I set myself free and deleted my Nanowrimo Project. I didn’t delete the words I wrote, but the project update. I hit just over 5,000 words, but then I got stuck.
This year I got lured into Nanowrimo mainly because I had a brand new novel idea that I wanted to write. Since it’s easier to write 50k of a bad first draft, I thought, “Finally! I’ll win this year”. Secondly, they updated their website at last. I really hoped I could use Nanowrimo to get back into a writing groove.
As it turns out I actually hate the new website more than ever AND I got sick right before Nanowrimo. I told myself once I recovered, I could get back on track. But between that, Daylight Savings, and the Seasonal Affective Disorder that followed, I felt pooped before I was even in the game. Instead I decided to do a rewrite of an old project rather than starting a new one, but I was still pretty out of it. In the end, my health was more important and I focused more on resting.
Earlier this year, I sat down to write a novel and I set myself a goal of a high 35-40k because those were the expectations Nanowrimo had set for me. When I struggled to reach a high word count, I got frustrated. I wanted to write a book really fast. But then something clicked. Writing 50k in a month is not the norm. I did some math and guessed my writing pace. I learned I’m at my best writing anywhere between 10k-20k words a/month. Writing “slower” makes it possible for me to take breaks to pause and either recuperate, research, reread, or even look over my outline and notes and make sure I’m staying on track.
I don’t believe in the shitty first draft. I believe in writing a first draft that is as close to my vision as I can make it. No, it won’t be perfect. There will be things I know are wrong but don’t know how to fix yet. There will be mistakes. There will be scenes or characters I think are important that will inevitably get cut in the next draft, or the one after that. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to write the perfect book the first time.
In past years, I wrote 40,000 words in a month and thought I had failed. I felt defeated. I didn’t feel as motivated or excited because I didn’t see the whole picture, but one part of a long, winding path up the mountain. Failure makes you look at the initial outcome and not the journey. I didn’t feel like I actually accomplished something. Because I didn’t win Nanowrimo, I thought I failed those months.
For all the ambitious writers out there, you need to know that Nanowrimo isn’t standard nor does it define your success or failure as a writer. What I finally realized is that writing 40k in a month alone is not easy. Those horribly written words that will never see the light of day are still an important part of me because my “failure” taught me something.
You can’t learn until you do. You have to grow comfortable with the idea of failure, become intimate with it even. Because failure makes you vulnerable to growth.
Nanowrimo is great for new writers or for people who just need to push that first draft out. Nanowrimo is great if you want to finally learn how to incorporate writing in your day to day life. But the problem with Nanowrimo is the same problem with any extreme diet. It’s simply not sustainable as a lifestyle. That’s what Nanowrimo feels like—a diet you try for a month to get a lot of writing in very quickly, but eventually you burn out and think you hate writing. The healthiest diets are ones that allow for flexibility and moderation.
You don’t have to write every day. You don’t have to write a lot every day. Set an achievable goal and pace yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for not finishing something in one month that takes most people six months, a year, and even longer.
I got stuck this month because of factors outside my control. Rather than choosing to believe I failed, I welcomed a better lesson: what’s important is that I started and there’s no expiration date on finishing.