December 4, 2013 | Posted in:Writing

I lost NaNoWriMo this year.

It was my fourth year and my first loss. It was a bummer.

In the last post, I mentioned November was not so good. Indeed, a few things went wrong.

1. I was getting feedback from internet strangers on my first chapter of Artists of Body and Blood.

2. I was continuing my second novel, Artists of Song and String, which I had started in NaNoWriMo year 2, rewritten in the off-season, and was now rewriting again.

3. Artists of Song and String is technically difficult due to its heavy emphasis on music, sound waves, vocal techniques, and instruments.

4. I got laser beams shot into my eyes.

But.. I think it’s okay.

Let’s take these one at a time.

1. Feedback From Strangers

I joined a writing community where you critique other people’s work to get points, which you then spend to post your own work and get critiques. This seemed smart. Writers critiquing writers. The more critique you write, the more points you get. This began to be a problem.

It encourages the critiquer to point out EVERY thing they don’t like, even when it is minor, irrelevant, and purely opinion. I am guilty of this, too. The problem is that you end up with 650 words of negativity, 50 words of forced niceness, and no sense of how important anything is. In addition, these people may not write in your genre, and they might not be critical readers themselves. Sifting through it all takes a psychological toll.

I found it increasingly difficult to write new material for NaNoWriMo while the old material was being torn apart. I started NaNoWriMo on Day 3 or 4.

2. Story Confusion

I knew I was going to work on Artists of Song and String. I had already written 60K of it. I had edited and rewritten 30K. I started to work on this 30K for the third time and was just so bored. It’s not a great way to get your 1.7K words a day. I eventually decided to just pick up at a part I knew I hadn’t reached yet and start fresh from there. That seemed to work. I wasn’t hitting 1.7K every day, but the 900 word days were balanced out by the 3K days. By mid-month, I was consistently 3 days behind because of my late start, but I was confident I could make it up.

3. Story Difficulty

Spiral Galaxy notation by George Crumb

Spiral Galaxy notation by George Crumb

I mentioned some 900 word days there. I am not writing a literary novel that conveniently takes place in the real world where cars, cell phones, current fashion trends, and slang can be assumed. I am writing brand new cities, new cultures, people who fight with vocalizations and sound waves, musical instruments that have their own personalities, etc. This is hard. My normal day involves something like ‘How can someone kill three other people using only a cigarette, some rocks, and a human voice?’

I got frustrated with my progress at one point, enough that I started up a completely new story about a couple that went to a lake for a swim. I wrote 2K words in an hour because it’s so easy when you don’t have to build everything from scratch.

Of course, no one wants to read about a couple that went to a lake for a swim.

4. Laser Beams In My Eyes

I got Lasik surgery on Nov 22nd.

Well, I was supposed to.

A few things went wrong.

Despite assurances by two separate doctors that I could get Lasik in both eyes, the surgeon decided 10 minutes before surgery that I would need to get PRK, a more invasive procedure in my one ‘complicated’ eye. I had to decide on the spot if I wanted to proceed. I said yes.

This is where events took a turn for the worst. The valium didn’t really work on me. My hands were shaking in the laser suite. The numbing eye drops did not disable my blink reflex, so I kept trying to do that despite the clips in my eyes. We got the PRK eye done first. I was mouthing the alphabet to myself in an attempt to stay calm. The pain in my eye was like a distant echo, as if the eye drops had not taken away my eye’s ability to hurt, just deafened my ears to its cry.

They started on the other eye, the Lasik eye, then wheeled me over to another machine. I wasn’t allowed to talk or move. So much for the alphabet. I had a stuffed animal to grab but someone offered me a hand and I probably crushed their bones. They suctioned my eye into blindness and inescapable blue sparks. Then it was back to the laser. The surgeon said I did much better with that eye. Well, yes, because staring at a laser is a lot easier than having your eye suctioned. It was a vacation in the Bahamas, in fact.

Unfortunately, because they changed my surgery at the last minute, I didn’t get the right post-operative care for that eye. I didn’t know it would be quite so painful, or that my eye would turn red, my nose would run, and my face would swell. Oops. I came back the next day, they gave me some numbing drops, I got some additional medication they forgot, and then I filled a prescription for percoset and slept for 3 days. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Needless to say, I didn’t make my word count.

The Lasik eye was a champ but the PRK eye will take weeks to heal. I wore an eye patch for awhile, but my good eye got tired fast. I still didn’t write. Thanksgiving loomed closer. I managed a day or two of writing before the end, but then I gave up. I was 25K behind. It just wasn’t possible.

It’s beenĀ  13 days, and both eyes are 20/20, but the PRK eye sees double or triple vision. I am on steroids for the next month. It’s not been awesome. Lasik was supposed to be a weekend recovery. I have regrets. (Update: PRK eye is not 20/20 and still sees ghosts, 8 weeks later.)

But It’s Okay

I won three other NaNoWriMos. I wrote a novel in the offseason of 250K words. I don’t write every day, but I can meet goals and finish things. That’s the important part. I didn’t write 50K words in November 2013, but I wrote something, I thought a lot about my story, I have a finished novel lying around, and there are 26 days left in December. I can write all year-round.

The silver lining is that now I can understand why people don’t finish and use this experience to make recommendations to the NaNo team about ways to encourage those people.



  1. Justin Simon
    January 16, 2014

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    Sorry to hear it didn’t go well.

    It’s strange how the distant contact of the internet brings that out in us. I’ve heard advice going both ways, letting everyone know you’re writing, and not telling anyone a thing about it.

    I know it’s an older post but man I seriously hope your eye gets better. I’ve recently had to get glasses myself and while eyepatches look great, not being able to see properly sucks.

    • Laura
      January 21, 2014

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      Unfortunately, over 8 weeks later, my eye is still not okay. My ‘good’ eye is the only thing keeping me sane. I don’t know how people who get PRK in both eyes cope without antidepressants. Things aren’t just blurry, there are multiples of them, and at night, every light has a starburst around it with tails so long they obscure the landscape. It is messed up.

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