No, NaNo

I’m quitting and it feels so exhilarating! Freedom! Yay!

Not regretting it at all though. I’ve learned a lot through this experience, and I’ve got the beginning of a novel – in under a fortnight I wrote 18,000 words, and they’re not all complete and utter drivel :)

I will carry on working on this novel. I will finish the first draft, and then edit. I’m just not going to finish that first draft by the end of November, and I’m letting go of trying to do that.

Sometimes when you have a decision to make, the only way to know if it’s right is by the feeling you have once you’ve said this is what you’re going to do – I’m feeling great as I write this, like a burden has lifted, something that was weighing me down is gone.

The weighing down thing – it wasn’t like that in the beginning. I started NaNoWriMo with a huge sense of excitement, and that sense of excitement carried me through difficult times. It carried me through days when I had a lot else going on and could barely squeeze in time to write – I’m a person who responds well to deadlines, I enjoyed the adrenaline buzz that came with sitting at my computer around 11pm and writing quickly to try and get my daily quota done by midnight. The sense of excitement kept me going when I had difficult bits in the plot. Seeing my word count grow – yes, I did that visually, I put a card on the wall above my desk and awarded myself a gold star for each 1,000, and that helped; I also appointed a pretty glass as a receptacle for pretty pebbles, again one for every 1,000 words.

I might still use these self-motivation tricks, I think they work well for me. And that’s part of what I mean when I say I learned a lot through this experience – I’ve been learning stuff about what works well for me in motivating myself to write, I’ve been learning stuff about how to keep the plot going/how to develop my characters/etc, and I’ve been learning that yes, writing a novel is doable if I take it one bite at a time – before I started NaNo, the concept of writing 50,000 words seemed huge; once I got past 9k, however, it no longer felt so massive – I could see that all it required really was sitting down at my desk and writing a chunk one day, and doing the same the next day, and so on… Obvious, I suppose, but it’s one thing knowing it in your head in theory and totally another thing actually experiencing it.

I think that’s the one major lesson which I would probably never have learned if it wasn’t for NaNo – so I’m seriously grateful for that, I think this is what may end up making the difference for me, the difference between a writer who sometimes dreams of writing a novel and a writer who sees writing a novel as a realistic possibility and something she believes she can do. Which means it may actually happen!

So why am I quitting NaNo now, half way through the month?

Because for everything you take on, there’s a cost, and carrying on would cost me too much.

Me. Not you. Not each and every person. I know there are people who find it really helpful and it works well for them. I think that’s great. But I have to be realistic and work with what I’m really like and with what what my life really is like.

Part of this is about pace, and part of it is about how I write.

I write in what’s called pantser style – flying by the seat of your pants rather than planning and plotting and having everything already mapped out before you start. This means that for me the actual process of writing, actually typing the words onto the screen, is how I build the story, how I get to know my characters, how I gradually develop the plot – this means that if I find that I’ve just written a particular bit totally in the wrong way in terms of the plot development, then I need to redo it now, before moving on. Which slows me down when it comes to the word count target, and NaNo is all about focusing on word count. The general recommendation when you’re doing NaNo is to just keep writing, and leave the editing for later – which I believe is sound advice for novel writing in general, you can easily get bogged down with polishing each sentence and never get past chapter 2, but there are some things that for me it’s essential to edit, because I need that build-up, I can’t just say to myself: from now you continue as if she had met him in prison and not at the charity ball (just making up an example there), I need to describe how she’d met him, I need to write that bit so that I can build up the story in my head.

So that’s where the crazy word count target thing clashes with my needs as a writer.

But the more important factor is the issue of pace – and that’s to do with what I’m like as a person.

One of my favourite poems is The Four Friends by A A Milne, which tells the story of Ernest the Elephant, Leonard the Lion, George the Goat, and James, who was a very small snail. The bigger animals make a lot of noise and break things, while James very very quietly, with no one else noticing, crawls ever so slowly and, by the end of the poem, reaches the end of the brick.

I have a very strong affinity with James.

I can, now and again, push myself and do a quick sprint. I can, and once in a while I do. But my natural pace is the slow pace, and I can’t maintain that sprint level for too long.

Sometimes the only way to find out what you can or can’t do is through trying, pushing yourself, keeping going till you crash – that’s how you learn where your limits are. It reminds me of the time when I was learning to drive and my driving instructor was struggling to get me to drive closer to the edge of the road – I was leaving a huge gap, because in my mind I wasn’t clear about how much room I had, so I was too scared to get too close to the pavement. He took me to a quiet side street and got me to keep turning the wheel until I actually touched the pavement. I remember him sitting in the car and saying “left, left, left” (yes, this is England, we drive on the left) until I hit the pavement and then he said: now you know where it is.

Seriously, that worked. And it works for other things too. It works for pushing yourself like crazy to hit a seemingly-impossible word quota daily, pushing yourself to do at least a little bit even on a day when you have a lot on, pushing yourself to do more today because yesterday you couldn’t, pushing yourself to keep writing even when you feel you’re writing drivel, pushing yourself to keep at it and keep at it and keep at it until…

Until you feel so exhausted, drained, deflated, that you want to crawl under a duvet and not emerge for at least a week. Until you feel those familiar signs that depression is trying to grab you and pull you down again.

And you go to bed and you get up the next day and you think: I don’t have to do that. It’s not worth the cost. To me. And thinking about it and weighing it all up and then sitting down to write about my decision – I’m feeling so much better, I feel re-energised!

And I’ve put away my glass with the pebbles and my card with the gold stars. Not thrown them away – if I feel at a later stage that I want to carry on using them then I can. But right now I just needed to tangibly tell myself that I’m not letting that stuff weigh me down any more.

I will carry on with this novel. I need to rewrite one bit, and then carry on from there. I will have to think a bit about what a reasonable goal would be for me, long term – might need to try different things and see what works. What I do know now is that to write at the NaNo pace means about two hours a day for me if I do it absolutely each and every day without fail, which is not a commitment I’m willing to make – there’s other stuff in my life and it’s one thing to push other stuff to the side for a short sprint, but not long term.

Off the top of my head right now, I think what may be a realistic thing for me is to say I’ll write for an hour a day five days a week. Though maybe I do need to have a weekly word count goal too. I’m going to have to think about that.

But first I’m having a pause, indulging myself in blogging (as I just have), playing games, and reading the Saturday paper in a leisurely fashion. When I’ve rested enough I’ll open that OpenOfficeWriter file and rewrite the bit about how my main character hears about her friend P’s new man and how she gets to meet him. Yes, I’m looking forward to it now, without the NaNo pressure.

3 thoughts on “No, NaNo

  1. Great post. Personally, I think NaNo is a bit of a gimmick and sets some crazy expectations, but I’m glad it at least helped you discover something about your own writing style and capabilities. Keep it up!


  2. Pingback: Yes, it definitely was the right decision | Meirav's Blog

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