My Work, Writing

NaNoWriMo Diary 2016: Week 1

That’s it, we are exactly one week into National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). How has your first seven days gone? Are you on track, racing ahead, or falling woefully behind?

For me the familiar enthusiasm and determinism of the run up to NaNoWriMo has taken a familiar and well-trodden path. That is, after seven days I have succeeded in committing one day’s worth of words to paper, or screen as it were. I say familiar because this is my pattern every year since I discovered NaNoWriMo several years ago: put off writing anything in the run up to November because I want to complete the challenge of 50,000 words and a first novel draft in thirty days, come the first of the month I take to my desk determined to be diligently dedicated to the task, ideas buzzing in my head, yet after a day or two of consistent writing the excuses start. For some reason at this point I have visions of Jeff Goldblum doing his Dr Ian Malcolm voice with that wry smile whispering ‘life got in the way’ into my ear (did I mention I am a massive Jurassic Park fan…).

NaNoWriMo: Move Over Life

But this is the point of NaNoWriMo, right? To put all that stuff aside and get to the writing. This is the one month of the year that you are supposed to say ‘no, back off life! I’ve got a novel to write!’ Yet, once again, here I am. My paltry 1,756 words in 7 days loom over me like a banner reading ‘failure’, another badge of ‘well, you tried’.

Given my current strike out record with this annual writing challenge, my usual response has been that this early failure is an all-encompassing indication of my crippling inability to commit to such a project. Despite the multitude of ideas, stories, and character voices that echo through my head that is where they are destined to stay; they were never meant for the page or the rest of the world.

But, if were are being brutally honest here, that kind of defeatist attitude is what has kept me in a creative quagmire for way too long. It wasn’t so long ago that even writing an honest reflective post like this would have been unimaginable. Let alone to then publish and share such a thing! I have talked before about my fear of the blank page, and how that affects my drawing and artwork, as well as the methods I use to try and overcome that. But when it comes to writing, I don’t seem to have the tools to get back into things in the same way.

Make the Difference

This year was going to be different, I told myself. This year I would have the dedication to get through this and come out the other side with not only a finished novel draft, but also a daily writing habit that I could use and take forward – just think how much more I could write, and how zen-like I could be if I could get all of these ideas out of my brain and into some kind of tangible order.

Yet, if we refer back to the Einstein quote that I recently used in another post, ‘insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’, it encompasses everything about my approach to NaNoWriMo that has been my drawback this year. What have I done that is different from all the other years that I have tried and failed to complete the challenge? Answer: not a fat lot!

If we are really peeling back the layers here, I had mistakenly assumed that I might be the difference. I am in completely different circumstances this year, no PhD work looming over me now as an implicit and persistent distraction. I have been in a more creative head-space, what with the work I am currently doing, this blog, and the people that I am meeting and speaking with every day. But is that enough?

The fact that I am here in the same position again, implies that the answer is a resounding ‘no’. Because even though I feel like I am in a more creative and productive place, my approach and methods haven’t changed. Why did I wait until November 1st to start writing? Anyone who has had a broken New Year’s resolution will know the futility of deciding to wait until a certain date to start something. It is ultimately and empty gesture, because if you wanted to change you would have already done it. Why wait? What point does it serve? Habits can take up to six weeks to form, so why put them off any longer?

Too Big a Task?

Of course writing 50,ooo words in a month is a mammoth task, however, that is compounded when your previous output has been so little. Would you expect to be able to run for seven miles every morning for the month of November having spent the rest of the year scoffing donuts on the sofa? Yet, I seemed to think that because I can write a few words here and there; throw together some copy for a company, write a blog post, or an academic paper, that trundling off 1,600+ words of creative writing would be an easy endeavor.

Perhaps the one thing that has changed this year, however, is perspective. As I said earlier, I am in a different creative space than before and I can take the time to reflect upon my work, or should that be lack of it. Firstly, last week, for the first time ever, I resolved that I would start calling myself a writer. This is a seriously big deal for me. Previously I just saw myself as someone who had the verbal and grammatical tools to construct sentences in a decent way – it was a skill I had, but not who I was. Yet, after getting some positive feedback on my work and seeing what else is out there, I resolved that I would stop this nonsense and commit. As I saw a student misquote Descartes once: ‘I write, therefore I am.’

I am a Writer!

So I am a writer. Nevertheless, I have not done that much creative writing before. Sure, the ideas and stories whirl around in my head, the characters slowly evolve in the back of my mind and live out their quiet little lives until the catastrophic events that shape their existence burst through into my consciousness. But how often have they smashed the mental barrier, broken through and crawled onto the paper in front of me? In truth, creative writing, fiction, is a soul-wrenching activity. Unlike other work it is purely you; your inner mind laid bare. And that is scary. No, scratch that: it is all-consumingly terrifying.

Sometimes, however, there is some serendipity to your life. My recent artist interview gave me some new perspectives on my artistic work, that also are compellingly relevant here as well. That is, it is the struggle of the work that makes worth doing. That in itself is why I should persist with the creative aspect of writing – it is by far the white whale of my creative pursuits, and not because it is impossible to achieve, but because it is elusive and difficult to capture all the thoughts and ideas that want to fight their way out. It seems safer to leave them contained. To let them spill out will be messy. It will take work to get them into order. They won’t appear on the page as they do in my head. But then what does? My drawing certainly doesn’t, but I am working to get over that hang up and just go with the rhythm of the work rather than trying to strive for a perfectly formed result. Why can I not apply this approach to my writing?

The Struggle

The short answer is I can. But, and here comes the struggle, it won’t be easy. This is what I have shied away from every year to date; I have retreated to my quiet little corner with my blanket and mug of hot chocolate to wallow in my creative comfort zone. And if I am being honest, that is right where I am sat at this minute. Another day, another blank page and non-existent word count.

In past years I would mark this up as yet another year down the drain. Failure number… I think I have lost count. So let’s stop this ‘insanity’. We are only one week in, that’s still another 22 days left to go in this month. Maybe I won’t completely hit my word count – I now have to average around 2,000 words a day to hit 50,000 – but I can at least get back on it and give it a go. My quiet little comfort zone corner will have to wait, time to break the habit and try a different approach.

Let’s see how Week 2 goes…

2 Comments

  1. Bria | Tendril Wild Blog

    November 10, 2016 at 8:04 pm

    Even though I’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo until this year, I can so relate to this post. Although, I have to say, I ANTICIPATED my failure. I assumed I wouldn’t be able to keep up the pace of writing (a paltry 500 words – that’s my goal!) every day when I haven’t really been in the habit of doing it. So, in a way, I’ve sort of taken the pressure off from the beginning. But even though there’s not as much pressure to “perform”, I still feel guilty for letting myself procrastinate and make excuses for these last…what? 5 days? (I’ve lost count) that I haven’t written anything. Like you though, I’m determined not to give up and just to keep pushing forward. I may not hit my goal every day (or my goal for the end of the month), but if I’m still writing consistently a few days a week, then that’s better than I was doing before. And that’s what counts, right? Aiming for small improvements over here. 🙂

    1. Natalie

      November 11, 2016 at 9:06 am

      Definitely! I think I underestimated how difficult trying to write that many words of this type of writing would be. I should have been preparing by working up to that word count in the weeks before. I think your goal of 500 words per day was much more sensible. But I am with you, the real goal, for me anyway, is about trying to create a consistent writing habit that wasn’t there before. Small improvement all the way, they’ll soon start to add up. ??

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