I finished up the first draft of Blood of the True Believer last night. Go me! It only took me two days to finish the story that burned me out during NaNoWriMo this past fall. I checked the date on saved drafts, and my last save was the last night of NaNo.
I don’t regret the experience of doing NaNo at all. I’ve always wanted to do it, if for no other reason than to say I did. More than that, I wanted to challenge myself to write consistently and on a deadline. I proved to myself that I can do it, but along this journey of writerly self-discovery I proved a few other things to myself, which I think are just as, if not more, important.
The fun party punch comprised of my brain chemicals that include my Bipolar and OCD have always been a challenge to me, creatively. I’ve had to fight, every step of the way in my still fledgling career, to overcome my natural tendencies. Not just for my own mental health, which is paramount if I am going to continue this path of life, but also for the sake of my creative work. Before my diagnosis I was only able to create in hyper-focused states of consciousness. Writing (or drawing, or painting, or baking, etc.) to the exclusion of all else. It was a very damaging time for both me personally and my family. At the risk of being an un-fun cliché, my diagnosis actually saved my marriage. Inside of all of that was my need to make everything perfect right away, because if it contained any flaws then I wasn’t any good at what I was doing. Many of us (should) know that a first draft should be forward progress only.
I worried for a long time that suppressing these urges through medication and therapy would mean the end of my ability to create. How does anyone produce anything when they have to stop for such trivialities as eating and peeing? Don’t we know that sleeping wastes so much productivity time? Like anything else you retrain yourself to do, it took discipline to get there.
We know that I don’t believe that you must write every day in order to be a writer. That sort of attitude is counterproductive to the process itself, and it’s important for us to let our hearts grow fonder through absence. That’s in no way implying that you shouldn’t find ways to become disciplined in your routines. You have to write regularly, factoring in time for things like brainstorming and editing, and taking brain breaks to let the project stew in the party punch, too. The important part is routine. Set it. Stick to it. Give yourself a break when you can’t, but get back to it ASAP!
NaNo seemed the perfect way to do this, right?
For some I believe it is. It gets people’s butts in chairs in front of screens and gets them committed to their novel. Instead of dreaming of writing that book we’ve always wanted, we actually do it, with a buddy system!
For me it became a little self-destructive. Fortunately through the power of proper treatment of mental health, I was able to detect the spiral before there was no returning. Both NaNo’s website and Scrivener allow you to see how many words you need to type per day to reach a goal. Which is exciting! NaNo uses a graph, and Scrivener a little colour-changing slider to show your progress. I work great with a visual aid carrot! But the number, like it does in so many other aspects of my life, bit me in my own ass. I started beating myself up on days I couldn’t hit my target count, and panicking when I would see the number explode into sums that were far too high to achieve in a single day. I couldn’t let myself do anything else until I was back on track to hit the deadline. Fifty-thousand words is a brutal writing pace. It doesn’t seem like it at first, but around the two week mark, you feel the burn.
I was making myself miserable, and a little crazy. This was not sustainable writing. I finished NaNo (just barely under the count because I was on the verge of a meltdown), and couldn’t even LOOK at my novel until two days ago.
I wouldn’t trade my experience with NaNoWriMo. Many people want to write books, very few people actually do it. I think NaNo propels a lot of aspiring writers into the latter category. Even if you never clean up or publish that book, you wrote it. That is no small thing! The bones of the story are on the page, waiting for you if you choose to come back. I can write on a deadline. I can follow a consistent schedule (life allowing). I’ve matured as a writer, and now I know I have the chops to stay serious about this career choice (I still need thicker skin for the submission process, but I digress).
In the end, it’s not worth my mental health, and it’s probably not worth yours. Also, my writing flourishes much more when I pace myself. I avoid burnouts and dry periods more easily. But I am so glad I did it. I really encourage others to give it a try. The camaraderie is uplifting, and the sense of accomplishment, no matter how many words you wrote, is so encouraging.
Anyhoo. My second novel is drafted, and the first one has been submitted for consideration to a publisher. I’m going to take that well-deserved break from the draft, and come back to revision later. There’s no rush. I may even outline the third! But that’s another entry, another journey, for another day.