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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?

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The NaNoWriMo countdown is on

The end of July’s Camp NaNoWriMo means that the main November NaNoWriMo event is mere days away. Sure, it’s not October yet, but the countdown is already down to the double digits, which is exciting in itself. This time of year also means my mind goes directly to NaNoWriMo–well, even more than usual. There’s so much to be done before November arrives, and no matter how well I plan, not all of those things get done. Heck, not all of those things get done after NaNo is over.

There are Wikiwrimo updates to be done and Is It NaNo Yet? code to be fixed and meals to be cooked and books to read and runs to go on and shenanigans to get into and NaNo flyers to acquire and hang and on and on and on… Oh, and the weather is starting to cool down, which means festival season is upon us, not to mention training for that half marathon I’m running in December. Let’s say that training during NaNo will be interesting, with three of the four weekends already booked for out-of-town events.

And then there are the repeated tasks that I can’t do in August and then declare done through November: making sure my house isn’t more of a mess than usual, for instance. Timing my laundry for minimal actual laundry-doing in November.

I’m already planning easily freezable meals for November, taking into account that I won’t actually be at home for nearly half the month. This also means I need to acquire more plastic storage containers soon; living with people means that my current collection, which I used most of last November, won’t cut it for freezing all these NaNo meals.

While “I sold my soul to NaNo” mode won’t come into full swing until Wikiwrimo becomes a part-time job in September, NaNo planning mode is already gearing up for everything except my novel (or novels, as it seems to be these days). With a goal of reaching 2 million lifetime NaNo November words, I’ve got a lot to write–about 250k words, to be exact, which makes up half my 2016 writing goal. So no pressure, self. None at all. (Fortunately, I’m on track for my overall 2016 goal once my very wordy November is taken into account.)

I haven’t figured out when or where to host my usual intown write-in for NaNo yet. This year will be particularly challenging due to all the travel in November, but I’ll figure out something, even if it means doing regular client work while hosting a write-in.

So… is it November yet? What about now?

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NaNoWriMo 2015 Wrapup

Hello, December. Missed me?

Let’s get the thing most of you want to know out of the way: my total NaNoWriMo 2015 word count was 302,203 words. This is a personal record that I won’t be topping anytime soon.

And I don’t want to top that record anytime soon, either. Writing that much in a month is HARD. I worked full-time this November, and my only days off were weekends, Thanksgiving, and Black Friday. This meant that I was barely on track for a lot of the month and played epic catchup on the weekends and over Thanksgiving. Even my other 300k year, when I didn’t have a job, sitting down to write that much every day was a challenge. Completing 300k with a job meant almost giving up the NaNo forums entirely and completely giving up reading and non-novel writing (hence why this blog went so neglected during the one month of the year when people are actually paying attention to me). I set a minimum of 5k per work night and devoted the weekends to writing as much as possible. This isn’t sustainable throughout the rest of the year, but that’s okay–the creative freedom and inspiration NaNo provides more than makes up for whatever I’m cutting out (including lots of silly phone games, let’s be honest here).

To add to the challenge, I had trouble coming up with a plot for NaNoWriMo. You may remember my confession back in October about not having any ideas for NaNo. I wound up writing three novels, so I bet you’re wondering: what happened?

My first novel was about a 20-something who feels like she’s wasting her life, so she moves to a new city and gets into shenanigans. This is eerily similar to the huge NaNoWriMo 2010 novel that put me over 300k the first time.

My second novel starred a high school high achiever whose life goes to hell during junior year: her best friend moved across the country, her dad is never home, she doesn’t have any other friends… and then what? This premise started out a lot like my very first NaNoWriMo novel, but I like this version a lot better. In fact, that I’m thinking of editing this novel. Not bad for a novel I started at a write-in and came up with on the way to that write-in.

I started writing the third novel on a road trip back home. It was supposed to be a third draft of 2009’s pumpkin novel. That lasted all of a thousand words. The rest of the novel told the hippie art teacher’s story and doesn’t really have a plot; it just bumbled through this person’s life as things happened.

Even though I don’t plan on touching the first and third novels again, they served as learning experiences: while I’m a pantser, I need more than a super-vague premise to succeed at writing a story. This goes back to my fear that I am in fact out of ideas, despite doing so much to gather ideas and inspiration.

Two more things of note:

I wrote at least 2,000 words every single day in November. I am damn proud of this. This is the first NaNoWriMo that I recall writing every single day in the month, and I plan to continue writing my many other things–this blog, more personal essays, a paper journal, editing my fiction… Stay tuned for another post on this topic.

And second, I’ve written 300,000 words for two of my 14 NaNoWriMos. I didn’t complete a single 50k day during either of those years, and I think this contributed to my consistency throughout the month. The 50k days burned me out for about a week after each one. Even though I hated everything at the beginning of the second day, I still managed to crank out nearly 5,000 words that evening after work. Consistency is much more valuable than pure volume, something I’m keeping in mind in December.

How was your NaNoWriMo? Did you reach your goal?

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Is it NaNo yet? No? What about now?

Well, is it NaNoWriMo yet? Here’s an answer.

It started with a tweet, as many ideas do.

I’m not sure what prompted me to look for Is It Christmas? besides a train of thought possibly resembling this.

“Hey, Camp NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow.”
“Wouldn’t a countdown site be neat?”
“Hey, what about that Is It Christmas site? Except Is It NaNo Yet?”
*googles*
“Forkable code! Victory!”

With the open source code in hand, I got to work modifying the Is It Christmas code, building it at home and at a programming group (and a little at work… shh). The main challenge was creating a countdown timer so visitors could see how far away NaNoWriMo was (or how long until NaNoWriMo ended). I registered IsItNaNoYet.com and threw the code up on Github with its project pages feature. And thus, Is It NaNo Yet was born, and you can find out just how far NaNoWriMo is.

So… Is it November yet? What about now?

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NaNoWriMo 2014 so far

I never seem to blog in November, do I? Funny how that works; I know a ton of folks who do manage to blog during NaNoWriMo, and some do it much more often than others.

Let’s get out of the way what a bunch of you are probably wondering: I’m at 145,400 words right now. Cool? Cool.

This year’s NaNo has been much different than any of my past years. This year is my (lucky?) 13th of participating in NaNoWriMo. Every year has presented its challenges to overcome and its achievements to unlock. This year was no exception. I got NaNo 2014 off to a fun start with making the executive decision not to start the month off with a 50k day and in fact wrote “only” 12.5k on the first day and 25k on the first weekend. This resulted in only good things, actually. In the years of a 50k day, I would find myself too exhausted to write any substantial amount for a week afterward. This year, I kept up the pace of over 10k a day for over a week, reaching 50k on day four and 100k on day eight. Coincidentally, day eight was NaNoWriMo’s Double Up Donation Day, and since doubling my donations and total word count were out of the question, I doubled my daily quota up to that point to reach 100k total.

And then I hit the wall.

Remember when I said this year brought its own challenges? Well, one of those challenges is that I wasn’t writing any new novels from scratch of my own creation this year. My first novel (finished at 70k on day six) was the plot chosen by my top Night of Writing Dangerously donor. But this year I decided to do something different. I had no idea what to write after finishing that novel, but doing a rewrite of my alternate worlds novel was lingering in the back of my mind. This is exactly what happened.

You know what? I loved rewriting that novel. Sure, it fell apart at the end because I had to start thinking about the plot and the science in science fiction, but overall I loved writing it. More importantly, I have a draft to work with that’s much less confusing to follow than my first draft, which was exactly what i wanted out of the rewrite.

But then the crash happened. Even though I loved writing the story, the pressure was on to make it, well, less sucky. This led to me writing a little more slowly and agonizing over every word… even if I know full well that word choice agony is at least a third draft problem. It also led to me trying to make the right plot choices the first time, even though there would be many many drafts where many of the plot points would change.

Who cares? I eventually had to tell myself. Just write The End and worry about it later. And that’s what I wound up doing.

Meanwhile I still needed an idea for what to write after the rewrite was over. Some plots need too much reworking on a short timeframe, others didn’t capture my interest at all right now… the list went on and on. Finally I settled on my 2006 Nano novel, a good premise that didn’t work so well now that the Internet is part of everyone’s lives. Come on, we have computers in our pockets! Surely my main character would have just Googled the person she was looking for.

So I started that novel, even winning a word sprint at the Night of Writing Dangerously while working on that novel. And then, after poking at my novel for days while writing a few sentences at a time, I realized something.

This story was boring. Sure, there are lots of things I could make happen in that story, but I just couldn’t bring myself to care enough about the characters or the plot to do so. In fact, the majority of the plot from the first draft had already happened.

It wasn’t just boredom with the story either. Everything else in my life, things I had ignored in November, suddenly looked so much more appealing. My big stack of books to read. My suspended library holds, which end December first and mean more books. My adventures in code and making things and maybe playing with the NaNoWriMo API. (There’s a write API this year. Exciting!) Writing in here. Writing in my paper journal. Wikiwrimo. Not to mention the pressures of real life pushing down on me and needing to be taken care of in the near future.

Part of me still feels bad, though. Even though I’ve already verified and won, actively quitting a story feels like quitting Nano. This is a different feeling than getting nowhere near finished with a story but still writing to the end, like I did last year. This year feels like I’m quitting, despite winning. I’m not sure how to feel about this. I know what I’m capable of and know that my main 200k goal for this year is still possible, but I want to do everything but work on that story.

“Why don’t you work on something new?” you might ask. That’s the problem. I have plenty of very vague ideas that could spark story ideas, along with at least two more Nano novels I’d like to finish or rewrite. But I have no idea what to do with them, what needs to happen… suddenly I find myself wanting a plan instead of taking a vague idea and running with it. Am I becoming a planner? Dare I say it… maybe. I need a month to flesh out some of those ideas before next November. Maybe that’ll be a camp project. That could be fun.

But for now? I’m going to attempt to resume my other life activities and use all this newly learned info to not burn out next year.

P.S. And for those wondering how the Night of Writing Dangerously went… it was amazing. There will be a post for that. And now that I’ve said as much, it’s going to happen.

P.P.S. This post is longer than what I’ve written in the novel today.