For Us, There Is Only the Trying

11 December 2012

But perhaps there is neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying.
The rest is not our business.
East Coker, T.S. Eliot

Words are such stiff, formidable things, and sometimes I wonder if I would have more success trying to harness the ocean's spray than to form colored emotions with such mediums as paper and ink. In Les Miserables, Victor Hugo writes, "[Fantine's] words could have melted a heart of iron, but you cannot touch a heart of wood." I believe the same principle can be applied to words: if they were iron, you would only need to give them a bit of heat, and they would melt at your touch. As it happens, they are far more wooden in nature, leaving the wordcrafter to poke and scrape and wittle until he is left with some semblance of his original intent. In short, it's not easy.

This is part of the reason this post has been delayed until now, when it should have gone up most primly and respectably on December 1st. (The other reason is that I'm up to my ears in exams right now and have been for the past week and a half, and I have an unfortunate feeling that telling my tutors I used my studying time for blogging would not sit very well with them.) With NaNoWriMo but a distant memory now, it seems rather odd to sift back through the faded pages and piles of dust that were my world during those short thirty days. I would love to pen my thoughts with eloquence and grace, but sometimes simple words are all that truly suffice.

I didn't win NaNoWriMo.

Principles can be stated quite cooly and calmly when one is blogging. This mask of the web gives one the opportunity to tout ideas and give a false front as to his true identity. Making white-washed statements is easy; upholding them is quite another thing. I've claimed numerous times that quality matters more than quantity. And lest you think I intend to mislead you, I would not say such if I didn't believe it myself. But when one is in the throes of November and feeling pressured from all sides to fill the daily word-count quota, it's easy to compromise. It's far too simple to pound out scenes that aren't the pinacle of excellence. I've often sacrificed some of the quality of my writing on NaNo's altar. Up to this point, I was never convicted of it.

I didn't lose NaNoWriMo by writing up until the last minute and falling short of 50,000 words. I lost because I chose to do so.

It was seven o' clock in the evening, and I could have written for five more hours and reached my word count goal. I was terribly behind at only 40,000 words, and I knew I would have to write faster than normal, but that's not to say it would be impossible. I was prepared to meet the challenge.

And then the Lord convicted me. It was not one-sided; He pricked my conscience on many counts. For one, I would have had to lock myself in my bedroom and rush to finish the last 10,000 words sans company. My family was hosting a meeting at my house that night, and while I didn't need to be present, I knew my father would have preferred for me to be downstairs listening to the discussions rather than closed away in my room. Further, I knew that half the writing I did that night would most likely be deleted or at the very least, severely edited later on. At that point, what did it matter that I reached the "magic number" of 50,000 words if they weren't words I would keep?

So, I chose to stop. I had already written about 6,000 words earlier in the day, and my creativity was slowly running dry. One can only keep at such a pace for so long. I swallowed my pride at the thought of admitting defeat and did not allow the progress bar to control me. It was painful, but I knew I had to follow my own words with true actions.

This is not to say that I believe NaNoWriMo forces you to write poorly and draws you away from your family. On the contrary, while I don't agree with everything NaNo promotes, I appreciate the incentive it gives me each November to write voraciously for those thirty days. In my case this year, however, I was attempting to write far too much in one day, and all for the joy of seeing the progress bar turn purple.

I am quite pleased with what I was able to accomplish this past month in Rifles. The plot has grown, strengthened significantly, and I love my characters more than ever. I plan to spend the next month or two doing a good deal of heavy research on the battles of the Revolutionary War, and then I'll be going back to my document with a will. Unlike last year, when I won NaNo with a manuscript I've barely touched since, I'm eagerly anticipating reuniting myself with these people I have come to know and love so well. For that reason, November was still very productive.

Though it ended almost two weeks ago, I must ask,

how did you fare during nanowrimo?

3 epistles:

  1. Hey you got 40k, you've got a novel, I think you won anyway. ;) Good job!

  2. I've never thought to compare words with wood, but I like it!

    Oh, but 40,000 is a long way in writing a novel, Elizabeth. I admire your decision not to write those 10,000 words and instead listening to the Lord speaking to your heart, hard as it must have been to be so close to the 'winning' line... but I think you won in all but exact numbers! :). Congratulations and I look forward to hearing more about 'Rifles in the South Field'!

    This, my first NaNo, has been a lot bumpier. I wrote a mere 14,000 words but I have enjoyed it :). Here's a post I wrote about my first NaNo attempt which you might enjoy to read:

    Blessings in Christ

  3. You know, I had a similiar feeling . . . I was just a couple thousand words short near Nano's end, but somehow couldn't stand the idea of a) writing pages that I knew would be horridly in need of editing, and b) putting in the numerous hours it would take to do so. I think Nano is great too, but there's also a point where one must decide on priorities. Congratulations for finishing 40k - you're not alone!


"Gracious words are like a honeycomb; sweetness to the soul and health to the body." —Proverbs 16:24

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