If you are a frequent reader of my blog or you glanced at my Twitter in the past month or so you may have seen that I was participating in NaNoWriMo. If you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is… firstly, where have you been? And secondly, I’ll explain in brief: National Novel Writing Month takes place in November every single year and is a challenge in which participants try to write 50,000 words over the span of 30 days. The idea is to set up consistent writing habits over the month. Always said you wanted to write a book? November is the time. But you haven’t planned it out to within an inch of its life? Whoops, sorry, no time to delay, the focus is just on getting the daily 1667 words down and you can worry about the finer details later.
In many ways, NaNo helps me to circumvent my natural indecisiveness. I don’t have time to ponder over decisions and faff about considering the implications because otherwise I wouldn’t meet my daily word count. The mistake I made in previous NaNoWriMo attempts was that I got stuck at this, rather than seeing it as an opportunity to let go and go with the flow, even if that flow was ultimately wrong for the story I was trying to get down on paper/screen. This year I decided to write a story that was less demanding and/or high concept – rather than my ordinary attempt to write a quite complicated fantastical system (at which point I’d realise I hadn’t done enough preparation pre-November), I plumped for a simplistic, trope-filled contemporary story on the spur of the moment. Although I had a Pinterest board with a grand total of 5 things pinned, I had little to no plot points decided and I didn’t even have names for the characters; instead, I had to name characters on the fly and, as I sat down every day to write, I mostly had no idea what scene was going to come out of the writing session.
On the one hand, this was stressful for me… but on the other, it was oddly liberating. It was also enormously encouraging. It made me realise that, sometimes, you need to allow yourself to make decisions on the fly and see where they lead you. Sure, they might lead to you writing yourself in a knot or choosing the wrong character name at first, but they also might lead to you being inspired and imagining new scenes later on in the story. Maybe, just really, you also might realise that you are capable of crafting a story, after all. When it all clicks into place and you feel like you’re flying, getting those words down, creating, that’s an amazing feeling.
But it wasn’t always working and I definitely struggled to keep motivated throughout the entire month. When November dawned I was in the middle of an amazing holiday to Disney World and I’d never been there before so I wasn’t about to sacrifice any part of my holiday to sit in a hotel room doing NaNoWriMo instead. But I compromised: I wrote when I could snatch time in the afternoons when we headed back to the resort for an hour or so before heading back into the park on an evening, I wrote at the gate waiting for our flight back home, I wrote at the end of a long day when all I wanted to do was sleep. Despite all this, there were days when I wrote nothing, nada, zilch, because I was so unmotivated. I got annoyed at myself for this, until I just accepted that everyone has lulls, and so long as I didn’t let a temporary lull stretch into the space of days and weeks then it was fine to have a breather.
This attitude lead to me always being pretty much at least a day behind. It’s difficult to then “catch up” – if you miss a few days or slack a few days, you really do need quite a big push to not only write your daily requisite word count but surpass it by the remaining shortfall.It’s never easy to sit down and write when you know that you’re already on the backfoot. Once I was a good 5000 words behind target, it was oddly liberating. I knew I probably wouldn’t catch up. When that shortfall got to 10,000 it was a done deal that I wasn’t “winning” NaNoWriMo at the end of the month. But, even so, I still tried in one last push. At the end of day 27 I was at 33,019 words. By the end of day 30 I was at 45,166. In the space of 3 days (1 of which was was largely spent in a dark car journey) I’d managed to get down around 12,000 words. When it really mattered, I got a shift on and tried to get to 50k, no matter how impossible it had seemed mere days before. This helped me realise that I could do it. If I hadn’t lost a day to a flight back from the US, I probably would have hit 50k. In some ways, that is gutting to realise – to know I’d come so close to finally “winning” NaNoWriMo this year but I’d still failed. But had I? Not really, I’ve now got 45,000 words of a story I didn’t really think I’d still be writing 30 days later.
If nothing else, this year’s NaNoWriMo has taught me that if you stick with a story, even when the going gets tough (or boring), you will see results. You will see yourself enjoy the story in unexpected places, develop characters when you least expect to, and write scenes you didn’t even realise you needed until you’re halfway through writing them. But most importantly, this year’s NaNoWriMo helped me combat my indecisiveness when it comes to writing. It made me realise that, sometimes, forcing yourself to keep writing anything (even if it’s a scene that’s later reworked or scrapped) when you don’t really feel all that motivated might actually help you get past the mental block you didn’t even realise you had with your story. It made me realise that not only do I want to write, I can write, if I put my mind to it. It made me realise that even when I don’t think I have a particularly imaginative or fantastical story to tell, the more “mundane” or “everyday” stories can actually still be pretty challenging and fun to write to boot.
Did you take part in NaNoWriMo this year? How did you do? Or have you taken part in this, or another writing project, in the past? Let’s chat in the comments!