Swoon Authors Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas: So Now What?

The dust from the November frenzy has cleared. The shadows covering your writing space have been chased away by the harsh December light. There’s nowhere to hide. Your word count is visible to all. And it is … Not 50,000 words.

Congratulations! You’ve failed NaNoWriMo 2015! Welcome to an exclusive club that boasts such renowned members as… the two of us! If you’re feeling a bit down, exhausted, hopeless, frustrated, and confused, we want to say that we’re right there with you. Actually, we’re probably quite far behind you. We’re very slow writers, even though there’s two of us, and we have plenty of experience at missing our personal word count goals. Maybe you're a methodical, overthinking writer, maybe you got a new job last month like Kelly, or maybe you have no good excuse like Tarun. Whatever your reason (or lack of a reason) is- we get it. So here’s what we usually do after a spectacular failure.

Step 1: Give up on our dreams

girl bye

First, of course, we decide to never write again. It’s an incredible relief and weight off our backs. The universe suddenly feels like it’s full of infinite potential. We think about all the extra time we’re going to have to become cultured and intelligent social butterflies with fascinating hobbies like blacksmithing and harp playing. We’re finally happy and free to enjoy our lives!!

Step 2: Ignore that little itch

everything is fine

After a little while, we find ourselves sitting at a desk, just eating grilled cheese and not really doing anything else in particular. We’ve already googled a lot about blacksmithing. Life feels a bit strange. Like something is missing. We used to spend this time stressing out about our WiP, trying to solve problems regarding plot holes and illogical character motivations. But now, well, there’s only so many ways to perfect grilled cheese. We consider maybe a little brainstorming for fun, but no, we gave up writing and our lives are calm and full of delicious – nay, PERFECT – grilled cheeses and that’s that!

Step 3: Get those last ideas out of our systems

mr incredible

Sooner or later though, our imaginations wander too far and there’s no stopping them. It can happen at any time – while showering, falling asleep, reading a book. We’ll think of a hilarious line, a new character, a mind-blowing plot twist and it’ll feel like such a damn shame that the new idea has to just go to waste. We decide maybe we'll just quickly add this one thing into the manuscript. Besides, it probably won't even end up being as good as we imagined and we can totally give up on our dreams after that final failure. Okay?!

Step 4: Find the reminder

Huh. That new idea ends up kind of working. And when we go back and start reading the pages we wrote in the last month, our eyes don't melt from the sheer awfulness of the writing. A lot of it is rough, but we can see the potential. There are even a couple scenes that are actually good...? Good enough that we actually want to get back to writing to see how the story plays out. What is this madness?

Step 5: Remember writing is the BEST!


Oh my god, how could we ever forget the high of a good writing day? This. Is. Amazing. Our pent-up ideas come pouring out in the form of ingenious solutions and exciting scenes that remind us exactly why we fell in love with this premise and these characters in the first place. On our first day back, we write 3,000 words. At this rate, we figure we can probably finish this novel in two weeks, then revise for about a month and we're done! We can’t believe we doubted ourselves. We’ve discovered the secret! We’ve totally figured out how to write quickly and consistently like professional authors. It’s all smooth sailing from here on out. We set an absurdly ambitious deadline. This is going to be the greatest, fastest novel ever written.

Step 6: Remember writing is the worst.

my whole brain

Just kidding about that absurdly ambitious deadline. We completely fail to meet it because we eventually get stuck again with a new crop of problems, flail around uselessly trying to keep our word count up and finally accept another grim reminder that we actually have no idea how to write. Whoops.

Step 7: Just keep writing

It’s not like there’s any other choice, is there?. We even fail miserably when we try to quit writing. We can't help it. As long as our story is left unfinished, we need to tell it because no one else will.

writing is hard

And there’s plenty of time to do that. Finishing a first draft in a month isn't the “right” way to write a novel. It’s wonderful for plenty of people and will never work for others. There is no magical solution. Writing is never logical, linear or consistent. It’s constant failure, problem after problem that we’re solving to make a story that works. On top of that, what works for one book might not necessarily work for another. We wrote the first draft of These Vicious Masks in a couple weeks and here we are, weeks into the second book, totally baffled by the impressive efficiency of our past selves. It always feels like we have to relearn how to write with each new project,

All that should really matter to us NaNoWriMo failures though, is that we are farther into the story now than we were at the beginning of the month, whether that shows in the word count or simply an improved understanding of the world inside the manuscript. We may not even be able to meet our next absurdly ambitious deadline, but as long as we keep stubbornly setting them, every failure gets us closer to success.

Besides, blacksmithing is becoming an obsolete skill, learning the harp is HARD, and we already know how to make grilled cheese. So keep on chugging, it’s not like you could really stop anyway.

Author spotlight

Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas

Tarun and Kelly met in a freshman year writing class at NYU and started writing These Vicious Masks a few …

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