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.