Even though I was not planning to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, my circumstances led to it becoming a possibility, and through working with my writing coach, we decided that I should go for it but with a lot of preparation and some caveats. They have been very helpful in reminding me to view NaNo in a more balanced way because I have this thing about failure and self-esteem and feeling not good enough (which, to be fair, I think most writers do on some level, but for me, it gets exceptionally bad). In any case, I planned out some research, but this time I decided I was not going to be the compulsive over-outliner that I usually am (i.e. a plotter).
I decided I was going to give pantsing a try with a more general outline. Even though I had planned to have this outline done at least a week before NaNo began, I only ended up finishing it, quite literally, the night before. Before my master’s degree program, I had never been like that, so I wasn’t used to using every possible minute into finishing something and handing it in. In many ways, don’t get me wrong–I’m still the person who books flights months in advance, does research on hotels, plans out assignments compulsively, etc, but when it has come to the “surprising things my master’s taught me” category, I learned that it’s okay not to hand things in tons of time in advance and to reconcile with those times when I have to use every single minute I possibly have, and then the task gets done.
Anyway, I am pleased to say that I must have done something right because I’ve been consistently getting my words in every morning. I had a battle plan and strategy going in, time slots and curveballs to work around, and by golly, I’m doing the best I can.
Now. Having said all of that, I understand that there’s a possibility I will crash and burn in week 2, or 3, or at some point in the process. And I want to emphasize that this process has by no means been easy. Some strategies, however, have made things flow a bit better than they would under circumstances without those provisions built in. These include: assigning a specific time slot to writing, agreeing not to look at my phone or a newspaper or any screen until after my writing time is done, using a timer and on those days when it’s difficult doing just 10 minutes at a time and then hopefully going again, and dutifully keeping records of my progress in both print and digital places.
Another thing this has taught me so far is that writing is so much about figuring out our own process, of taking things others have done and absolutely trying them out, but ultimately forging our own path. And if that doesn’t look conventional or according to what the big “advice givers” say, then who cares? I know this isn’t exactly an earth-shattering insight, but it means a great deal to me, because I have had to claw, scrape, bleed, and fight through an incredibly thorny path to get my writing back again. It has been ugly, tough, and excruciatingly difficult, but I am proud of the progress I have made.
In the past three months alone, I have produced more fiction this year than I think I probably have for the past two years put together. And that’s not counting the absolutely abysmal disasters of pieces I prepared in an effort to try again to get accepted by a few certain big writing workshops that shall remain unnamed.
As a parting thought, I actually really resent the admonitions of other (usually able-bodied) writers who will say things like: “X writer is going through Y medical emergency, still has a family and a job, pays their bills, and does all those other things and still has time to write. What’s your excuse?” I really firmly don’t believe that shaming people who are struggling with depression, anxiety or other mental health issues is productive, or doing the same to people who identify as having a physical disability. I don’t think that making them feel worse about something they already likely feel terrible about and that’s weighing on them is going to spur them into suddenly becoming more productive with their writing. Patience and understanding go a long way. Every writer has their individual circumstances, and in more cases than not, things going on in their lives that aren’t immediately apparent or that they wish not to disclose publicly.
Instead, I will say: if NaNo works for you, great! And if it doesn’t, there are several other people for whom it just does not click and that’s fine. It’s like me and Scrivener. So many oodles upon oodles of writers swear by it and talk about it like it’s the best thing since sliced bread and like they don’t know what they would do without it. And for years, I felt bad because I just didn’t get what all the fuss was about. When I had the opportunity to purchase the software on a promotion, I was doubly stumped. But just because it doesn’t work for me as a tool, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. It just means that different things work for different people. Again, I know this isn’t some earth-shattering revelation, but rather my insights as I’ve been on the road to getting my writing back and figuring out how to dispel some really harmful myths that I let get in my way.
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Does it work for you or not work? Any other thoughts? Let me know!