I went into this year’s NaNoWriMo with a lot of confidence. Compared to 2016, I had been planning for months. I knew the ins and outs of my story just enough—not too much or too little. I figured writing 1,600+ words a day would be a breeze. I had done everything I could to prepare and there were few ways I could fail. Or so I thought.
When November began, I was equally confident and nervous. I knew I was prepared, but I was worried about making the switch from preparation to actually writing. I have this weird thing in my brain where every time I start writing it goes, “wait no stop! What are you doing! You can’t do this!” I’m not sure where that voice comes from, or why it’s so particularly annoying, but I have a hard time shutting it off. I can think about writing for days on end. But when it comes to actually sitting down and doing it…I freeze up.
Which is why I was surprised I started off on such a good foot. I was getting out of my house, sitting in the Barnes & Noble café, shutting out the noise, and doing what I came to do. I was putting a story out on paper. And best of all, I was enjoying it. This was the first time in my life I could remember where I was actually writing with intention and not just when inspiration struck. It felt good.
But then it stopped feeling so good. It started feeling forced. I was pushing myself to hit a word count, which meant my words were more about the number than the story. I was dragging out scenes that should have been short. I was overthinking moments to make them longer and wordier. And I was hating every word that showed up on my computer screen.
That’s just writing. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not. That’s what editing is for. But still, I didn’t love the feeling of it. It felt like anger and annoyance and frustration all wrapped up into one crappy burrito. It felt like that negative voice in my head was just laughing at me.
But I refused to let myself feel defeated, so I adapted. I switched up my game plan. I noticed that I started to tire out around 800 words, so that became my new target. When that still didn’t work, I just told myself to write something every day. It didn’t matter what that was. Just as long as I took the time to do it. Making the habit would be more important in the long run than the word count.
To some extent, I still believe that. But I also believe that writing is a delicate balance of work and creativity. Sometimes your brain is in one mode, sometimes it’s in the other—but it’s rarely in both at once. That’s what, I think, makes writing so damn difficult. You can’t give it all you have in one go.
That’s a tough lesson to learn. It’s not easy to swallow. It’s not great to think, day after day, that maybe that little voice in your head is right. Maybe you won’t ever finish that story.
But I’m not quite ready to give up on that fight yet.
If you consider NaNoWriMo a pass or fail experience—either you “win” by writing 50K words in 30 days or you don’t—then yes, technically I failed. My final word count was 12,776. I was nowhere near 50K. But I’m OK with that.
I don’t believe I am equipped to write an entire book in a month. With my work schedule, anxious brain, and love of TV, I just can’t find the time or the energy to write 2,000 words every day. But I like the challenge, and that I always learn something about myself when I do it.
This year, I learned that writing is hard, but not impossible. I discovered that maybe I’m slow at it. And that it’s OK to be slow at it. I realized that it’s hard to be creative when you are pushing out your energy capacity into a word count. And I learned that writing isn’t always fun—but I want to continue to do it anyway.
NaNoWriMo 2017 wiped me out. I haven’t revisited my story since I stopped mid-month. But that’s not to say I never will. Actually, it’s been nagging at me for a while now. I’m starting to feel that itch to go back to it, which feels like a pretty good sign.
If you haven’t yet, make sure to check out my NaNoWriMo videos on my YouTube channel. I vlogged my entire experience if you’re interested in a more in-depth look at my thoughts and feelings throughout the process!