In past posts, I’ve mentioned some of my past experiences with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and I also mentioned that I have no intention of trying to participate this year. I haven’t explored the why, though, so I thought I’d spend some time digging into it.
As far as I can tell, the first time I tried NaNoWriMo was back in 2003. I don’t have any real record of the attempt itself, but, in the archives I pulled down from an old livejournal that I deleted a few years ago, there was a post from 2004 saying I was planning on participating in NaNoWriMo “again.” Since I graduated college in 2003, and would have been too busy with coursework in earlier years, and since I know I first heard about the challenge from my ex, it’s a reasonable guess. I have no copies of any writing that would have been done in that first attempt, and absolutely no idea what I had written about. I know it would have been written in Kansas, though, as that was the one winter I spent out there. I also know that whatever writing I would have done that year would have been on a desktop computer that was balanced on top of a pair of plastic bins in the living room of the apartment I was living in at the time, while sitting in a wicker chair, likely with the occasional menthol cigarette.
Since then, most years, I’ve at least attempted NaNoWriMo, with varying degrees of success. I have files from attempts for every year since 2008, except for 2014, when my son was born. In that time frame, I’ve won (reached 50,000+ words) twice, and had several other attempts with anywhere from a couple thousand words to over 35,000.
Over the past 8 years, with increasing responsibility, I’ve worked in a job where November and December are the busiest months of the year, which has made participation increasingly difficult. Add in becoming a mom, and, well, it just doesn’t seem feasible. That said, there’s something about participation that is so very appealing. There’s a sense of community, of shared struggle. There’s also a sense of accomplishment as my word count grows and grows. I feel justified to let other things slide to work on NaNoWriMo. But it’s not all upside.
It’s stressful. Missing one day of writing only makes it harder to keep up. There’s the daily goal of 1,667 words a day that would lead to eventual success looming over your head every morning, which is stressful enough without adding in work hours increasing over the course of the month, not to mention 4 family birthdays and Thanksgiving.
Yet, I’ve always felt compelled. Even last year, I was determined not to even try. Then, November 1 came around, my personal Twitter feed was flooded with word sprint updates and NaNoWriMo posts, and my Facebook memories & Timehop were filled with memories of all my other novel attempt starts. I’d be filled with a sense of nostalgia, almost tainted with guilt. If I wasn’t willing to do what I needed to do to try and participate, could I really call myself a writer?
This year, though, is different. Yes, I felt the nostalgia from memories of past attempts as they came up on Facebook and such. Yes, the idea of a challenge, of a set goal is appealing to the part of my personality that is driven by deadlines. Yes, I’ve felt a sense of satisfaction from the writing sessions from past years, where I’m racing against the clock, silencing my internal editor, and just letting words and ideas stream from my fingertips.
However. November is an extremely busy month. Add in the work I’m doing to improve my mental health, and more social commitments than usual, and, even if I wanted to try, it would have been almost impossible to find the time. On top of all of these very valid reasons, as tempting as it is to keep up the streak of at least trying, or starting a story, I don’t really want to. I could marathon some writing for some or all of November. But, then what? I have another file with a partial story that, if history is any indication, I’d never really go back to. And, I’d be so burnt out on writing that I wouldn’t want to even think of reviewing the file for a couple of months.
Rather than helping me build a writing habit, it would destroy the small semblance of a writing habit I’ve been trying to establish over the past couple of months. Not only that, I would probably end up undoing a lot of the progress I’ve made in general when it comes to the tools I’ve been learning and using throughout the year. Instead of building up my self identity as a writer, it would end up adding to the false sense of incompetence and failure, since it would be another file that would stack up and probably never be finished.
In the end, it wasn’t as hard of a decision as it could have been. Nor was it as hard to follow through with the decision this year as it was last year, or the year before. Instead of focusing on one month or one project that never gets past a rough draft, I’m focused on developing life habits that will help me find a project that I can see through to the end.
Have you decided to do something differently recently, for the good of your mental, emotional, or physical health? What was it?