like that, if you roll up your sleeves and join the writing party.

How many words did you write this month? Less than 500? 20K? 100K? Whatever you wrote is awesome because you did it. You did your best! What the heck, right?

Part 3

Swoon Reads has done a wonderful job at pulling back the curtains on how the publishing process works (did you see this infographic Mollie B. made? It’s the perfect roadmap). Full of twists, turns, and surprises, there is never a dull moment of being a Swoon Reads author. Still, with all the excitement and deadlines, it’s hard to remember that I am, and will always be, a writer. Maybe that sounds silly. But when you are staring at your shiny new cover or making sure you read the copyeditor’s notes just right, you forget to do the butt-in-chair thing.

Besides, my day job is so different from writing. After a long day at the office, switching gears to immerse myself in writing is like Jack tearing off his Sandy Claws costume to reveal the Pumpkin King underneath.

NaNoWriMo helped me gently place my Day Job and Author titles aside. I became the Writer again, and buckled down to explore a new story idea. The blank page and I faced off, and as I played with the first paragraph, the first page, and then the first chapter, I fell in love. I always do.

Part 4

Even though I lost this year, I’ve already started daydreaming about next November. I’ve always got a basket of half-baked ideas for novels in my head, and it’s fun to start planning early.

The planning includes strategies for success too. Even though I tried using a few writing apps on my iPad this time, they didn’t help as much as I thought they would (probably because I couldn’t write within the app itself, since I don’t write my drafts in notebooks, but on computers/tablets). I’m not sure yet what I’ll try next, but I’ll keep an eye out as the calendar brings us back around again to next November.

Whether you’re a pantser or planner, thinking about what you’re going to do next year is a big motivator. The anticipation!

set things right

Of course there is. You don’t need to challenge Oogie Boogie to do so. Losing doesn’t mean forgetting about the manuscript you worked on all month. Yes, you probably need a nap. Calling your friends to let them know you’re emerging from your writer-cave is probably a good idea too. But don’t let that manuscript collect cobwebs. You have two totally understandable, perfectly healthy options:

1. Keep going with your NaNo novel. This is not a seasonal novel, right? This is a book you love, and there’s no reason to put it away unless you work best with a fresh pair of eyes — and even then, don’t let it sit too long. November gave you a running start. Sharpen those pencils and return to the manuscript. Cross that finish line at your own pace.

2. Return to an old project/start a new project/just keep writing! Does looking at your NaNo novel make you a little nervous? If it looks more like jumbled puzzles pieces that you’re not ready to snap together, that’s okay. Were you working on a novel before November? Dust that manuscript off. Do you want to follow a new novel idea? Go for it. What’s most important is that you keep writing. Try again, don’t give up!

Although I had a great time with my project this month, I will be choosing Option #2 this December. My older manuscripts need some love. But new ideas are always on the horizon, and it’s a pleasure to be able to keep exploring worlds new and old, and characters strange and kind.

In the meantime, don’t be surprised if you see me singing “Poor Jack” badly during my morning commute, November or not.

How was your NaNoWriMo experience this year? Was it anything like mine and Jack’s? Feel free to share in the comments!

Author spotlight

Kimberly Karalius

KIMBERLY KARALIUS holds an MFA in fiction from the University of South Florida, and has been sharing stories on Figment.com …

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