So, as I write this on November 7th, I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo for a week. My goals setting out on this venture were to write 50k of this non-fiction book that I care about in a month. I really, really wanted to win this thing. If nothing else, I wanted to be able to prove to myself that I could do it, that it’s still possible even despite the CFS. I also want the discounts, particularly for Aeon Timeline.
I was full of jubilance and ambition and determination and self-discipline. As you may or may not have noticed, at this point, I am on track to finish my 50k by the end of the month. But last night I had a bit of a meltdown, and that doesn’t often happen to me anymore. So I ended up asking myself a lot of searching questions.
The first thing I should say is that this week has been hard in that I haven’t been able to get nearly enough sleep. The easiest way to say it is that I’ve had company over which has made it impossible to get the rest I need. Then there’s the backlash of trying to juggle that and my bad health plus this. But there’s no such thing as an entirely ideal situation to write. Life happens, you keep going. Still, I’m factoring it into my equation.
Yet as I think back to last year’s attempt at NaNo, everything I’m struggling with this year was the same as what I struggled with last year, despite the different goals.
- It’s too easy to look at how prolific other writers are and find my efforts lacking in comparison. There are even all these handy charts to do so! Granted, I’m in the middle of the pack this year so it’s fun seeing the spread, but I much more rarely compare my efforts to others when I’m working on my own.
- My competitive streak clicks into gear and I want to do as well as everyone else, which I’m sure is a nice kick in the pants, but also adds a lot of undo stress, a lot of pressure of expectations that really aren’t necessary for me to work, and actually hinder me.
- I find myself focusing more on the number of words produced than on the story/work itself. I lose track of why I’m writing it in the first place. The story takes backseat to churning out something, anything, to fill space and tick off a box saying I’ve done my lot for the day.
- When I get even the smallest bit behind, I feel deathly compelled to catch it up, because that’s the only way to win legitimately. Thus the Unwritten Words become an ever-larger burden, even though they technically do not exist except as a figment of my imagination and the goal+deadline.
- My ambition becomes more burden than blessing, as I become more and more stressed about what I don’t have than what I do, however large or small that amount might be.
- I can’t justify writing complete crap to “fix later” when I could simply write my best now so I can fix less later, even if it slows me down. I’m not talking about “almost there, doing my best with my internal editor on vacation” prose. I’m talking about writing-while-rather-delirious-because-I-have-to-write-or-else-I-fail-this-challenge spewage. It feels like a waste of time.
A few of my friends have had similar problems with NaNoWriMo. Because of the constraints of the rules, you have to mechanically turn out that certain output every day or else it’s inevitable, you’re going to fall behind. And if you’re behind and on a deadline, and if you already have problems getting yourself to write due to all the huge expectations and hopes and fears surrounding your story and writing your story, then the Massive Mountain of the Unwritten becomes this huge, steaming mess of yet more “I have failed to write what I yearn most to write, therefore I am a failure as a writer.” And one more failure isn’t what new writers struggling to overcome everything in order to have the mental and emotional freedom to write need.Hmm, epiphany moment.
November’s NaNoWriMo is NOT built to diminish stress or fear or comparing yourself to others. It thrives on it. I think that’s something I’m beginning to realize–or realizing again, because I had this same struggle around this same point last year. Even being a NaNo Rebel and breaking the rules carries with it a certain level of guilt. You don’t get off entirely scot-free from the pressure, and pressure is, for some reason or another, really crippling to me these past three years.
For some people, this is exactly the kick in the pants they need: the pressure, both socially and with the deadline involved. But it’s also remarkably like university, which operates entirely on this principle: deadlines, pressure, high expectations of performance, and ranked grades (comparisons to other students). The difference is that NaNoWriMo is largely self-inflicted, which… is interesting. On the one hand, it’s the perfect opportunity to do a sprint-race novel-writing “class,” since there are so few scholastic venues to demand this sort of project. On the other, I’m reminding myself that kick-in-the-pants deadline-pressure this isn’t the only way to accomplish a big, impossible-seeming goal.
I think that’s why I’m gravitating more and more towards the Camp NaNoWriMo’s set-up, of the two styles. They encourage flexibility. There’s no guilt implied in being a rebel or declaring yourself a winner by bending the rules to suit your situation. There’s less do-or-die hardcore mentality.
(In any case, I may count this post all towards today’s wordcount because I need to figure this all out, if only in my own brain. At this point I have written 1k, and it was an easier 1k than some of the other stuff I’ve written this week. Funny what a lack of pressure frees one up to do…)
So! Last night I spent some time coming up with revised goals. I am not going to believe the exhausted meltdown brain telling me to just roll over and give up. No, no. I have come this far, I am going to continue the experiment to its conclusion. But I am going to restructure my goals and make them even more rebellious. As follows,
- I am lowering my goal to 40k rather than 50k. Both are technically novel-length. Whatever. If I hit novel-length, I will declare myself a winner, if not, not. I am just going to have to be okay with the idea of not winning. (I know, I am ridiculous.)
- I am continuing to take off Sundays from writing, but I am no longer going to try to make up those lost words. See #1. The idea of invisible, non-existent “lost words” I have to crank out of my soul is one I am hereforth rejecting.
- I am no longer going to try to let my crazy-ambitious-get-this-done-NOW panic brain rule me. I’m going to only write in half hour chunks and I’m going to spread out those chunks throughout the day. This will allow me to let my backbrain chew on what comes next, so I can at least write something I want to write not something I have to write.
- Because of the reduced wordcount goal, I’m no longer aiming for 2k a day. I’m going to see what 1.5k looks like.
- I need to think seriously about participating next year, and how much good NaNo actually does me, or if I end up spending all my time undoing stress and relearning everything I already know. That what really matters is writing regularly, about progress in the story not in its wordcount, about enjoying what you write as you write it, about believing in yourself and your work, and about not comparing your journey to others since they are walking their own unique path.
I love the community aspect of NaNoWriMo. Don’t get me wrong, this post isn’t to declare the whole practice evil. It’s not. It helps a lot a lot of people meet their goals and realize their dreams and ambitions and prove to themselves they really can do this. But it seems like these past two years I have had to relearn this lesson, and the lesson is that NaNoWriMo really isn’t set-up in a way that’s helpful to me personally right now in my life, even if I absolutely seem to adore the idea of it and the idea of throwing myself headlong into hard tasks and anything smelling remotely of a competition.
Why hello, Laura-brain. So pleased to meet you. Let’s see if we can get along better this time.
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Edit: Something is still off. I’m trying to work out what. I think it is wrapped up still with the idea of winning vs. not-winning. Scratch what I said about declaring myself a winner at 40k. I’m going to scrap the hope of winning entirely because I think it’s putting me on the wrong path. Why am I doing this. Am I doing this to win? Yes, I was last week, but that brought me here to this place of reevaluation. I think this is taking me back to the old, unsafe place of staking my self-worth on what I can/can’t accomplish. Like feeling less of a person if I can’t do whatever I set out to do. So clearly I need to trick my brain back into a healthier place.
Let’s see. If I scrap the idea of winning and just push myself to write close to x amount each day, what happens? I need something that keeps the NaNoWriMo community and the fun times that I love but destroys the demons I’m wrestling with now.
What’s really important to me is this book and doing this fun thing with the community and my friends. I want to write everyday. I want to push myself, the way others are pushing themselves. I don’t want to just do what I always do, because where’s the self-discovery and the wretched joy of that? Oh dear, yes, welcome to my self-deprecating humor.
So here’s for pushing myself and for writing this book with friends. Take that, brain. You’re not in this to win. You’re in this to write. Ha!
(I know all this talking to myself in public makes me look crazy and neurotic, and right now I probably am a bit crazy and neurotic, but I know so many people struggling with similar neuroses, so here’s for hopefully shedding some light on them? Oh dear. Well. Back to work, folks, nothing to see here.)