NaNoWriMo 2020: An Adventure in Virtual Globetrotting

Another 30 days of March pretending otherwise, another NaNoWriMo. This year was my nineteenth, and while I didn’t shatter any records, it was as good a NaNo as 2020 would allow. I wrote the third draft of the Anxiety Girl novel, which was a last minute decision (almost literally, I decided to do this around noon on Halloween, leaving almost no time to prepare). Sure, half the book is out of order and it’s unrecognizable compared to the first draft, but I solved several of the major plot holes hanging in the first two versions. To address what people come here to find out: I wrote 154,594 words and reached 50k on the 11th.

For 2020, that looks something like this:

sushimustwrite's NaNoWriMo 2020 word count chart, both overall and per day. The dip during the US election and soaring during the London lock-in are labeled.

All in all, a good year for words despite having no idea what I was doing, but nothing record-breaking. I’m fine with that.

Every NaNo is a different experience and 2020 is no exception with its unique way of making everything weird. This pandemic has already taken away opportunities to see friends, travel, and continue working at a job I enjoyed, and now it was taking away chances to meet other Wrimos too.

Or was it…

When I heard in August that all of NaNoWriMo’s official events would be virtual this year, I mourned yet another thing that the pandemic had taken away but knew it was the right decision. As the weeks passed and NaNo prep kicked into full gear, I turned this over in my head.

It started as a half-joke but as the weeks passed by, I realized that because all NaNo events were virtual, geography couldn’t stop me from attending write-ins anywhere, making a global tour of NaNo regions possible.

Early October turned to mid-October and I started browsing regions where I had friends or regions that would simply to be cool to visit. I had two hard-and-fast rules. First, no regions I’ve already visited in person. The point is to visit new regions, after all. This eliminated about ten regions. Second, no regions where English isn’t a primary language spoken in the region’s NaNo community. The second rule is why I never visited Central America, South America, or continental Europe outside of a global Discord crawl mid-month. I put a lot of thought into the second rule and decided that visiting all the continents would be cool, but not at the expense of making local communities bend to a possibly unannounced visitor’s will.

It was a blast.

NaNoWriMo 2020 saw me visiting 84 new regions across 42 states and the District of Columbia, plus 13 countries outside of the United States. I attended Melbourne’s Cup Day write-in, London’s all-nighter (which lasted only until 2 AM for me thanks to the magic of time zones), and a NaNo trivia event in New York City that wasn’t all about NaNo but did reveal how little everyone knows about lakes. (Lake Victoria is the second-largest freshwater lake, not the largest.) I wore silly hats in El Paso, listened to island-themed music in Naperville (western Chicago suburbs if you didn’t know), won a duck sticker in Seattle, and discovered the cheese mystery in Glasgow. I rolled out of bed early to visit Yorkshire and Edinburgh and Northwest Ireland and South Africa. I kicked word count butt in Boston, Salt Lake County, and Las Vegas, but definitely not everywhere else. I sneaked into friends’ write-ins and waited for them to notice.

I intentionally sought out big and small regions alike because NaNoWriMo doesn’t exist solely in these large mega-regions. NaNoWriMo connects Wrimos in small towns and in regions consisting of entire states and countries, in communities where Wrimos feel like they’re the only creative person in town. In fact, finding some of these smaller regions became my mission during the last week of November when I plotted out my states visited on a map and realized that with some scheduling Tetris and luck in existing events, visiting forty states could happen.

And it did.

In fact, the medium and small regions were just as fun and engaging. Tallahassee encouraged me to get that shiny Lugia after a sprint. (It was not shiny, but I did eventually get one.) We discovered that it really is a small NaNo world in Nashville. Billings challenged us all with word sticks, Box of Doom style. Mississippi had a grand old time in an old school chat room. As the last week arrived, we celebrated winners crossing the finish line, Wrimos coming back from behind, and writing The End.

This virtual world tour provided something else I didn’t expect: something to look forward to when the world is determined to rob us of joy. As my calendar filled up with write-ins from around the world, I got excited about going to Spokane, Washington; Melbourne, Australia; and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan — all in the same week. This never would have happened if we could travel safely or attend in-person writeins. Every write-in added to the calendar was a concrete event to look forward to with real people, often on voice or camera. I never would have crossed paths with many of you otherwise, and my life is better for it. All of them — all of you — make NaNoWriMo what it is.

Thank you MLs, Wrimos, and NaNoWriMo staff for making this NaNoWriMo a light in the darkness that was so desperately needed last month.

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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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NaNoWriMo 2017: Fin

Well, here we are again, another NaNoWriMo wrapped up. This year was my sweet sixteenth NaNo, and while I broke very few personal records this year, it was still the best NaNo so far.

First, the part people actually want to know: I finished November with 222,222 words and two completed novels, once again making up over 1% of my huge region’s total word count. I reached 50k on the fourth, my halfway point on the 16th, and the final 222,222 around 10:30 on the 30th. This makes 2017 my 5th-wordied NaNoWriMo to date. Considering my original goal was “eh, six digits”, I am happy with this result.

The first novel tells the tale of a roomba that lives in an office building and the adventures it gets into. The idea started out as a joke. I couldn’t think of any other plots by the last week of October so I started joking that my NaNo novel could always be about the roomba at my day job, which has a habit of getting caught on things. Fast forward to my region’s kickoff party. I scribbled that idea down for an activity, where we give ideas and prompts to others based on their plots. I got some really good ideas out of this and wound up using several of them in the story. I finished this book at 50,021 words written over the course of the first four days with no Week Two crash. Seriously, it was smooth sailing through almost the entire book, and I haven’t felt that while writing a book in awhile.

The weird part: people actually want to read this. It looks like I need to figure out a proper plot for this tale before rewriting it. Unless, of course, I want to write roomba litfic. Actually, that sounds like a great idea.

The second novel is much less exciting. It started as some kind of romance with some self-discovery involved, and then Mysterious Hot Guy and a bar that took people to parallel worlds happened. I spent a lot of that book figuring out what the plot of that book would be, and even when writing The End, I still wasn’t sure. With a last sentence of “We leaned into the wall and stumbled into a whole new world”, there’s a sequel ready to be written. Or at least a more polished version of the mystery bar and parallel worlds.

This year felt much less overwhelming than the last couple of years, even though I was working full-time job in an actual office and traveling for three of the four weekends. I attribute at least part of that to enjoying my stories more; I’ve found that even when the hard days are a slog, writing an interesting story made that slog I was also kinder to myself when it came to taking a night semi-off; I took breaks more often and didn’t beat myself up quite as much for not being able to write at top speed all the time. This is a lesson I hope to carry into future years.

I mentioned in last year’s NaNoWriMo summary post that my approach to writing had started to shift over the last few years, where lack of some semblance of an idea stressed me out even more. This year was different. I didn’t plan more (besides the 250ish words of jotting down roomba ideas), but I found myself stressing less, even when the writing was objectively terrible. I also found myself writing more slowly than the speeds often associated with me (though I can still bust out the words when needed). I’m not sure what caused the shift this year (writing less than those past two years, perhaps?), but I’m grateful for it.

Some NaNoWriMo 2017 highlights, in no particular order:

  • Tweeting from the official @NaNoWriMo Twitter. Yes, this happened. The NaNo staff gave me control of the official Twitter for an hour (noon EDT) on the Double Up Donation Day, and I had a blast with it.
  • All my time on the @NaNoWordSprints Twitter, even though I didn’t have as much time for that as I would have liked.
  • NaNoGiving in the same cabin with most of the same friends but a couple of new ones too.
  • Making the annual pilgrimage to the NaNoWriMo office on Friday and rolling up every single NOWD poster.
  • Meeting so many amazing Wrimos in person, meeting Wrimos I had known on Twitter or the forums for nearly a decade, and reconnecting with old friends (including a Wrimo who was in my region for her college years before moving away) over the course of the Night of Writing Dangerously weekend.
  • I got a sushi hat! No really, the SF Peninsula ML knitted me a hat shaped like a sushi roll and it is amazing.
  • I won a word sprint at Night of Writing Dangerously (2007 words in 15 minutes, a personal record, though I did not backspace at all), specifically the sprint that Chris Baty ran. Overall, I wrote 6334 words at NOWD, which is definitely not my least productive NOWD. (That honor would go to last year.)

Not a bad month, I’d say. So now we ask the real question. Is it NaNoWriMo now? What about now?

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NaNoWriMo 2016: In Summary

NaNoWriMo 2016 has come to a close, leaving me with feelings of simultaneous relief and scrambling to find something to do with all this time. You would think I’d be better prepared for this after fifteen NaNos, but no, I’m still figuring out post-NaNo life too.

First, the thing you probably want to know: I wrote 250,025 words in two novels and made up over 1% of my huge region’s total word count. 250,000 words was my easy-to-remember goal for 2016 NaNoWriMo; this aided me in passing 500,000 words overall in 2016 as well as passing 2 million lifetime words across fifteen November NaNoWriMos. I reached my halfway point on day 19, then fell behind and needed to write 100,000 words in the last six days to finish. I hadn’t written 100k in six days since 2010, and for good reason–it may be even harder than completing a 50k day.

(Fun fact: The first million words took ten NaNos. The second million took five. No, I will not be doing the next million in three.)

NaNoWriMo teaches me something different every year. This year, that lesson is: You can do anything, but you can’t do everything. I did a lot this November. This year and last year in particular have tested my ability to keep going throughout the month, much like 2011, when I also ML’d on top of doing many of the things that happened this year (and with a similar word count to boot).

I spent a lot of time traveling in November. NaNoGiving was the second weekend of November, with a bunch of Wrimos (mostly overachievers) in a cabin in the woods, making food, playing games, exploring the farm, and occasionally writing. I got home on Sunday night, then spent Monday and Tuesday working before leaving for San Francisco on Wednesday morning, where I attended NaNoWriMo’s Night of Writing Dangerously.

While this year’s Night of Writing Dangerously was my least productive one to date, with less than three thousand words written, it (along with the overall trip to San Francisco) was my most fun one. I met so many Wrimos, including several I’ve known online for years (and two longtime fellow Wrimos from England and Japan!). I won a word sprint and drank some Cosmonoveltons. I visited NaNo’s office again and packed their tote bags for NOWD and met even more Wrimos and explored San Francisco and ran nearly 12 miles up and down the hills and didn’t die. And then I went home on Monday, worked on Tuesday, and set out again on Wednesday to see family for Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately, all this travel and my mood due to unrelated things in November put a damper in my time leading the @NaNoWordSprints Twitter. I have a hard time leading sprints and multitasking as it is; combining these with my apparently inability to concentrate on writing meant the sprints I led usually consisted of goofing around on Twitter or the forums instead of writing. Since time was at a premium this month, this led to me leading fewer sprints, which made me feel guilty because sometimes I’d see an open spot for sprinting but really need a break from well, everything.

I also found it harder to concentrate on my writing. In the past, I’ve been able to concentrate for lots of word wars and sprints, netting at least a thousand words in fifteen minutes, maybe even ten minutes if I ignore all typos the entire time. This year, this rarely happens unless I leave the house specifically to write. I used to be less productive at write-ins than I would be at home, but this has changed over the last year or two, with write-ins (and generally leaving the house to write) providing with more consistent bursts of writing. This may be related to my shift in how I’ve approached writing over the past few NaNos.

In my earlier years, I would come up with an idea before NaNo, scratch down a little bit of character or plot development, then hit the page writing. This changed over the past two NaNos, when my ideas came at the last minute when panic started to set in, and I couldn’t motivate myself to figure out anything more about the plot or character besides “eh, I don’t know, this character does stuff”. While it worked for one of my novels last year and this year, both drafts of the same novel, it didn’t work so well with the other novels I wrote in 2015 and 2016. Because of having only the vaguest idea of what was happening, I found myself stressing out more, not less. And not having at least some idea of what’s happening makes sprinting more difficult. Maybe I’ll become a planner after all.

Despite (or maybe because of) everything happening this November, NaNoWriMo was still my best one yet, and I’m already counting down the days until Camp NaNo and NaNoWriMo 2017.

How was your NaNoWriMo 2016? Did you reach your goal? Come to an epiphany about your writing? Have a straight-up blast writing?

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Nanowrimo and social anxiety

As I’ve discussed in many past posts, I’m a pretty anxious person about things that don’t really matter at all, but oddly chill about big issues that affect not only me but society at large. This anxiety leaks into my social life in ways both big and small.

While a lot of my social life revolves around NaNoWriMo, it wasn’t always that way. I grew up as a socially awkward kid who was known at school for being smart but never popular, and didn’t have see too many friends outside of the confines of the school day. Outside of informal get-togethers with the friends I had roped into doing NaNo, I didn’t go to a single NaNoWriMo event until going to college in a large city–to be specific, a large city that I had chosen specifically because of its active NaNo region and the existence of a creative writing major that I would never end up pursuing. (Priorities, you know.)

I started attending write-ins and events in college, often at the coffee shop down the street from my alma mater. That was over ten years ago, and the only other students at those write-ins were other people I dragged along. Even though most of the attendees were adults, we still got along well, and many of us are still in touch to this day.

After finishing college, I stayed in the area, with one year moving back in with my parents. Unemployment and graduating in the worst of that great recession are the pits, yo. Eventually I moved back to this NaNo region, and it’s the same region I’m part of now (and even MLed for a year). That’s where my social life and NaNoWriMo started becoming more and more synonymous. More and more of us started hanging out in the then-new regional chat room, and a few of us stayed in the chat room after NaNo ended. This led to get-togethers outside of November, many of them having more to do with food and games than writing. Over time, the people attending many of these events (a lot of them at my house) grew closer, which became evident during events.

Just as with the NaNo forums, I was fortunate to be there when the group was young and not yet as established as it is now. This put me in a position to contribute to the underlying culture of this community and help build the group into a community I wanted myself and others to be welcome in. Did I succeed? I’m still not sure.

***

One of my major sources of anxiety is trying to fit into an established social group. The group can be for anything–board games, events, writers, even approaching a person(s) at an event and saying hi. If everyone else already knows each other and I’m the one new person, I find myself worrying about fitting in and saying something dumb and not sitting there sounding dumb when everyone else is talking and trying to befriend some of the people in the existing group and making myself appear as positive and wonderful as I see myself on my best days.

Surely I’m not the only person who feels this way at events that often include established social groups. Things like NaNo, for instance. Reaching out is hard, whether you’re the new person or an established member who has trouble reaching out to others. Even more fun, it’s not immediately obvious which people are feeling awkward or anxious when they’re the new person in a group, or who needs that extra nudge to feel welcome.

As one of those people who is bad at reaching out to new folks while also struggling with approaching the existing people, making new people feel welcome at events is hard. There’s a certain comfort zone associated with staying close to existing known people, yet events like NaNo attract lots of new people every year. Which is great! But it’s also easy to stay with those known people at the expense of introducing yourself to new people. Or if you’re the new person, it’s easy to stay off to the side by yourself and think everyone hates you when really, many of us are a bunch of awkward nerds who did the same thing in the past. And once you feel unwelcome at an event, it’s easy to think this is how everyone acts all the time and therefore never return. I’ve seen several people at NaNo events only once, and despite my trying to reach out to them (an effort in itself), they’ve never come back–at least to events I attend.

These exact circumstances that make large events like kickoff and TGIO super-awkward for awkward people are the same circumstances that make write-ins an ideal social situation, at least in my experience. At write-ins, it’s perfectly okay and even encouraged to ignore everyone while tapping away on your project. You can even go off to a corner by yourself and write if everyone else around you is talking. In fact, if you do so, you’ll probably be viewed as one of the more productive people there. All this social anxiety is one of the reasons I’m no longer an ML. Having to be socially “on” all the time during a write-in was too exhausting when all I wanted to do was ignore everyone and write. Hosting write-ins as a regular participant and not an ML means that I can still look around for people who look lost, but there’s no pressure to be the one in charge, making it perfectly fine to lose myself in the words.

So here’s a question: how do we make NaNoWriMo communities even more welcoming to those who aren’t super willing to jump into an established social group when some of us have the same quirks? From local in-person events to the forums (including the private ML forums), jumping in can be intimidating while existing members suck at reaching out. What can we do to make sure everyone who wants to play a part in the thriving NaNo community can do so?

This is something I’ve been struggling with for years. I don’t have any good answers to this question in part because I’m a tragic noob when it comes to social situations. What about you?