NaNoWriMo is a National November Writing Month. It brings thousands of writers and wannabe writers together in their love for writing—and in a hope to finish the damn book that had been sitting inside for years. It began in 1999, almost twenty years ago. I even remember that I’ve heard about it around that time, probably in the early 2000s. But my first NaNo happened only in 2015. Before that… I don’t know. It seemed too overwhelming at the time.
Since then I won three times, all with the same project. It consists of four books, so technically it counted as a novel per NaNoWriMo. Until this year.
How it should have been
As I said before, I was not going to stick to NaNoWriMo goals necessarily because I’m on the structuring stage with my WIP. My plan was to keep working on the structure and writing modest 500 words per day. Actually, I almost promised myself not to engage fully in the challenge this year. I can be obsessively stubborn with goals, and I felt that writing for NaNoWriMo was not what I needed at the moment.
Still, NaNoWriMo is a good motivator to write as much as one reasonably can, so, to honor the start, on November 1st I jumped with the determination to meet the quota just for this day.
Bumps on the road
Then, Pokemon Go chose exactly this day to roll in their Adventure Sync feature—the ability to count steps and a distance through health apps. Since I installed PoGo specifically to help me walk more, I couldn’t be happier with this addition. I was disappointed, though, with their disregard for people who wanted to do NaNoWriMo this year. Surely, some of the PoGo players are also NaNoWrimers who had less active plans for this month. Now they were torn between walking their a##s off and putting those a##s into chairs for writing.
And as you might guess, it didn’t work well. I had no idea why, if it’s on the side of the developers, or some options on my phone were not right, but my 6000 steps refused to sync. Just so.
Annoyed but determined, I struggled with it for way-way-way too long. Much longer than it deserves because in the worst-case scenario it’s not like the game will stop working or something—it will be just as fine as before, lacking only one fancy feature.
Anyway, by the time I gave up on that, it was quite late. Not quite bedtime, but not the beginning of an average working day either, even considering that people often work only half of their working day, spending the rest on… well, plenty of unproductive stuff.
I almost gave up on reaching NaNo goal that day. And maybe I should have. But I didn’t.
In the end
My stubbornness kicked in again. I decided that if I’m going to quit even this small goal—to write 1667 words just for one day—I’d rather do it because of some real obstacle, not because of a stupid game. Nope.
So I came home, put by rear into a chair, and wrote until I was done. Granted, it took a while, but to listen to one’s stubbornness has its price.
I did the same the next day. And the next day. God, I hate myself being stubborn, I thought. Interesting, though, that my failure was in failing to fail. Fancy that.
I did slow down after that, though, because I got caught in a kind of Catch-22. To hit the daily NaNo goal of the previous day, I had to stay late. Staying late meant that I either didn’t have enough of sleep and felt horrible the next day or that I woke up later and had less time to write—and therefore had to stay awake until late, deep into the night. Even for a night owl like me going to bed at 4 or 5 AM is late, and waking up at almost 2 PM is impractical if you have people in your life and all sorts of responsibilities.
So, I had to decide which to prioritize: writing more or taking care of myself so that I can write more. Also a Catch-22.
What’s with NaNo goals?
As for November 15, I’m still keeping up pretty well: only 200 words behind the schedule. I had several days of writing over quota and some of falling short. I had several horrible migraines, probably because of not sleeping enough on some days. One day I wrote only 600 words—but that was the day my guinea piggie looked like he was going to die. I’m not sorry for deciding I Was Not Better Off Writing that day. Anyway, I caught up the next couple of days, writing more consistently and over the quota. But—there is a but here: that my Catch-22 grew nastier with each day until I went to sleep at 6 am the next day.
I seriously think I should fail this NaNoWriMo on purpose if I can’t do it… mmm, naturally. From the psychological point of view, it would break that stubborn refusal to fail as if failing a goal is something horrible, life-wrecking, or shameful. It’s actually not, as I wrote in a post about giving up. Instead of feeling like a failure, we should see it as being flexible, which is good.
And several days ago, just when I needed it, I listened to a podcast (I wish I remembered the title) with four professional writers who were discussing NaNoWriMo (yeah, November writing is in the air). They were in no way disparaging—some won NaNoWriMo before and liked it. But they pointed out that writing for NaNoWriMo means to adopt a very specific style: pouring words on a page, often badly written words. From my experience, and from theirs, it has several positive sides but doesn’t work for everyone as a long-term writing method. People are different and writers are different. If a writer hates editing, for example, she should not count on the NaNoWriMo writing style as a career-making tool. She is much better writing slower but cleaner.
To be clear: Some writers can write fast AND clean, God bless them, and not only clean but good. If you are about to sniff at this, assuming this only applies to some ‘light’ genres, stop. Here’s a quote from The Insulted and Injured by Fyodor Dostoevski, and no, it’s not a literary hyperbole: he did write like this to pay his gambling debts.
I looked: it was an article by “Copyist.” He neither directly abused me nor praised me, and I was very glad. But “Copyist” said among other things that my works generally “smelt of sweat”; that is, that I so sweated and struggled over them, so worked them up and worked them over, that the result was mawkish.
The publisher and I laughed. I informed him that my last story had been written in two nights, and that I had now written three and a half signatures in two days and two nights, and if only “Copyist,” who blamed me for the excessive laboriousness and solid deliberation of my work, knew that!
That’s why nobody should be dismissive about NaNoWriMo aspirations: they are just fine. But that some writes can and want and like to write fast, doesn’t mean all writers can or should do the same instead of the pace comfortable to them (minus laziness and procrastination).
But I digress.
What I have learned from all this
Success or failure, any experience can be a learning, if we chose to see it this way. So, here are my lessons so far:
- I can do it. Well, I did it three times already, but it’s never too much to kill one’s self-doubts one more time.
- Goal setting helps me to be persistent—
- —but only up to a certain point. Clearly, I have an obsessive personality, so sticking to goals that don’t fit my writing style leads to burnouts.
- The secret of writing is simple: butt in the chair. The more time you spend writing, the more you write.
- I need more discipline to put myself into the chair more often, starting earlier in the day. This is what I must work on—
- —but not at the expense of my health. As a low-energy person, I don’t have spare kilojoules to waste on sticking to arbitrary schedules and goals.
If I were to chose only one lesson, it would be: Health, health, health. Self-care must be the priority. I’m not a new Dostoevsky or Faulkner, and to kill myself in the name of writing isn’t worth it. Not really. Nobody waits for my next masterpiece.
On the other hand, some of the sponsor rewards seem interesting: writing courses, discounts, etc. I will have to see how it goes, mostly about my health. If I manage to shift my working hours toward morning, then I will try to win. If not, I will make an effort in flexibility and quit the NaNoWriMo goal, putting my health first.
Anyway, I will keep you posted.