As I mentioned in a previous post I am attempting NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which is why this blog has been so quiet these past couple of weeks *insert tumbleweed here*. I figured it would be a perfect opportunity to do it, since I’m working at a 12-hour-a-week job in Germany as opposed to my usual hectic schedule of essay writing and general university busyness. It seemed like the perfect time to try and write 50,000 words. I already had a novel planned, I probably had as much free time as I ever will have in the near future, and if I didn’t do it now then I would probably have to wait at least two years before another opportunity would arise (I do not anticipate doing it again next year!)
This is what my writing page normally looks like – mostly scribbles…
I have to admit, I was sceptical about my ability to do this. I’d struggled to even finish the first chapter of a book in the past, and the vast majority of my story ideas had come to nothing. Who’s to say the same thing wouldn’t happen again this time? My attitude (though I refused to admit it to myself) was: ‘If you expect to fail, you can’t be disappointed.’ With my external zeal and my internal safety net, there was no way I could fail, right? Well, this all changed when I got into the first week of NaNo. Within a few days I was streaking ahead of the targets, on a high from my success. Never had I expected to be able to keep up with the word count targets. But there I was, not only keeping up with them but streaking ahead, writing more than I ever had in my life. I was on a high. My cautious expectation of failure was gradually being overshadowed by the growing seed of happiness and pride. I, for once, despite everything I had thought, was going to be successful.
Unfortunately, the feeling of ‘this is too good to be true’ came crashing down on me, and saw the enthusiasm of week one being steadily usurped by the why-oh-why-am-I-doing-this-I’ll-never-be-a-real-writer-so-why-kid-myself sentiments of week two. No matter how hard I tried to force myself, I was consistently falling short of my wordcount targets. That’s if I was writing anything at all. I found myself comparing myself with my writing buddies, one of which had written over 60,000 words (!!!) by the end of week two, and I was sinking ever further into the pit of despair, affectionately known by the NaNoWriMo community as Week Two Blues. Somehow, though the pep talks and forum discussions on the NaNoWriMo website would try to convince me otherwise, I felt like I was alone in my struggle. How could anyone else understand my sense of failure when they were all succeeding? Why had I even thought I could attempt something like this? Did I not know that it was something only Other People could achieve?
Hands up who else has felt like this.
Finally, at the start of week three, I realised something very significant. I was keeping myself from success by focussing on my failure. I was letting the fact that I would probably never catch up to the target wordcount as an excuse to not even try.
I also realised that the forum comments and pep talks and seemingly endless NaNoWriMo blog posts I was seeing around the interwebs probably were not lying to me, and this feeling of inadequacy in the face of writing difficulties was probably not unique to me. In fact, there might even be a fair few people who feel, and have felt, the same, many of them now with successfully published books under their belt. I would never criticise someone else for not meeting the wordcount deadlines, so why was I being so hard on myself? I have read many times (and even said so myself) that nothing worth having comes easily. Why should this be any different?
So my new aim is this: Just keep swimming.
Okay, so a more appropriate goal would be to ‘just keep writing’, but the quote above is more memorable. I cannot count the number of times I have read writing advice that said ‘Rule Number 1: Don’t Give Up’. Now to take that advice!
First off, now that I’ve freed myself from the pressure of the wordcount goal, my priorities have shifted. I’ve started reading again, which always brings fresh inspiration, and gives me an example of something to aim for. I am currently reading The Professor by Charlotte Bronte and Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams, both of which are absolutely crammed full of brilliant turns of phrase and inventive ideas.
Another thing I will be concentrating on that I have been neglecting so far this month is development of my characters and world. Seat-of-the-pants writing may work for some, but for me the characters, setting and plot all have deeper meaning if I can spend some time with them away from the actual text and figure out where they’re headed and what they’re about. Now when I return to my prose I will have fresh ideas and a newly sharpened focus, ready to defeat this thing once and for all.
What about you? Are there any things that you find great about NaNoWriMo, or that you are especially struggling with (or have in the past)? How do you overcome falling short of your hopes?