Well folks, I did it. I took the NaNoWriMo challenge and I learned a great many things about writing, myself, other writers, and why I would never do it again.
I haven’t yet “won.” It’s 7pm on November 24 that I’m writing this. I’m 6,000 words away from the 50K mark, but I plan to have those words done by tomorrow morning. Is it a good feeling? Hell, yeah! But again, I’d never do it again. It’s exhausting, depressing, exhilarating, fun, and horrific all at once. My poor equilibrium can’t handle that shit.
So here’s what I learned about writing:
I really, really, REALLY hate typing NaNoWriMo. In fact, while writing this post, I only typed it once, and copied it every other time. It irritates me beyond words to type the upper and lowercase bullshit that makes NaNoWriMo. It actually makes me a bit homicidal even thinking about it. I’ll be so happy when there is no cause for me to ever type the damn acronym again.
I also learned that I write with an amazing intensity when I just let it flow from my gut. It’s surprising for me, because I didn’t realize I could do that without much thought, rewriting and head-smashing. Actually, not counting the typos and various grammatical errors, when I write from my gut without worrying about writing “properly”, I come up with some awesome shit. Some of it’s even almost profound.
And I type way faster than I thought I could. However, I also learned that anything that must be pressed by pinkies and thumbs is pretty much nonexistent. That makes for interesting edits. Usually I catch them as I do them, which is more annoying. I’ve used the backspace key so often the little arrow has worn off.
But one of the most surprising things I’ve learned is that I cannot turn my inner editor off. I kept telling Katrina she’d do fine and shouldn’t go back and edit every damn page before moving onto the next, but I must apologize to her, because I do it too. A lot. I might not edit every page, but each day, before I begin to write, I edit everything I wrote the previous two days. In fact, I was more than three days behind at one point during this process, which is almost 5,000 words, and I STILL went back to edit the previous days’ work. I just can’t help myself. From this I learned that every writer truly has a certain way of doing things and if it works, we aren’t going to change it. Not even to get a higher word count.
I also learned some valuable things about life, thanks to NaNoWriMo (yep, pasted it in)
First, coffee is good. Coffee is awesome. But four pots of coffee in a single day is just too damn much. I had palpitations and clumsy, shaky hands. I was dropping shit, breaking shit, and mixing up my words. It took me a few days and a tear or two (because I thought I’d contracted a medical condition or something equally horrific) before I realized I was one cup away from hooking up an IV and calling it an overdose.
I also learned that my house won’t fall apart just because I don’t tend to it. Before NaNoWriMo, I’d write for only so long, then I’d feel guilty and run inside and clean or tidy something, and maybe get back to writing. Well, the house will gather dust, poop and hair, but it stayed standing and mostly intact, even if I didn’t clean it for three or four days. I’m sure this epiphany is pleasing only to me.
Another epiphany occurred in week two. I realized my kids can manage just fine without me. If I don’t check on them, it turns out that they actually find ways to occupy themselves. The even get their own shit. I am elated and a little depressed about that.
I also learned that bathroom breaks can be put off. I can hold my pee for exactly two chapters. Just no more than that or bad things happen.
What did I learn about other writers?
Well, I learned that those who participate in NaNoWriMo every single year are fucking insane. They’re also deserving of a pat on the back. Anyone who’d subject themselves to this kind of torture and stress just to hammer out 50K words, or to participate in a “fun” event, deserves some credit.
I also learned that a lot of NaNoWriMo participants are still annoying, even if I understand what they’re doing and how hard they’re working. Some of them even finished in like seven days. What the fuck is that? Did you just write solid for that time? I can’t even imagine. Yes, of course I’m a little jealous. Not about the editing, just the ability to devote seven solid days, in a row, to a single writing project. Man, that’s just…wow.
Writers, I’ve also learned, are great cheerleaders…as long as you cheer back. I watched the forums and such and saw some amazing support systems that brought a tear of happiness to my eye. I also noticed that anyone who doesn’t participate in the forums and such doesn’t get writing buddies on the site. Meh. You see, in order to get the word count, I don’t have the time to do that. So, I had two buddies. That’s enough for me. They’re the best buddies of all anyway.
Finally, what did I learn about myself?
I’m a procrastinator. You give me something to do and the first thing I look for is something that will help me avoid it. Seriously, I’m pathetic. Right now I’m supposed to be finishing that 6,000 words and instead I’m writing a blog post. When I put the effort into focusing, I’m damn good at it, but it’s motivating myself to actually focus that’s difficult.
I will also cut your fucking throat if you interrupt me when I’m under the pressure of a deadline. No joke. There was one day where I didn’t answer the phone or go outside. I just wrote. One of my kids came out to ask me something, and I haven’t seen her since. I don’t remember what happened…but I suspect it’s bad. There’s a fresh mound of dirt out back and a bloody coffee cup in the sink…
Okay, I’m joking. But the homicidal urge I had whenever someone interrupted me was a little unsettling for everyone involved.
I also discovered that I hate noise. I didn’t realize how much I hated noise until this little adventure. I like music. That’s different. I prefer to write with music blaring so loud I can’t hear myself think…which is odd. Anyway, I don’t like any other type of noise; traffic, dogs, people, televisions, the fucking neighbor and his asshole leaf blower, the church bell chiming off the hour. All of it chips away at me until I’m sure my head will just implode.
Finally, I learned that I am quick to judge, but also quick to admit I was mistaken. NaNoWriMo is a valuable tool for many writers. For newbs, it’s a way to dip your toes into the writing waters to see if it’s something you might want to do. For more seasoned writers, it’s a way to get back on track. It worked for me that way. Life and work have made me forget that all I need is like twenty minutes a day to write something, anything, and I can get a lot done in that twenty minutes. I found myself putting off starting anything new, working on rewriting older projects and pissing around with an outline here and there. NaNoWriMo forced me to just do it. I’m glad I did because writing fiction is back to being a regular part of my routine, and I really missed that.
For all my bitching about the misery of this experience, this is the happiest I’ve been in a long time. I learned it’s about priorities. Family comes first, obviously, but all the other shit, I can put it aside and the sky won’t fall. I need to write because it makes me feel whole. That sounds almost mystical, eh? We can’t have that.
So after all this learning, why would I never do it again? Because I don’t enjoy the low self-esteem that comes with not meeting the daily word count. That’s why I don’t try to get a specific word count every day. For me, it’s a bad idea because I really get bent out of shape if I don’t meet it, no matter what the reason. It’s a personal thing, but when I was behind those first weeks, I don’t recall ever feeling so useless or inadequate. It was awful. I think part of that is my inner critic. I cannot start something without finishing. If I think I won’t reach a goal, it drives me batshit. This was definitely an eye-opener for me in many ways, but it also showed me that while fun and all, I don’t need to intentionally do shit to batter my self-esteem. I also like the way I work just fine.
Would I recommend it? If you’ve never tried to write 50K words in 30 days, I suggest you do it just once. Seriously, it is worth doing if only to prove to yourself that your way of doing shit is better for you. Also, I have a novel (almost) that I can work with for the next few months. This novel would have taken me at least 3 to 6 months to write otherwise. I think that’s a worthwhile payoff.