NaNoWriMo Diaries: Letting Go

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Here is a current screenshot of my progress bar.

Heidi's Nanowrimo progress bar

It’s one thing for me to have spent the entire month barely above the minimalist line. It’s another thing entirely for me to fall absolutely under the bar this late and say, basically, “Eh, maybe I’ll hit it, maybe I won’t.”

It definitely grates for me to see this, because I dislike being told “here is success” and to continue to participate–or to have signed up at all–and allow myself to “fail.” I absolutely have mild OCD tendencies, especially when stressed, and this makes me bananas on many levels. The part of me that likes tidy, checked boxes is upset as well, and the part of me that wanted “a win, any win” after years of feeling dragged is really feeling like it wants a bowl of ice cream. But these are all the toddlers on my periphery, and I’ve handed out popsicles, blankets, and comforting TV shows. Because I’m the adult in the center of this conglomerate, and I know the real deal.

This fucking chart doesn’t mean shit.

I mean, it did for a while. It got me what I needed, which was my hands on a sizable chunk of stuff I could edit and at a faster rate than if I’d tried to do it my usual way, especially right now. I could still do it now, could have absolutely done it last week too. HOWEVER. Last week I felt really physically crappy, I had a holiday to host, and I had a lot of family around me. And I still have an edit I’m trying to finish.

The problem is, me “winning” NaNoWriMo gives me absolutely nothing except possibly more problems if I do it at the expense of my process. I’m at the point where I’m writing on thin air and I don’t know what if anything will stay, I can’t see what goes where, and every time I sit down I think, “What I should be doing is working on the beginning and putting this together in a way that makes sense so I can write this section properly.” I’m not saying that because I’m a perfectionist or uncertain or unable to finish a book. I’m saying that because I’ve written 35 books and this is how I do it.

I could have cancelled my family’s plans too–which I never would have done. Why? My god, I never get to do anything or go anywhere or see anyone, but Friday night I laughed myself sick playing Tiny Hands with my sister and daughter after eating shabu shabu. I also read a web novel all day. I built a tree out of Brain Flakes with my nephew on Thursday after serving a major meal with my sister. I didn’t write Thursday, Friday, or Saturday.

Yesterday I got almost one hundred pages of editing done too, and today I should be able to finish. Depending on when/if that happens and how I feel, I may write some today. But writing may be working on the intro of the book and deleting. At this point I’m crafting the novel I need to turn in, not trying to feed NaNoWriMo’s concept of how to draft a book.

I also have to be extra careful of my body. I don’t know if it was writing and editing at the same time or the weather or all three, but Tuesday I was sick. I couldn’t do anything: couldn’t work, couldn’t prep for Thanksgiving, couldn’t do anything but sit around. Wednesday was only slightly better and involved going to the chiropractor to get myself put back together like Humpty Dumpty. Even so, when I tried to peel potatoes on Thursday I managed four out of ten pounds of them. I physically couldn’t continue. The repetitive motion and the way I held the scraper hurt so much that even with KT tape and a wrap the pain shot up my arm. I could tell if I pushed through the pain it wouldn’t be long before my hand simply stopped functioning altogether.

So given all this, I look at that graph and think, “What in the world do you have to offer me, really?” A winner badge? Um, thanks? I literally have a contract for this book. I have a cover. I have the entire surgery team lined up and waiting for this. All I ever needed was the push.

Here’s the thing. There’s so much great about NaNoWriMo. The energy. The community. The goalposts and motivation. The idea of setting a target and reaching, placing yourself on the field and seeing what you’re made of. The problem with NaNoWriMo is the same as it’s always been: Almost no one writes the same way as anyone else, and for some reason all novels have to be taken into the dark and molded by one or two people as their creations under their processes under their set conditions.

What you learn during an attempt to put 50,000 words down on a story in one month is how much of that process is yours and how much of it isn’t and hopefully what actually is your way. No one can teach you your way but you. There’s no test you can take, no sorting hat to let you know. You just have to jump in and discover it yourself. Which is terrifying. I think the most dangerous conceit of NaNoWriMo is the notion that if you put down 50,000 words you get the novel you need. The truth is all you get is the winner badge.

If that’s what you want, then cool. If you’re trying to figure out who you are or get the right book for you, then you need to let it happen how it happens. I’m sitting here with five days out thinking I’m 80% likely to not “win”. I dislike the idea of being told by some stupid system I didn’t win, but I’m certainly not going to harm myself to get the word count. I’m not going to make my edit later than it is or ruin my arm or miss time with my daughter, or make more work for myself in December because I thought I should screw around fucking with fifteen thousand more words of garbage when I could begin fixing what I know I need to fix so I can get the story I need as I need it.

I dislike rule books and how to’s when it comes to writing, and even craft books I can only take so long before I put them down and hack my own way into my work. My path is my own path, my way is my way. I learn it by exploring and doing and wrestling it, and it works for me.

So if you’re struggling with your word count, if you’re feeling bad, don’t. Or if you need to, I guess you can, but know that I’m formally turning my back on the chart and going back to October’s path. I’ll still update this thing if I make progress, and if I get to fifty thousand by November 30, well, what a bonus.

What I will have is a finished draft by the end of the year and a published book by midsummer, one I suspect will be translated into at least two languages, possibly three, will be in audio simultaneously, and who knows what other fun things.

Pretty sure I can live without a winner badge.

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