Let’s start with a disclaimer. By trying, I mean I failed. I have consistently been doing so since 2015.
Why am I still trying? Why am I not accepting that, if #inktober is any indication, monthly challenges are just not for me? I guess I still hope. Seriously, though, November was still a good writing month for me. I finished the second draft of my novel and wrote about 20.000 words for another project. I made an old flash fiction piece more presentable. With midterm and final essays in the mix, no less. I haven’t done so well since 2015, when I had written 20.000 words for a now abandoned work. It doesn’t sound like much, but back then it was the most I had ever written in so little time. I had gotten drunk with it to the point that I would have been writing all day if I could (it would take me much, much longer to write 1000 words back then). By now, I am used to writing a lot, so the happy-drunk feeling doesn’t come that often. But my NaNoWriMo experience this year taught me a few things, and I would like to share them with you.
Self-care is important (And does not look like 3 mugs of coffee)
It is so easy to forget that and burn out. To me, this autumn was a lot like the very first time I left home for uni. Back when I was living on my own for the first time, and loving it. I could finally do anything I wanted. My ‘rebellion’ had lasted no more than two weeks and had mostly consisted of watching horror films until 3AM and then still going to my 9AM lectures. I can’t believe it’s only been five years. I don’t even remember why I was doing this, other than the fact that, for the first time, there was no one there to tell me not to.
Leaving my country for a Masters gave me a feeling of freedom that looked a little like freshman days. After a year full of work, commitments, classes, teamwork, and in general, too much on my shoulders, a Masters did not seem like such a heavy load in comparison. I made friends immediatelly, but did not have a full network, nor many obligations apart from my course work. I could finally manage my own schedule the way I wanted. This was a much needed freedom that helped me in many ways. But being in a new city, knowing only a few people and having little to keep me on track, made exhausting myself for the sake of writing a little too easy.
Supposing you are not writing full-time and have to balance NaNoWriMo with studying/work/whatever obligation you might have, putting self-care aside might seem tempting. At the beginning of November I would sometimes delay making dinner, since I did not always have someone to eat with, or I would stay up as late as 4AM to write, since none of my classes were too early this semester. Please don’t do that. Please make yourself something nice to eat and get all the sleep you need (or at lease most of it). Otherwise you will crush, and other responsibilities might suffer too. If you feel healthy, you will be more focused on writing.
Numbers should not matter
I am not saying this to console myself. Well, maybe a little bit. I would have liked my novel 50.000 works longer instead of just 20.000. But don’t be afraid to do what you need to do for your writing practice, even if it does not add up to a number. This might be checking a story you wrote ages ago for grammar mistakes. Or working on a second or third draft, even if this feels like editing, rather than writing. Even reading a book about your craft, or literature in the genre you are writing, or doing research for your book.
NaNoWriMo might be for those who intend to write 50.000 words of a novel (probably a first draft, which is meant to be written as fast as possible) but if you want to just write as much as you can, and devote the rest of your energy on projects that don’t requite fast writing right now, this is valid. I consider finishing a second draft and editing a story as writing, just as much as creating a first draft, so in that sense I feel my effort was worth more than the actual 20.000 words I put down with NaNoWriMo in mind. And so should you, if you did what you needed to for your writing.
It is all about developing good writing habits
I mean, if you can manage setting projects aside for a months and then giving them your all for short periods of time, I won’t argue. But I think most of us, no matter how random and spontaneous we are, need to have at least some semblance of writing habits, if this is to work long-term. So, NaNoWriMo should not be about writing as much as you can, as fast as you can, only to burn out and need a two-months-long break from writing. My advice would be to see what worked for you in NaNoWriMo and what did not, and use that to make a schedule that is actually good for you. Perhaps you cannot write 1600-1700 every day, but you might be able to write 1000. If you can’t write every single day, a few times a week is still better than nothing. Maybe you do need to spend time looking at your last chapter to feel connected to your story before you start writing, even if this means you will have less time to write. What I found out was that sometimes, writing with the goal of finishing a chapter, knowing where I was going, rather than just aiming for 1700 words, actually helped me write more. I also realized that writing every single day might not be possible with a full-time Masters, and that’s ok. In the end, it’s all about finding a balance that allows you to do whatever you have to do, and still make time to write.
A challenge is good, but if you missed an official one, you can always set your own
If November did not work for you, but you still really, really want to try this particular challenge, you can always try again, be it today or ten months from now. I get why you might want to do it during its proper time, when most people do it, but if you missed that, don’t be afraid to find your own proper timing. In the end, all these challenges are meant to motive us and make us accountable Suffering from anxiety over doing challenges the ‘right’ way, is not the point. Finding the right way for your own writing practice is much more important.
We need to start thinking of writing (or any art) in terms of success, rather than failure
To those of us who aim to be published, full-time writers some day (or even just finish that one work) writing is obviously… well, very important. For this reason, it is easy to take ‘failures’ personally. It is easy to feel bad and blame ourselves if everything did not go according to plan. But in the end, NaNoWriMo is about improving and getting things done. Not writing 50.000 words this November doesn’t mean we are not improving or getting things done. If you wrote even a few thousands words, you are still closer than you were. Every little thing you do for your craft, putting all your effort in it, is a small success towards what you want to achieve. Those 50.000, 100.000, or 200.000 words will add up, even if they did not just now, and as long as you keep working on them you did not fail.
So, yeah, sometimes I’m trying to be inspirational. I really hope this helps someone. Writing it definitely helped me.
Am I trying NaNoWriMo again in the future? Very possibly. Am I ever going to reach 50.000 words in one month? I am not sure if it is happening anytime soon, but at least I know it is not all that matters. So, if you reached your intended word count this November, I really admire you. But if you did not, you didn’t fail. If you managed to learn something in the process, even if it was only that this challenge could not work for you just now, I am still proud of you.