Why failing NaNoWriMo can still be a success story

Each year when November rolls around, I promise myself that this will be the year that I will be ready for NaNoWriMo. This will be the year that I write my novel. Then I forget about it until mid-November, when I promise myself that I will be more organised and prepare for NaNoWriMo next year. It’s a pretty consistent cycle, or at least it was until this year.

This is the first year I have actively participated in National Novel Writing Month and I was so excited to work towards the 50,000 word goal. I was not going to let myself down this year.

In hindsight, I think that doing NaNoWriMo this year was never really going to work.

Due to a combination of weather induced illness, increased hours at my part time job, university exams (and their associated stresses) and my internship, I was not only busy seven days a week, I was also dedicating all my “free” time to one of the above things. After a strong first week, I fell behind my writing goals hugely.

At the end of NaNoWriMo, I have written just under 10,000 words of my novel. Not exactly a raging success in terms of word count. However, my NaNoWriMo venture has not been in vain. Whilst I am not walking away from November with a complete novel in tow, I learnt a lot about myself as a writer. This is cliché, I know, but things don’t become cliché without a reason. This year, I really needed the cliché.

Earlier this year I had a massive run of writing, largely due to the fact that I had joined a writer’s group at university. I was writing whenever I wanted to, and was gradually building up confidence to share that writing with people. However, meetings halted quickly and I was alone with my writing once again. And I stopped.

When NaNoWriMo came around, I had been toying with an idea for a novel, having done an extensive plan in lieu of doing any actual writing of the book. NaNoWriMo was the perfect excuse to create writing goals and actually do some work on it. Get back to writing again.

NaNoWriMo also gave me the perfect excuse to get over my fear of writing in public. I have always been incredibly nervous about writing in public places and so I made deliberate moves to write as publicly as I could – on public transport, in cafes, in the break room at work, pretty much everywhere I would normally feel uncomfortable writing. When people asked me what I was writing, instead of hiding it and pretending it was uni work, I openly shared that I was working on a novel, and answered questions people had about my writing (within reason, I’m not giving away any spoilers). It made me less self-conscious about my work and allowed me a little more creative freedom when it came to public spaces. Ultimately it was a great experiment in self-confidence and sharing my work.

For the first time in a long while, I felt happy when I was writing. I enjoyed spending time with the characters I was creating. I was writing about something I cared about. Writing became my sole focus.

It quickly became too much.

Don’t get me wrong, I love writing. But NaNoWriMo was a huge reality check. It taught me an important lesson about my limits. I was getting angry with myself if I didn’t keep up with my daily goals, to the point where I was staying awake until I reached a satisfactory word count – even beyond the target I had set myself. It was unhealthy in more ways than one.

From that point onwards, I looked at NaNoWriMo as a perfect opportunity to explore how best to enjoy writing without running myself into the ground. I spent less time working on my novel, valuing genuine happy and constructive writing time over a word count. I spent time on posts for this space, exploring writing things that I had not tried out in a while, short opinion pieces that I could write without the pressure of a long term project such as novel.

Learning about my limits as a writer was an important lesson that NaNoWriMo taught me. Running myself into the ground to achieve a self-imposed and at times unrealistic goal was costing me the ability to sit down and enjoy doing the thing I love. I’m still writing the novel, but I’m taking it slow, writing when it genuinely feels good to write. NaNoWriMo taught me to put myself before my writing, be a little selfish with my time and be realistic about my boundaries. And if that isn’t a small success in itself, I don’t know what is.

Sure, writing 50,000 words of a novel in a month works for some, but if doing so means that you are writing to the point where it becomes unhealthy, you shouldn’t feel guilty for stopping. If NaNoWriMo taught me anything, it’s that you should never force something that doesn’t work for you.

Writing should never be an unhealthy burden for someone who calls themselves a writer.

© Hayley New 2015


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