NaNoWriMo is over… now what?

On the 28th of November, I completed NaNoWriMo with 50,629 words. This was, by quite a margin, the most I’d ever written on any one story or project.

In the days coming up to the end, I thought I wasn’t going to feel much when I reached that milestone. Because the truth is, as I’m sure most of you other NaNoWriMoers understand, the end of NaNo is by no means the end. It is an achievement in itself, but what I have now is not even a first draft, it’s a partial draft at best.

I surprised myself by becoming emotional when I crossed the finishing line, though. I rang my boyfriend, and nearly had a bit of a cry. But this feeling really only lasted a few hours.

The thing about NaNo is – yes, it got me writing. Yes, it proved to me that I can write 50,000 words on a story I had done minimal planning on and wasn’t even that passionate about. It might have even been the cause of a few decent paragraphs, though I think most of the 50,000 words are really not particularly well strung together.

But what it didn’t do: it didn’t make me feel like a writer.

The problem is, I have this idea in my head of the person I want to be when I’m older. Or, well, the person I would quite like to be now, but it doesn’t seem quite realistic yet. It’s not as simple as a list of things I can lay down here – more than anything, it’s a feeling. Contentedness is one word I could use to try to describe it. Wholeness. Satisfaction. And I think I have equated being a writer with feeling that way.

It’s kind of like when, years ago, I was smoking about 5 cigarettes a day (and a lot, lot more when I was drinking) but I didn’t ever feel like a smoker. I would never have described myself as a smoker. But by anyone’s definition, I was a smoker.

Perhaps it’s the lack of commitment, the fact that I’m not doing it full-time, or the fact that I’m not squeezing it around a different full-time career. Perhaps it’s because the rest of my life, to be honest, is a little empty right now. I don’t necessarily mean that it a very maudlin way – it’s just the honest truth. I rattle around a little in my own life these days.

Or maybe a month does not a writer make. Maybe if I continue with this, now, and continue to get better at it, I will start to feel more genuine. If I start to enjoy it more, maybe.

That’s another thing that may be contributing to this feeling. I enjoyed it, to an extent, but not as much as I would have hoped. I didn’t spring out of bed every morning, eager to get back to my story. It didn’t make me feel happy and fulfilled.

So what now? I’m certainly not giving up just because November didn’t turn me into a different person. I’m taking a few weeks’ break from writing, and then I’ll either keep going with the NaNo novel or go back to the one I was writing before. And hopefully, in a few weeks, I will realise that it actually did change me.

I will finish the novel at some point, anyway, and maybe then the satisfaction will flood in. Or does it ever? Maybe that’s the problem with art – it never feels finished.

Anyway, turning point or not, it’s been an experience. And it’s done me a lot of good to actually follow through with something, as I’m notorious for never finishing projects. Here’s to the next few months and the rest of my writing career.

I hope all of you fellow NaNoers are similarly satisfied with your achievement – and maybe a bit more satisfied with how it’s made you feel!

NaNoWriMo: Here Goes Nothing

Despite clamouring about it on Facebook, Twitter, and in comments on other people’s posts, I haven’t actually written a post about NaNoWriMo yet. I’m pretty sure I mentioned it in passing, but I’m surprised at myself for not writing about it properly, as it has been a major decision for me.

I had already decided I was going to write a novel this year. But I had given myself the highly unambitious deadline of 12 months for a first draft, and a measly 2,000 words a week. I was non-committal – writing a novel was just one of many things I wanted to achieve in 2013. Other  goals including doing academic reading and writing, starting to paint again, doing more photography, finding a job, getting my Etsy shop up and running again. Basically, I was spreading myself pretty thin.

But then I had this realisation – I was just spreading myself this thin because I was afraid of committing to any one thing.

I have been afraid of failure.

I have always been afraid of writing. Despite primarily identifying as a writer (and a musician, but that’s a whole other story) for the majority of my life so far, I have done very little writing. And for a long, long time the quantity of my writing was decreasing with every year. In university, I was “too busy”. And eventually I got out of the habit entirely.

Sirens & Muses has been revolutionary for me – it has got my writing juices flowing again for the first time in half a decade. But still, I was holding off.

You see, the thing is: I did my Masters in Library and Information Studies because I decided I did not want to be a writer.

What a thing to decide, at the age of 21. When I hadn’t even given it a go. I still held onto a vague idea that I could write in my free time, but I spent a few years trying to let go of the idea. I wanted security, supposedly. A mortgage, a husband, a dog, 2.4 kids.

But really, I just didn’t want to fail.

I was absolutely terrified that if I tried to really write – tried to really be a writer – I would fail. And then I would really and truly have to give up my life’s dream, not just because I “decided I wanted to take another path” but because I couldn’t do it.

Something clicked in my head.

One day I just thought: I’m going to write a novel. And I’m going to do it now.

National Novel Writing Month was originally going to be a means for me to get 50,000 words down of my original novel idea. But my boyfriend soon convinced me that this was a bad idea. My “actual” novel is something precious to me, and he reckoned that if I tried to write 50,000 words of it in a month I would stall, would be paralysed. He suggested that I take November as a time to experiment with my writing habits – to start with a fresh idea and not have to worry about failing at it.

At first I was dubious. I had this idea that I was bad at coming up with stories – that’s one of the reasons the short story form has never really worked for me. But when we got home that afternoon, I just took out my laptop and came up with a story idea, just like that.

It turns out I don’t think I’m so bad at it after all. I just never really tried. The thing about writing – about anything – is that you have to actually do it. Story ideas aren’t going to pop into your head that often if you don’t sit down and think about it. Your writing is never going to get better if you don’t practice. And you can’t be a goddamn writer if you won’t goddamn write.

What I hope to get out of NaNoWriMo.

I realise that building NaNoWriMo into such a big, momentous deal in my head is not particularly conducive to not freaking out about it once I start. But it’s not really about “winning” for me.

What I do hope to get out of it:

  1. Writing discipline. I’ve already gotten better at sitting down and putting metaphorical pen (fingers) to metaphorical paper (keyboard) through maintaining this blog. But it hasn’t exactly crossed over into large amounts of creative writing. Aiming for 2,300 – 2,500 words a day (mon-fri) will be the first time I’ve set myself a challenging writing goal, and it will force me to actually sit down and JUST DO IT.
  2. Writing habits. Similarly, I have yet to find out how I work as a writer. I have no idea if I’m more productive in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening; if I work best in my flat, or in the library – in a quiet environment or in the midst of hustle and bustle. I’m already starting to feel that extensive planning prior to writing might be a very good thing for me, but I won’t be able to tell until I get going.
  3. Letting go of my inner editor. This is a big one. I have come to realise that this has been the main barrier to my writing – the invisible force field slowing me down to a maximum of 500 words a day. All drafts need editing and rewriting. And ultimately I will be more productive by letting the story flow and polishing the sentences later. If I want to achieve the 50,000 words I will absolutely have to do this, and I think it will be a very valuable lesson for me.
  4. Accepting the need for rewriting. Conversely, or maybe subsequently, I have been terrible at rewriting, too. My tendency to try to force out the finished product as I go has inhibited my ability to go back over what I’ve written and pull it apart. But by allowing myself to write more freely, I automatically necessitate a major rewrite come December.
  5. A rough first draft (fingers crossed). If all goes according to plan, I will have my first draft of my (sort of) first novel. And that prospect alone is exciting enough to propel me through the month. Having previously envisaged slaving away for a full calendar year just to get the words on paper, the idea of getting such a large chunk of prose down in such a short space of time is exhilarating. Even if I don’t get the full 50,000 written, it will almost certainly be an infinitely bigger step in the right direction than I have ever taken before.

So wish me luck!

I will be keeping you updated on my journey once it begins. It all starts, funnily enough, the day after I turn 24, which is the age my parents got married. I haven’t been looking forward to 24, and I think it helped propel me to really shake up my life and get going with this properly.

For those of you who are also taking part, feel free to look me up on the NaNoWriMo website – my username is Áine Warren (aine-warren). And most of all, good luck! It’ll be an interesting month.

Over-thinking

The last couple of weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotions for me. I don’t deal well with transitions in my life, usually – and the past couple of months have been one transition after the next. Getting back together with my boyfriend after two and a half years, getting one of my molars pulled, finishing my Masters, realising how emphatically I don’t want to spend the rest of my life being a librarian, realising how much I do want to get serious about my writing, trying to decide whether or not I want to do a PhD in the next few years… the list is practically endless.

My biggest problem is not so much to do with the turmoil and readjustment that comes with change – conversely, I do relish the freshness of a new start – but with the way I over-think things. As soon as a new world of opportunity opens up for me, I start trying to plan it.

Planning is good. Planning can help to alleviate anxiety, can lead to greater productivity, and can even provide motivation and inspiration. Planning the next few weeks, or even the next few months, seems to me to be a generally positive activity. The problems start when you realise that you are trying to plan things that are going to happen in 10 years, 20 years – when you start trying to plan out the rest of your life, and think you can act now in a way that will influence these things directly.

This is my downfall. As soon as I decided I was going to give writing a real go, that I was going to actually start writing a novel, I started to worry that I wouldn’t have enough money in 10 years’ time to settle down and have a family. Not to mention all the worries I had about the 10 years running up to that – whether I should be trying to get a part-time job, how difficult it might be for me to get a job later with a big gap on my already sparse CV, how I was going to keep paying my rent if I wasn’t making any money.

Last Friday, I got turned down for yet another library job, and I decided to partake in National Novel Writing Month this year. I got up the following Monday at 9am (early for me, shame on me, I know I know) and started planning not one, but two novels – I wanted to work on something different for NaNoWriMo in order to avoid the paralysis that might ensue if I tried to work on my “actual” novel. I was excited, enthusiastic, and felt like I had a purpose in life for the first time in a long time.

But meanwhile, every night when I went to bed I started thinking about careers and mortgages and how many words I might be able to write in a day and what I could do part-time on the side of writing and…

By Wednesday I was exhausted. I went to bed early, feeling anxious, and fell asleep almost instantly for an hour – then woke up and couldn’t sleep again until after 4.

Yesterday was not pretty.

I’ve no idea why I didn’t just stay in bed for the day. I turned into a ball of misery and ended up sitting my boyfriend’s flat crying about EVERYTHING.

I knew that my thinking pattern was highly self-destructive, but it just helped to hear him say it. He looked at me and said: “No-one can plan what they’re going to be doing for the rest of their lives. Even if there’s something you really, really want to do, all you can do is try, or just do it as long as you want to or can do it. Sure, what you do now affects what happens in the future, but decisions you make and how you spend your days right now does not have a direct bearing on what you’ll be doing when you’re 40 – not in the way you think it does.”

Wise words. I really hope I’ve learned my lesson on this one. Sometimes you just need to take each day as it comes. I do have to do some thinking about whether I need to look for a part-time job, but beyond that I really should be taking this year to just try things out and see how I enjoy it. See if I can bear sitting down every day knowing I have to write a certain amount. See if I can actually do it.

So I’m taking the rest of today off. And if I have insomnia next week I’ll sleep in as late as I want to!