Confession: I’m kind of scared for NaNoWriMo this year

I’ve wanted to be a writer since age eleven. At the time, the term “writer” was synomymous with “novelist”, because even though I was a fairly intelligent kid, it never occurred to me that a writer could write things besides novels. You know, even though journalists and technical writers and writers of many other stripes existed even pre-Internet.

About a year later, I realized that the only thing I was doing to become a writer was writing down my observations (and okay, my “I heart [some boy]” scribblings) in my paper journals. This needed to be corrected, so I started writing a novel. It was about a seventh grade girl (autobiographical much?) who wanted nothing more than to stay in the same school for one full school year (not so autobiographical–the closest I came to moving as a kid was changing bedrooms) but couldn’t because her dad was out of prison and she and her mother were on the run (definitely not autobiographical, but Adult Me says “Seriously, Past Self?”). Out of excitement for my idea, I chose a blue notebook for this story, scribbled my title in progress on the front cover, and got started.

That novel never got past three chapters, but it taught me one big thing: writing a novel is HARD.

A few years later I discovered, joined, and eventually won NaNoWriMo. After all, writing a novel was what real writers did, and how could I be a writer if I couldn’t write a book? NaNoWriMo helped me write that book, along with many more stories over the years. I’ve done NaNo in high school, college, and as an adult, while unemployed and working a full-time job, while MLing or leading @nanowordsprints or wasting way too much time on the NaNo forums or any combination of the above. I’ve done NaNo with a fully formed idea months in advance, a vague concept that popped up the week before, and even a few ideas that someone else chose thanks to my Night of Writing Dangerously fundraising.

Now NaNoWriMo is less than three weeks away, and I’ve got nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not even a glimmer of an idea, some inspirational spark that turns into a fully fledged idea (or at least something I can make up as I go along).

You know what? This scares the crap out of me.

I’ve gone into November with nothing before. Multiple Novembers, in fact. I remember worrying about my lack of ideas back in 2009, only to get hit by what eventually became the pumpkin novel I’m still trying to figure out. And when I finished that novel midmonth, several people suggested writing a book about someone doing NaNo, which turned into Wrimonia… and started my adventures in writing multiple novels in a month.

Last year I wrote three novels, one for my top Night of Writing Dangerously donor, and two rewrites. That’s not entirely accurate. It was more like one full rewrite and another half-rewrite that I got tired of by the end of the month. This all but eliminates the idea of doing a rewrite this year because working on zero new ideas of my own creation last NaNo was hard. Really hard. I don’t know how all you rewriters for NaNo do it (though I suspect the answer is lots of planning and editing the first draft beforehand).

But this year? I have absolutely nothing. And nothing has really jogged the inspiration engine lately.

“You’re a pantser and you win every year, so what’s the big deal?” you might ask.

Plenty, and not all of it having to do with my ability to find a plot. Ideas are everywhere, ready to be grabbed and written. I haven’t had any good fiction ideas at all since 2013, even in what’s considered the NaNoWriMo off-season. What if I’m out of good ideas? What if I can’t come up with anything by November first? What if this means I’m not excited about writing anymore?

As a worrier, my lack of ideas affects me more than it should. What if I don’t come up with anything? I’ll probably come up with a vague character or concept and run from there, no matter how terrible the concept is. What if I’m flat out of ideas? What if I’m flat out of ideas because I just don’t like writing anymore?

That last one seems silly–after all, I’m sitting in a crowded coffee shop writing this post instead of browsing the NaNo forums or playing silly phone games. I can’t help but let that thought cross my mind occasionally, though. Like right now.

So much of my identity is wrapped up in writing and reading. Almost every online username I’ve ever come up with involves writing or sushi (or both!) in some way. So what happens if I don’t come up with anything? What if I’m not a writer like I’ve been fooling myself into thinking for half my life?

8 replies on “Confession: I’m kind of scared for NaNoWriMo this year”

Is it possible that you’re just in a writing rut? Sometimes I feel like the writing well has run dry too, and usually I just need to do something new, find some new way to approach life to get the gears in my head turning again.

I haven’t had any new ideas in a while either, but I’ve still got a ton of half finished projects to complete. I might end up with the same problem as you in a year or two, though.

I definitely suspect a writing rut, at least when it comes to fiction. Maybe that’s why I’ve been concentrating on fiction lately (and why this blog is actually getting updated semiregularly).

I agree on trying something new, though. I haven’t done too much of that lately. Something will come!

I experienced something similar once, years ago, and I did the single best thing that I have ever done for my writing: I gave it up completely.

For about a year.

I guess, for me, I had to see what life was like without it before I could decide that I really did enjoy the process enough to stick with it long-term. So I gave myself permission to just NOT write, to think of myself as something OTHER than a writer, for as long as it took. If I went back to it later, fantastic, at least I’d know that I really wanted to do it; and if I never got back to it, well… okay.

That last part was key for me: it had to be OKAY if I never went back to it, because otherwise I would never be able to fully detach from writing. And you know what? I had a fantastic year. I pursued a lot of other interests, without the weight of all of that guilt that I’d been carrying around every time I wasn’t writing.

Ironically, it was NaNoWriMo that got me back into it–November was approaching, and the idea of NOT participating just made me so sad that I realized I wanted to get back into the whole process. But at least I knew that I was MISSING it, rather than just going through the motions because it was what I had always done. So I wrote a novel, and I had so much fun with it that I cheerfully reclaimed the title of “writer”, and haven’t had to set it down again since.

I’m not saying this would necessarily work for you, too–blah blah, your mileage may vary, etc.–although sometimes taking a step back from things is good and healthy. I just thought I would share. I understand the feelings you’re going through, in terms of self-identity and what if I DON’T really want to do this thing that I thought I always wanted to do? That was a big, messy thing for me to work through that year, and even though it was a great time, I still had a lot of strange emotional issues to address. So… yeah. It’s complicated. Hang in there!

I agree with the idea that I’m burned out. Most of what I’ve written this year is nonfiction (blog posts) and paper journal entries, practically no fiction. So in a way this year was a break from writing. I started running, dabbled in a little more code, got Wikiwrimo in better shape.

The giving yourself permission thing is key, and it’s something I’m really bad at. I’m trying, though! And thanks–this helped a lot.

It’s not just you. NaNoWriMo is hard for me this year. Yes, we’re only in Day 2, but this year, it’s hard. I love my idea, but I’m thisclose to throwing it out the window in favor of something easier, something sillier, something I can create by the seat of my pants.

…I’m still thinking about it.

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