My Brain on NaNo

I deleted my NaNoWriMo account yesterday.

I want to be the kind of writer who can write 50,000 words in a month. So many great books have started out as NaNo novels! So many authors I adore are participating and writing NaNo pep talks! I love the camaraderie of thousands and thousands of people striving toward the same goal – and that goal is writing a book, which is so cool! 

I feel like I should be able to do this. Write fast. Banish that internal editor. Put everything else aside and focus on the writing for a month. Be open to inspiration and free from fear of failure and —

And that’s where my disordered thinking comes in.

I have an anxiety disorder, and part of the issue is that my brain loves to tell me all the things I should be doing better. It doesn’t ever think I’m good enough. I could always be a better writer, or wife, or teacher, or friend, or sister, or daughter, or… well, any role I play. A better person. A better Jess. Any accomplishment I achieve is always mitigated by a “yes, but–” I could have done more.

Writing is particularly dangerous in this respect. The finish line is always moving, you know? I wrote a book! Now I need to get an agent and then get it published –  published well – whatever that even means – I want it to be on bookstore shelves and get emails from readers and good reviews – no, starred reviews! – and make end of year lists and be invited to festivals and have good sales and hitting the New York Times list would be amazing and maybe a movie deal and – it seriously never ends. There is always more. And it’s not just the external validation. I wrote a book this year – but I could have written two – or maybe four. I’m on twitter and Facebook but I should blog more and do Tumblr better and organize more events and when did I stop having time to read? 

I am always striving to do better. It’s one of my favorite things about myself. I like a challenge. I don’t settle. But it’s also exhausting.

And NaNo doesn’t help. I don’t see word battles on twitter or the mounting word counts of friends and feel chummy inspiration. I wish I did. Instead I think, Jesus, I suck. I can never write that fast. I’m so far behind, I will never catch up now. I can’t I can’t I can’t. It pounds like a constant, disabling drumbeat through my head. Plays on a constant, unforgiving loop.

In my daily writing practice – which is, by the way, seldom actually daily – I often trick myself. I tell myself I’ll just open the document and edit what I did yesterday. Maybe I’ll try to write 500 words. Once I’m in the character’s head and immersed in the story, I usually do more. But it’s okay if I don’t. I have to believe that or I’ll never start. And NaNo takes away that safety net. I know I need to write 1667 words, or more, and that feels too overwhelming. I can’t I can’t I can’t. 

And the thing is, we all work with what we have. Who we are. I  sometimes wish I were a different kind of writer. But I’m not. I’m me. I trick myself with I can just edit what I did yesterday. I edit lots as I go, and when the internal editor in my brain gets too mean I have to turn on Write or Die in Kamikaze mode. When I get 1000 painstaking words, I reward myself with Care Bear stickers on my giant calendar. I use a 9 box plot tool and write out the stakes in “if, then” statements and only outline a few scenes ahead. I write slow slow slow until I hit the 2/3 point – like pushing a boulder up a hill – and then chase it down, writing 3000 or 4000 or 5000 words a day until I finish.

But – as my editor once said – I can push boulders up hills. 

It’s pretty magical when you think of it that way, no matter how it gets done.

10 Responses

  1. Thank you for this–I deleted my Nano account this year too. After a few years of trying to do it and ending up in a big shame spiral that zapped away all of my desire to write at aLL, I realized that it really doesn't work for me and in fact sabotages my attempts. (I have an anxiety disorder too, panic disorder). I'm not an every day writer and I don't think I ever will be, but I'm hoping that getting rid of word counts and things like NaNoWriMo will help me want to write for myself again without the gut-wrenching stress. I'm also starting to think that my writing style would actually be better suited for children's books anyway, so Nano was not helpful for that in the first place!

    Keep pushing those boulders, you are so inspiring to me and to many others. ::squishy hugs::

    1. Molly! I'm so glad this resonated with you, although sorry that you felt overwhelmed/sabotaged by NaNo too. It's ok not to be an everyday writer, especially when you have another job and are preparing for bebes!

      Yay for children's books! Do you mean picture books, or early readers, or chapter books, or…? I'm thinking of trying my hand at a MG soon…

      Thank you muchly for the kind words. That means a lot.

  2. sarahappifanie

    I think one of the most important things in life is to know and accept what you can and cannot deal with. For me, I'm actually finding NaNo kind of motivating so far, and I'm at 28K. I do feel a bit behind other people, but I've also read about the ways some people try to use filler crap to up their word count, and to me, that just seems like more work later. I had to stop following one of the NaNo accounts with the sprints and all that b/c that isn't going to work for me.

    1. Sarah, how did your NaNo turn out? I hope you kept finding it motivational. I think you're totally right – it's important to figure out what works FOR YOU – and I also think that it's silly to use filler to hit a word count if you're only going to delete all those words to find the right ones later. Seems like unnecessary work to me too!

      1. sarahappifanie

        It went well! I have just over 50K so I ordered my shirt 🙂 Of course, since then I've been working on Christmas stuff and I haven't even been able to LOOK at my novel, so, clearly I benefit from having NaNo, because it prioritizes writing for me.

        And yeah, NaNo cheating is lame.

  3. Jessica Naccari

    Thanks for writing this. I have anxiety, too, and my brain drives me crazy about what I *should* have done non-stop. It’s very frustrating, and I end up feeling like I can’t do anything. Anyway, your writing is beautiful and inspiring, so however you do it, we’re happy that you share it with us. Cheers!

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