At the beginning of the month, I kicked off a planned month of novel writing by taking on the NaNoWriMo project for the third time. Today is the last day of the month, and to complete it successfully I should have written a complete novel of at least 50,000 words by now. I've managed that twice before, but this year I abandoned the attempt. This is why.
Picture by David McNew/Getty Images
The short explanation? I was too clever for my own good. In previous years, I've started with nothing more than the glimmer of an idea and abandoned myself to the sheer pleasure of writing. This time around, I started with a rather different motivation: I was going to write something on a tech-related theme, so I could legitimately publish it on Lifehacker and Gizmodo over the Christmas break. That would give us some extra local content while most of the team took some time off. But I couldn't just write anything and expect it to go on the site. It would have to be at least potentially relevant and interesting to our audience.
That was how I ended up with the concept of The Gadget Assassin. Here's the blurb:
Chris Johnson is a skilled professional killer, but he has never tackled an assignment quite like this. Johnson must locate the man who stole the plans for a top-secret smartphone, retrieve those plans and eliminate the thief. All he knows is that his target is somewhere at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas — the biggest event on the annual gadget and geek calendar. With just six days to track down a stranger in a city filled with strangers and surveillance cameras, can Johnson succeed without blowing his cover?
I've attended CES multiple times, so I knew the background: indeed, I deliberately chose to set it in 2009 so I could use my own schedule for the event as a skeleton for the plot, which gave me a fixed time frame and a fair idea how many thousands of words I'd need for each day. It had gadgets, it had a glamorous Vegas location, it had action-adventure potential. What it didn't actually have was a motivated writer.
I'm not a big fan of action thriller style novels, and that proved to be the issue. I ploughed through the first 15,000 words, but I didn't enjoy any of it. In previous years, I've always relished the activity of writing fiction and itched to get back to it. With those constraints in place, it was a chore, every single time. After nine days, I had to admit the truth: I didn't want to write this novel. Given the choice between writing something that I had an excuse to publish on our sites and not writing anything at all, I only wanted to choose the latter. But with a third of the month gone, I also didn't have the time or the energy to start a whole new title either. For 2012, the NaNoWriMo adventure was over.
The lesson is that in passion projects, it's the passion that's important, not the commercial potential. If I'm going to devote hundreds of hours to a project, it has to be something I enjoy. And if I don't enjoy writing something, I don't see why anyone else would enjoy reading it. I'll return to NaNoWriMo next year, but I won't chain myself to a topic or a style that way again. We'll just have to see what happens.