NaNoWriMo 2018 and a confession

It’s that time of year again: time for the yearly post-NaNoWriMo wrapup post!

First, for the thing that people want to know: I wrote a grand total of 169,047 words spread across approximately a book and a half.

This year’s NaNoWriMo was tough for me, both for writing and my non-writing life. I’m still struggling with the non-writing part, but that’s a post for another time.

The writing part was tough in part because I came up with an idea in the three days before NaNo started and had no idea where it started. The idea started as a young woman going through a bad breakup, moving to a new neighborhood, and checking out the local bar scene in the new neighborhood. What would happen from there? Maybe she would listen to people and bump in on conversations. Maybe she would play matchmaker. I had no idea. After a little bit of pre-NaNo conversation, the bar turned into a haunted bar, one that the main character would experience after being in some kind of emotional pain. Now this was something I could run with. I wound up writing a sequel after wrapping up the first one and leaving a lot of loose ends to tie up, written mostly over the course of 50k weekend (US Thanksgiving weekend) and still incomplete because I have no idea where to take it next. The premise is fantastic (in my humble opinion), so I’ll be coming back to this book.

The other thing that made NaNoWriMo challenging was my non-writing state of mind throughout the month. I had already been slowly burning out for several months before NaNo started, with little time to fully decompress before taking on some other big thing. I had been doing some form of work (including my day job and some occasional freelance work) every day for weeks at a time in the months leading up to NaNo and had a fairly active social calendar. My day job started taking a toll on my mental health during NaNo, making me really look forward to my San Francisco trip and being out of town for Thanksgiving. I had set a goal of 100k in an attempt to keep the bar low for me, knowing that this year was my ten-year streak of writing 100k or more, and I wasn’t going to let that go by without some kind of acknowledgement. So off I went into November without a chance to relax or take a break. I could feel the need for a break early in the month; in fact, reaching 50k in seven days is my second-slowest pace in all ten years of writing 100k or more. I wrote in fits and bursts through much of the months, writing 5k days followed by days of poking out a hundred words just to have a chance at the 30-day writing streak badge.

The literary adrenaline had been sputtering for the past few NaNos, and I have to admit something I’ve still barely admitted to myself: My breakneck writing style of the past few years isn’t quite for me anymore.

“Well, just slow down,” you might say. That’s much easier said than done.

The problem is, I’m terrible at moderation; my fast, on-the-go nature deserves a post of its own. I’m less competitive about writing now than in the past, but the competitive streak is still there. I always try and write to the next hundred, the next thousand, the next palindrome, the next milestone. Oh, I’m a few hundred words away from passing three people on the Faces chart? Time to write. I’m this close to a lifetime milestone? Better get rolling. I always want to see what I can achieve, even if the 50k days are far behind me. But the last few NaNos and the resulting burnout of figuring out what to write after finishing that first book, not to mention figuring out that first book in the first place, have shown that maybe excessive wordiness, at least in the form of 200k+ in a month, isn’t the way.

And that’s okay. I know it’s objectively okay; I just have to convince myself of that. As that kid who never wanted a low A in a subject in school, convincing myself of this isn’t easy, even if writing less means I can spend a little less time writing means spending more time with the wider NaNoWriMo community, something I haven’t done as much of in the last few years. That’s what my trip to San Francisco and Night of Writing Dangerously made clear, even if I was there when the wildfires in other parts of the state made the air quality in San Francisco miserable. (Seriously, I flew over the fires on my first flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles.) I got to see old friends and meet Wrimos from all over the world, including two Wrimos with the same name from opposite sides of the country, plus MLs from London and Germany. (Fun fact: the ML from Germany is one of the newbies I adopted back in 2006. Twelve years later, we finally met in person. We were roommates in the same hostel, in fact.) I also visited the NaNoWriMo office again and made a guest appearance in a virtual write-in.

The words are important, yes, but the community means more to me than writing a bunch of words and stressing myself out about it. That’s what I need to get back to… once I figure out how to get better at moderation. Any ideas?

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