Journeys in Writing – Why My Goal is Just to Keep Going

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?

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Journeys in Learning – The Trouble with Advice

Sometimes, being new at something is really hard.

It is hard to jump into something feeling like everyone knows more about that something than you do. It can be very tempting, instead of diving into that something and working at it until you get better, to try and find every piece of advice you can about it. This is certainly what I tend to do.

In some ways, finding out how to do something from more experienced people is a great thing. It provides important signposts for the journey, and helps you know what to expect, and if you’re on the right track. The trouble is, most advice you find on the internet (which is where I get most of mine!), or even in books, will not be tailor made for your needs. It is near enough impossible to find a piece of universal advice that will suit every person and every nuance of situation, even if it seems to be quite specific to your problem.

Allow me to give you an example.

This summer, having decided (rather tentatively) to give writing a try, it was my first instinct to plunge head-first into an overwhelming ocean of writing advice, from authors, publishers, bloggers, even newspapers and magazines. I soon found, however, that, rather than making me feel prepared to begin my actual journey as a writer, it was making me feel disheartened and inadequate. Take this article for example:

It’s a huge list of writing tips proffered by successful authors. You don’t actually have to click on the link (it’s a pretty sizeable list, and that’s only part one!), because I’ve picked out just a few pieces of advice to illustrate my point:

“Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they’ll know it too.”

“Write only when you have something to say.”

“Remember you love writing. It wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back.”

How on earth do I breathe life into something? Am I over-explaining things? How do I trust a reader when I don’t really believe anyone will ever read this?

Do I really have something to say? Is what I’m about to write good/important/worthy enough to even put into words?

Do I really love writing enough to make this work? What if I don’t want this enough? Am I just kidding myself???

Do you see what I’m getting at? None of those were bad pieces of advice, quite the opposite. But it’s my reaction to them that is the problem. What immediately springs to mind is not how I can incorporate these into my writing, but rather all the ways I can possibly fail to do so. This may just be my insecurities talking (when do they ever shut up?). But I’ve found that my writing (and peace of mind) is much more content when I shut out others’ advice (I’ve already read enough of it to last me a lifetime!) and just WRITE!

Now I just need to take my own advice…