What i learned from failing nanowrimo (again)

Well, it’s finally December, which means I can stop pretending I’m going to finish this novel!

My fifth and most recent attempt to participate in National Novel Writing Month was much more fruitful than any of my past attempts. I clocked in with 32,412 words. About 17K short of the 50K goal. The “novel” itself (my first real attempt at a book length work, by the way) was a big old mess. It was more a series of random separate moments that don’t have any sort of arc. I’d say probably half of it is unusable. And honestly? I’m really, really proud. Here’s why:

I forced myself to show up. 

This wasn’t a skill that magically showed up when I started Nano. It’s something I’ve been actively working toward for a long time. On thing I have to say about 2020 Tab is that betch is insanely productive. I’ve come really far in creating a writing process that works for me. I’ve gotten better at reaching goals in the deadlines I set for myself, and it’s been so satisfying to make progress in my short story collection. I’ve been mostly revising for most of the last two years, and post-grad I’ve been working toward a 12-hour weekly writing schedule. I got good at showing up to write, but if I missed my allotted time, I would rarely make it up later. Even worse, of the two hours I’d carve I would spend maybe 45 good minutes working? I knew it wasn’t the best use of my time. Which leads to my next lesson…

I learned the value of counting words.

I’m not usually a writer who looks at word count (probably because in short stories, you’re always looking to cut words out), but leading up to Nano, I wrote my first new story in a long time. I had a few writing days where I hit 1K words and it felt like running a marathon. I was so exhilarated and self satisfied. The next day, I hit 1,500. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it was a huge deal for me because it showed me what I could be capable of. I started seeing the benefit of using words as a marker for my progress while getting the initial story down on the page.

With a format like Nano, word count is everything. It’s more than the value of the words or the shape of the story, even. It’s just about reaching a goal to prove that you are capable of writing a novel. This feels like completely backwards thinking when you’re deep in short story mode. But after so long in the same set of stories, the idea of starting a new project and just letting it flow sounded like a “fun break.” In a lot of ways, it was! I aimed for 2k a day, and was astounded that most days, I could do that. My most productive day was 3,541 words! (And then wrote nothing for three days, but that is neither here nor there)

I leaned into community during the writing process, not just when I felt myself spiraling.

I had two fellow writers that I would check in with almost daily and a few buddies whose progress I’d keep an eye on, too. I also got so much motivation from Emily Henry’s instagram, where she’d share advice and ask questions to check progress in her stories! Her responses were so thoughtful and such a generous gift to her readers. She’s adamant about this process and drafts most of her novels in similar timespans. I’d find myself looking forward to finishing so I could send in my answer and feel like she was proud of me. 

I was more open about my WIP.

…Which is something I hate doing. It feels presumptuous to tell the world you’re working on a novel. What did this experience teach me? That people don’t care that much if you do, and that the ones who do are quite supportive! Sharing progress publicly required a little more answering of questions that I hate, like, “What’s your book about?” but those are necessary questions that I should be able to answer! And I was touched by the connections made with people I wouldn’t ordinarily share my work with. 

Some things about the process that I didn’t love…

  • Prioritizing writing with this lofty of a goal ate up all of my free time. ALL. OF. IT. Which made it feel a lot like work. And you know what you don’t want to do when you get off work? WORK.
  • That also meant less time consuming art (or garbage, which is equally necessary). I didn’t read anything or watch any TV.  I realized I feel really fed by the things I consume and I truly missed it. And then, when I did allow myself to consume, I BINGED.
  • I spent less quality time with my boyfriend. We were always together, but doing separate things. I was happy for his support, but I don’t want that to be our normal!
  • I did not eat nearly enough! And still somehow ended up wasting time. I’d start off my day in front of my computer with a cup of coffee and suddenly it’s 3pm and I’m just hitting my word goal, which meant I didn’t have time for anything else but getting ready for work. Not sustainable!
  • It turns out I do like to have a plan. Who knew! Writing without an idea of where I was going was kind of disorienting for me! If I try this again next year, I hope to have a very laid out plan to follow. I think that would make me much more productive.
  • And finally, this story isn’t ready to be told just yet. And that’s okay. 

I’d love to hear about your NaNoWriMo attempts / successes / failures! I have to think, even after all this, that anything that gets you writing is a good thing.

xx, Tab

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