I want to talk about a personal goal I had this year, the year I had, and those of you who were a part of the journey even if you didn’t quite realize it. You’ll have to bear with me — I’m sober as a judge but I tend to ramble.
I’ve said a few times I’m just a barefoot woodsbilly. I had a good childhood, but that’s because my parents saw to it. My dad worked his ass off to make sure we had most of what we wanted — nobody can have it all, it’s not good for you anyway — and we didn’t have a huge house but we had a big yard, and I had a big imagination. I’ve always liked telling stories, writing stories since second grade. Typing them since third grade.
I’m not rich now, but I’ve got a nice house — not a huge house — and a yard. My job affords me the opportunity to chase my writing dreams.
In 2003, I found out about this thing called National Novel Writing Month. Every November, people try to write a 50,000 word story in the confines of the month, and it has to be started from scratch. I’ve completed NNWM every November since 2003. Several years ago I thought, well, I can do that in November — could I do it in other months? Setting a goal and meeting it? Through that I realized twelve months of it would be 600,000 words. A high number, but not round enough for me.
What if — what if I wrote a million words in a year? That’s less than 100,000 a month, but only barely. I’d had NNWMs where I finished the 50k on the 20th, and the million would be a slightly harder pace than that. I tried in 2020, and got a quarter-million words. I got less in 2021. But I had moments during those years where I could see how it was possible.
This is the last calendar year of my thirties, and I figured, now is the time. Enter in my forties on a high note.
The first four months of the year went well, but by April I was getting a bit batty. It’s really hard to be on at that level at a consistent pace, and it requires giving up a lot of time for other things — especially with a full time job. My January pace would have seen me finish in October. I entered May way ahead, even after finishing my April goal on the last day of the month.
Then, as most of you know, in early May a good friend of mine died in a tragic accident. No warning, no time to say goodbye, no one to blame. I went to a bad place over it — a lot of you also know I have some real issues with grief. I was born on a Wednesday, and Wednesday’s child is indeed full of woe. I tried to drink the pain away, and a lot of folks got to see me at my worst, my wildest. My writing cratered in May and June.
At the start I mentioned a lot of you were along for the ride, even if you didn’t know it. Lot of folks reached out when I was at my lowest. Even if it was just a “how are you?” or “I’m sorry” or the praying hands emoji. That stuff matters. That stuff makes a difference. Every one of you who reached out even in the slightest way means the world to me, thank you. It would be exaggerating to say you saved my life, but you certainly made a bad time better. I’d list folk, but I’d end up either leaving someone off or doubling up on someone, and I don’t want to get thanking you wrong. Thank you all.
Another thing that I talked about a lot this year was my cousin who was murdered in 2004. A part of reason it was so fresh in my mind was that I started writing a story I’d started in 2004 after his death. A hardboiled story I was planning on using as a sequel to the first book I ever published, set far after the events of the normal Cigars and Legs series. I’d tried it two or three ways in past years, but I started from scratch this year and finished it because I’d gotten to a point where I had too much to say not to.
Had a few health issues come up in June, too, nothing deadly but stuff that had to be addressed.
I bounced back in July, but I finished the month only halfway to the goal — and July was a month past the halfway point. August was better. September is the hardest month of my year at work. It’s stressful, it puts me in a bad mood, and I don’t write well in a bad mood. So I set the goal of having the best month so far in September — and I did.
The words aren’t all good. They aren’t all going to be published or even read — I might not even look over some of them again. I was going through stuff, I was trying new things, I was falling on my face. But they’re my words, and that’s all that mattered for this. I had to write them, whether or not I liked them, whether or not they were great. That’s a different challenge.
October is the literal opposite of September. It’s my favorite month of the year because it’s the start of my favorite three holidays. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are just special, the best time of the year. I set a goal of having a better month in October than September — and I blew the doors off that goal, surpassing it and putting myself in a good situation heading into the downward stretch. I just needed a bit over three NNWMs in two months.
Despite having the flu, I got two of them in November — dead even — leaving me with December to do just better than what I’ve done every November for almost twenty years now
But after 940,000 words and change… man, that’s a lot, and it’s harder. I was sick twice in the first half of December (Murphy’s Law; I hadn’t had a cold in like a year!) Even without being sick it’s hard to keep coming up with something, to keep being excited by it, to keep that flame alive. It’s just hard to maintain such a pace for so long. I did a lot through the year to make sure I got there.
Took almost every Sunday off, even knowing I had to make up about 2,740 words a week over that. I took other days off, I played video games, watched shows and movies, and got big into pro-wrestling again. Pro-wrestling was always one of those things — it was a big part of my childhood, and I loved it. I love the people, I love the story telling. My dad used to take me to the shows when they were around. But a common theme to all of these was immersing myself in stories and how they are told.
Today is December 16th. I’m off work for the rest of the year, and I’m not writing another word this year because it was important to me that the last words were in an important story, even though I finished the bulk of it months ago. I’m going to talk a little more, then throw up a picture of my 2022 word count, and then I’m getting away from screens for a bit.
I’m happy with where I am. The last words I wrote were some polish on the new Cigars and Legs series launch — the story I’ve been struggling to write since 2004. It’ll be out sometime next year, and it’s titled “The Last Cigar”, a title I came up with before I even knew the whole story. It’s something deeply personal, but also I think it’s worth sharing when I’ve had time to clean up the speed writing that I gave it this year.
And here’s my final word count. Make sure you count the digits. Thank you for being here for me, and thank you for reading this.