Tales of a middle-aged dropout


“I never expected to fully succeed, I just didn’t expect to achieve a level of failure quite this high.”


So I stopped writing the novel over two weeks ago. Not one word in all that time. The story was genuinely making me crazy in new and unexciting ways.

When I started writing for this thing, the stress in my life was building up to maddening levels all on its own. What sort of sadistic bastards decided that November was the right month to expect this sort of focus? Sure, if this was all I had to do, I could have breezed through, character-induced psychosis notwithstanding. But it was November! We were dealing with three teens (okay one’s technically a pre-teen, but trust me here) with divergent schedules and attitudes, a holiday hell-bent on forcing people together at their most tense – I mean just custom-built for pushing already tenuous step-family relationships to the breaking point, colder weather, a holiday to-do list from hell, and a corresponding budget in the red. Also there was the job with looming deadlines, and requests from friends for real-life interactions, crazy concept. Oh it was doomed from that brewery tour invite, I tell you!

Yes, it’s true. I took a day off. It was a gorgeous sunshiny day in NC, with the bluest skies and the best craft beers anyone could wish for. We soaked up beer and sunshine, told dirty jokes, and just plain lived for awhile. Divine. Of course, my husband’s band was playing at our old stomping grounds, so we had to go dancing, and since he was my ride home, I had to stay up until 3:30. I’d planned to write the entire next day, but honestly fell asleep with my face on the keyboard. I’d still say that day was worth it a thousand times over. Look, if you have a chance to spend a day with friends and just soak in the good things, dammit, take it! Not too much later I skipped one night to make a new batch of beer with my husband, and let me tell you, that was worth it too. I also played a lot of ukulele. My fingers were more sore from that than from writing.

After that keyboard nap, I kept trying to write, but I was tired, and the story was coming out so bleak I couldn’t find any humor or joy, and that made me question everything, and soon I was in a tailspin. I was worried over so many things, and this story was making me deal with sorrows I wasn’t ready for on top of everything else. I faded, and succumbed to exhaustion. Or depression. I’m still not sure what we’ll call it. I stopped working out, stopped talking to people, stopped laughing, stopped playing ukulele, and eventually stopped staying up past 7:30pm. I’m not sure I’m over it yet, but I was up past 11 last night, and woke at 6 wanting to work out this morning, so there’s some hope for me yet.

So yes, I’m a dropout, but I don’t think I’m a failure. I have 16420 words of a novel that will become something more thrilling when I can take my time with it. I’d wager even 12000 of them are pretty good words, strung together in ways that tell a story that is sad so far, but will be exciting, and, I hope, redemptive in the end. Very much like my hopes for my own life. Hmm, there’s a novel in that somewhere.


  1. Jack Ori

    Thank you for your honesty. I have a lot of respect for your struggles and I love your conclusion. I don’t think you’re a failure–not in the slightest! I do think that word “failure” is often better off not being part of our vocabularies :)

  2. Sarah Wolf

    This was my fourth NaNo and my very first win. I feel you on the struggles of life and that spending time with friends and family is much more important than a self-imposed deadline. I think the personal stories of how individuals have tried are just as compelling as those of a “winner”. I hope you’ve got your groove back for good.


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