I Finished Writing my YA Novel in 3.5 Weeks
Oh and P.S. I might be completely bananas.
On December 29, I told you that I had decided to write a YA novel by the end of January. Well, I blew my goal out of the park and finished on Sunday, January 16. 78,988 words later, I opened a tiny bottle of champagne to celebrate my mini victory.
Here’s proof (and yes, I mimosa’d it):
Then I had a mini panic attack because suddenly I was on the other end of all of this time I spent writing it—and, y’all, it’s weird when you reach (or actually exceed) the goal you’ve set for yourself.
Allow me to interrupt myself by quoting lyrics to “It’s a Quiet Thing” by Kander and Ebb from the musical, Flora the Red Menace (which, fun fact, I was in when I was in college):
When it all comes true
Just the way you'd planned
It's funny but the bells don't ring
It's a quiet thing
When you hold the world
In your trembling hand
You'd think you'd hear a choir sing
It's a quiet thing
There are no exploding fireworks
Where's the roaring of the crowds
Maybe it's the strange new atmosphere
Way up here among the clouds
Sometimes, that “quiet thing” is downright zen. And sometimes, it’s like … WTF?
Momentarily panicking, I wondered if the characters I’d just built an entire world for weren’t the only imaginary things I’d created …
What if I’d also created the idea that my so-called accomplishment was celebration-worthy at all?
After all, I’m the only person who has been involved in this YA book thus far. Yes, I considered my word count to be one of the things I’d “accomplished,” but one could also just write 80,000 gibberish words. Does the gibberish-word-creator also deserve an evening mimosa?
Vexed again, I consulted a fellow-writer friend who reminded me that writers don’t get many opportunities to count their wins, so of course I should count this.
Taking her advice, I poured myself another glass. (That wasn’t exactly her advice, but I’m sure she left room in there for interpretation.)
It’s funny; this idea that we should celebrate small victories is one I’ve said time and time again as it relates to avoiding activist burnout.
In a much different way, activists—and I’m talking primarily about animal activists, but insert-your-activism-here—don’t get too many chances to raise a glass … unless we create those opportunities.
Sticking with the theme of animal activism for a moment, it’s just not that often that we are going to “win a campaign” in the truest sense of the word. Sure, sometimes we will, but many campaigns in the farmed animal protection movement—such as welfare reforms—are approached strategically by those who do them.
So even if you’ve “won,” there runs the potential of having an inherent womp-womp moment because getting bigger cages was never the end goal in the first place.
(And for the record, I’m not terribly keen on welfare reform measures, but I have endless respect for those who pursue them and I fully recognize that there are many different routes we can and should take to change the world for animals. This is actually something I discuss in my upcoming Our Hen House interview with PJ Nyman, so be sure to tune in this Saturday—because PJ is totally brilliant and thoughtful with this subject. But I digress.)
It would be silly if someone worked on a welfare reform (or other) campaign tirelessly only to succeed at their goal and then feel bad because it might not be enough change, or because it feels like an arbitrary win, rather than take a moment to celebrate.
Same with writing, amiwrite? (Yes, that ← spelling of “write” was on purpose. Funny, write? I’ve been creating, editing, or staring at words all day and I’m a little loopy. Did you catch the second show tune I quoted above? I’ll leave it up there like an Easter egg. Stop distracting me!)
Now, you might see what I’ve accomplished with my YA book and consider it a no-brainer that I should celebrate. But we tend to hold ourselves to different standards, you know?
What you might celebrate in me might feel like a reach for me to celebrate it in myself.
Flip this for a moment:
Imagine if I came into your life for a day and watched as you got your kids to school on time, made it to your office (whether in person or virtual) on time, presented that report in front of your colleagues (even that asshole colleague), took a quick walk at lunch and caught up on your favorite podcast, helped a friend with a problem in the early afternoon, and then managed to pick up your kids after school.
That, to me, feels like something to celebrate. (You get extra points if your office is virtual and you managed to wear actual pants during that presentation.)
If this sounds like your life, then just know that I’m celebrating you and I completely think you should take some time to celebrate yourself, too. But in this scenario, you might be like: What? That’s just my life. I don’t need a parade.
I think you do need a parade.
If celebration were a value (is it? I honestly don’t know. Is it?), it would be one of mine (of course it’s a value! I just decided: it’s a value). If for no other reason, celebration allows us respite between the depressing times and the hard-working times.
We need to create these little bookmarks in our lives. We need to pour ourselves a mimosa when we’ve written 80,000 goddamn words in three-and-a-half weeks.
After I finished my mimosa and tried my best to rest my very sore eyeballs, I set another round of goals for myself. First, I needed to edit the book. Part of getting so many words out so quickly is not self-editing along the way, so I expected it would be a rough, rough draft.
I also wanted to create chapter summaries for each chapter (which will make it easier for my agent to read and possibly be included in the future book proposal—though I’m not actually sure), and I needed to revisit and revise the full book summary.
Feeling jazzed again (as in, feeling like myself again), I gave myself until the end of January to complete those new goals, but then—tee-hee, I’m crazy, send help—I finished all of it three days later.
Which is today.
What is the moral of this particular story? I think (though again, I’m loopy, so I could be wrong here) it’s that we should set realistic goals for ourselves and then (yep, here it comes) celebrate when we meet or exceed them. If I hadn’t given myself a hard line in the sand—a specific time this needed to be finished by, it’s possible (probable, in fact) that I would have procrastinated and maybe never finished it. Even though I had already written nearly 80,000 words.
Though I don’t like admitting this, there was actually a time I wrote most of a novel but then didn’t finish it.
I was in my early twenties then and didn’t really know what I was doing. Looking back, it bothers me that I never managed to finish it—I’m a pathological finisher. But I know that having an unfinished project in my past makes me human somehow, and so finishing this project will make me feel like I’m doing it for her, the twenty-years-ago me (if only I could borrow her bunion-less foot, in exchange).
So where am I now with this colossal project? Well, I am feeling like I can finally emerge from my writing cave for a little bit. I have engaged a couple of people to read it and provide feedback, I have put in an order with Staples to get a hard copy of the manuscript so that I can reread it not on my computer screen (rereading long-form writing in hard copy will always result in different edits than if you do the whole thing on a screen but don’t ask me why), and I have sent it to my agent for feedback. I’ve also asked my assistant to do some research into comp titles as well as help find any incentives or contests available for LGBTQ-themed fiction.
This no longer feels like a solitary act.
Maybe that’s why I have been feeling so bananas lately; I’ve been stuck in my head with all of this, afraid that if I somehow got hit by a bus or something, my characters would die along with me before I got to introduce them to you. I am so excited to introduce them to you, by the way. These people are so rad.
Now that I’ve put out these feelers and am in the stage of the process where I can incorporate feedback (maybe I should devote a future Substack to receiving feedback gracefully—which I suppose means I have to receive the feedback gracefully), I feel relieved. There are others in this with me now. It’s moving forward, with or without me.
Now that’s something to celebrate.