For years I’ve wanted to participate in NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, in which the entire month of November is devoted to writing 50,000 words. As the name implies, people across the country, and the world, simultaneously devote all of their free time to writing over 1,600 words a day. Comradery and external pressures can create a fortuitous combination for some, while others might find it too strenuous.
It’s only fair that I admit that I spend most months out of the year writing full time. I was initially aware that this gave me an unfair advantage, but when I had to spend two days last week filling in for someone at a “real” job in a retail shop, I realized that my advantage is comparable to a mile lead. After two weeks of averaging two thousand words a day, I had two days of zero words. I gained a whole new respect for people who go to work every day and still complete their word count. How do they cook dinner? Talk to their family? Return e-mails? Exercise? Shower?
Even with my mile lead, I still feel greatly challenged by the NaNoWriMo experience. First of all, I never really believed in writer’s block until now. I always felt that given enough time, I could easily work through the feeling of being stuck. I could go for a walk, meditate on plot points or journal characters. But when you feel the pressure of the word count creeping up on your limited mortality, the time for these creative jump-starts no longer exist. Plus, the added pressure can often create an even more stunting environment. It’s like if-you-don’t-win-the-marathon-you’re-going-to-die kind of pressure.
As you can see, I liken NaNoWriMo to a marathon. This is for the nonwriters among us. Not that writers don’t run marathons. I’m sure plenty of writers offset hunched shoulders and tight hip flexors with healthy activities, but people who don’t write might not understand why anyone would want to participate in an event that appears like more work than necessary. So, I explain, it’s like training for a marathon. You have to run a little bit every day to work up to the full marathon and the wonderfully rewarding experience that comes with crossing the finish line. See, it’s a great analogy!
So what happens if, while training for your marathon, you experience the proverbial injury. Perhaps a twisted ankle or a torn ligament. I’m guessing that almost everyone participating in NaNoWriMo has the experience of being twenty thousand words in and realizing that everything they are writing is crap or realizing that they should have gone with the alien plot over the coming-of-age story. But it’s too late. You’re already deep into it. You’re hurting, but you’ve got to push through. Sometimes you need to buy those weird compression socks or a foam roller or take a yoga class. Mix things up a bit. Ignore the doubt.
In this case, I found NaNoWriMo sprints and prompts to be helpful. NaNoWriMo is a nonprofit organization teeming with interns who are happy to assist you in any way they can. They write blog posts, send inspo letters, create videos, and live tweet. There are several ways to utilize the organization to help you work through your sprained ankle until it heals and you can get back on track again. That is until you hit the forty-thousand-word mark and sprain your knee. Oops.
Rest and Recovery
Sometimes you’ve got to take a day off from training to rest. Research has shown that recreation supports productivity. I’ve rewarded myself with bubble baths and hours of binge watching Ink Master. The key is not to feel guilty about taking time off from your self-imposed challenge, as long as your word count is ahead. If you are not ahead or even, gasp, behind, then get your lazy butt back to work.
Write Out of Order
At some point when I was super stuck, I realized that I don’t need to write my novel in chronological order. Since this is the third novel I’ve written, you’d think I would know that by now. But NaNoWriMo changes the game. Before, I handwrote everything first and then typed it up. No way that I have time for that now. I don’t work the same way I did pre-WriMo. Logic is tossed out in exchange for watching the little number counter in the corner quickly rise. When I finally remembered, that I prefer to write what excites me in the moment instead of what comes next in the chapter, I lost the boredom of summary that gets me from point A to B and sprinted ahead with new scenes.
My fellow, NaNoWriMo buddy, Necia, recommended Scrivener to me and now I recommend it to you. Write scenes all over the place and keep them organized in one document. So much easier.
I’m not sure who came up with the idea to do NaNoWriMo in November, but I kind of hate them (not really.) It’s one of the busiest months of the year. I’ve got dance recitals and crane festivals to go to, not to mention Thanksgiving. I had to make my Thanksgiving plans unceremoniously brief this year to accommodate my writing schedule (sorry, Mom.) Even still, I anticipate zero word count days in the coming weeks. Taking the advice from my friend, Deonne, who successfully completed WriMo last year, I am trying to get as much done at the beginning of the month as I can, so I don’t hit a panic in the last week.
NaNoWriMo gives me a chance to challenge myself, make writing a priority, experiment with my process and write a novel in short time. Still, when this is all over, I’ll welcome Winter Break with a long, long nap.
Johanna DeBiase is a freelance journalist, novelist, yoga instructor, vintage boutique owner, world traveler, and mom based in Taos, New Mexico, or on her website. Follow her on Twitter @JohannaDeBiase