And so did the heavens open up in joyful song, praise ringing throughout the land, with a heavenly host of angels proclaiming, "SHE'S HIT 50,000 WORDS!"
Actually, it did not go like that, at all. After writing a total of more than 12,000 words in a 24 hour period, and waking up at 6 am to drive my brother to his high school in the rain, I stumbled over my 50,711 finish line at around 10 am on Monday. In case you're wondering why I didn't write this post immediately thereafter, it's because the contents of my brain had not re-congealed into anything remotely resembling intelligent life, until I woke up and had two cups of tea this morning.
In fact, you don't even want to know the amount of spelling and grammatical errors have already occurred in writing this post alone.
But despite my lack of victory dance - unless you follow my private Instagram account, anyways - the words are true: I won NaNoWriMo again this year. Now that I've bought my traditional tee shirt, made my traditional donation, and have actually entertained the idea of picking up a book to read for pleasure again, I can finally look back and reflect on my experience...
Namely, that this year was really not fun for me!
But before we get into all that, let's do some other general recap sort of things that may need to be taken care of, first. If you'd like to hear about the idea, genre, and title I was writing in, check out my first post update from this year, first! If you'd like to learn more about how I pre-plan my writing outlines, fun links to NaNo posts from other fun people, or how I expertly use the library as a reality avoidance technique, check out my second.
If you're waiting to hear about my process itself, as well as dealing with bad writing days, and how I eventually met the challenge, then you've certainly come to the right place. So, let's start with the positive stuff, first:
Something that I've never really done for a writing project before, but have always been interested in creating, is a narrative-oriented Pinterest board. I always thought it seemed a little hokey: you're essentially making a fanpage for your own material... and the things you find might end up overly affecting the descriptions you use in your writing.
However, there are two points I use against those arguments:
- first of all, you're supposed to be your own biggest fan anyways, and if you're not writing a book you can get this excited about, then why do you bother,
- and secondly, there are a limited amount of ways to describe things like a brownstone in Brooklyn, or the ways a rooftop garden can be organized. Don't worry about "cheating" on descriptions, because the words you use - and the ways people interpret them - will be individual, anyways.
I used my Pinterest board to collect images of everything from Misselthwaite Manor's architecture and furnishings, to what Maria would bring to the Manor for breakfast, to the surrounding areas of Brooklyn and greater New York, to screen caps of my favorite parts of the movie adaptation.
YouTube, as always, ended up being a great help, as well. For instance, I would watch this video for inspiration of what it would be like for Mary and the other occupants of the brownstone to walk or drive around their neighborhood. Also, YouTubers like Elena Taber made it easier to imagine the vibe of a Brooklyn that my characters would conceivably occupy.
how to tell yourself "no"
I'd won NaNoWriMo three times before, so when I say that I was coming in with a certain surplus of confidence, I'm not exaggerating. Every year, I've tried to step up my game in challenging myself, but this year, I was a little disappointed by the fact that I didn't have a whole lot else going on in my daily schedule to keep me from writing. It almost seemed too straightforward.
I've written NaNo through snowdrifts of school work and sorority life. I wrote it in double-time, after a lengthy vacation. I even wrote before and after surgery last year! But this year, the challenge that proved to be the most insurmountable... was me.
I absolutely lost my way... going days-long stretches without having opened my Word document, let alone having written anything at all, eventually falling to about 10,000 words behind schedule. Out of everything that I had planned for when it came to making sure I kept on par with my writing schedule, the one thing I didn't factor in, was how much of a roadblock your own overthinking, lack of motivation, and depressive brain days can be.
One of the main difficulties I had to overcome, was the issue of genre and audience. My past NaNos have fallen into similar categories: thriller/satire, and horror shorts. This year was a leap of faith, with writing for a young adult, contemporary base. I kept this blogpost, from Vicky Who Reads, saved on my dash while I was writing, as a measure of being intentional, and to remember who I was writing for.
While this kind of thinking did guide some of how the narrative structure was formatted and outlined, it kept getting in the way when it came to things like writing dialogue, or description, especially with things like my character's relationships with fashion and technology. I had focused in so specifically on writing for a particular audience, that it bogged me down when it came to trying to write organically, and eventually, at all.
The mindset that cleared my path the best ended up being the most simplistic: I just had to let the self-imposed perspective-taking go. Keeping audience in mind in this way would absolutely help with guidance in editing, but it was seriously messing with my ability to just get the words out on paper. By removing those kinds of strictures from my own paradigm, it helped free up the mental space necessary to get the narrative taken care of first. Everything else can come in second drafts.
As you might imagine, by the time I was halfway through the month, I had worked myself into such a stress ball about missing out on so many writing days, that I actually thought, "I'm not going to make this deadline." It was especially painful to acknowledge to myself that this attitude was due to something as pedestrian as lack of motivation, or writer's block.
So, genre and audience wasn't the only kind of mental check that needed to be cleared away. I also had to give up this idea that every NaNoWriMo I took part in had to be some kind of huge triumph. I had already had my big wins... maybe it was time for a little one.
It was only once I let go of the perceived audience, the self-imposed expectations, and the frustrations of a rapidly approaching deadline, that I finally found myself able to write. With my head firmly back on my shoulders, I set small, but doable, frameworks in place to help get me to each new milestone, and eventually, back on track:
- first, I broke things down. If I had to write a minimum of 2,500 words a day, that doesn't mean all at once... instead, I began to write at least 500 words in one sitting, five times a day, which made the goals a lot more attainable.
- second, I started focusing on non-word-related count goals. Instead of saying, "I'll write until I get to 500 pages," I started prompting myself to reach physical landmarks instead, like "I'll write until I reach the end of this page," or "until I have to move to the next bullet point in my outline."
- third, I paid more attention to what ways I write best. This may sound silly, but it's the way Virginia Woolf used to do it, too: it's easiest for me when sitting in my bed, propped up on pillows, with my legs serving as a table for my laptop. (Well, maybe it's not the exact way Woolf wrote.) Once I stopped trying to be a *writer* - working at the kitchen table with my outlines scattered around me, music playing, a mug of freshly brewed coffee at my side - and just let myself start being a lazy, tired, pj-wearing writer instead, it got a lot easier to just, you know, write.
And by that, I meant writing over 12,000 words over a 24 hours period, in order to cross over the finish line five days early, as I've already mentioned. Just thinking about performing that kind of a task again makes me want to leave my house completely, or at the very least, stay far, far away from my laptop.
At the same time, I can't dispel those feelings of disappointment, of the idea that no matter what I ended up doing, it still wasn't the kind of win I was used to. Clicking "purchase" on that winner's tee shirt almost felt like a shallow gesture... and in a weirdly self-flagellating way, I almost wish that I hadn't ended up winning at all. I wish that the Universe had taught me a lesson or something. (Isn't that a crazy way to think?)
That's why these couple of days off have been a little necessary, and why reflection on this year's NaNo challenge resulted in such a long final update. It's been a weird ride, but I made it through... now all that's left is to try and puzzle over how things can go better next time.
Regardless, thank you to everyone who helped support me this year, and especially those - namely, my little brother - who puzzled through all of the narrative translation with me! I didn't know if I'd get it done, but your expectations never faltered, so thank you for helping me pull through to the other side.
Did you participate in NaNoWriMo this year? What was your writing experience like? Let me know, in the comments below!