It’s been a week since NaNoWriMo ended, and I haven’t looked at—haven’t even thought about—my draft since then.
That’s a good thing.
I’m not abandoning the story. I’m going to get back to work on it first thing Monday morning. But I needed a break, needed to get myself out of the weird headspace that the end of the month (or the entire month) had put me in. If I’d tried to start writing again before I’d had a chance to recover, the story would have suffered. It wouldn’t even matter if it was any good (even for a first draft), I wouldn’t have been able to separate the story from the stress of writing it, and I probably would’ve wound up hating it.
This break was absolutely necessary, even if it’s left me feeling a bit adrift all week.
And it’s given me a chance to look at my experience of NaNo objectively, and really think about what it taught me this year.
I found my sweet spot for writing productively.
Because I haven’t had clear deadlines, and because most of my writing time this year has been dedicated to revision (which is a different beast entirely), I have found it really difficult to structure my time and set daily goals that I could stick to, and that moved me forward. But NaNo pushed me back into writing a first draft, with a clear target and deadline—and, because I spent all month behind schedule, it pushed me to work as hard as I possibly could to catch up.
As a result, I now know that 2000 words or two hours a day (whichever comes first) is ideal for me. It’s enough that I can see the progress I want, and I can sustain it for as long as I need to. In a pinch (or under a deadline), I can get up to 3000 or 3500 words a day, but only for a short period of time, with a clear end date and opportunity to recover afterward. During those last few days, I could tell that I was pushing too hard, and that if I kept going at that pace, I was risking burnout, but knowing that it was only until the end of the month was enough to keep me going.
The other lesson was in scheduling. I’ve always been a morning writer; that’s when I do my best work. But I’ve struggled with my time later in the day—it wasn’t that I didn’t have another block of time in which I could write, it’s just that my brain shut off and refused to do the work.
November fixed that problem.
That second writing session was never as good or as productive as the one in the morning. But now that NaNo is over, and I’ve convinced myself that I can get work done then, I can use that time for something else: revisions or outlining, or staying on top of my blog writing, or… whatever. It’s a big change in my thinking, and I’m really glad I’ve managed to make it.
I don’t think NaNo fits me as a writer anymore, and that’s ok.
When I came back to NaNo two years ago, it was an experiment. After several years away (from NaNo and from writing entirely), 2016 was a last-ditch attempt to see if I was still capable of writing at all. (I am.)
But in the time that’s passed since that first attempt, I’ve started taking writing more seriously than I ever have before (even in those years that led to my earlier burnout). I’ve learned how to approach writing in a way that works for me, and that I can sustain, and I don’t think that NaNo fits with that. It’s not just the pace—obviously, when things are going well, I can hit 1667 words a day. It’s the emphasis on word count over everything else; when I hit a point where the story wasn’t working, the impulse was to keep pushing forward, rather than risk not hitting 50,000 words.
I would have been better off taking a week (or even a few days) to properly diagnose the issue, and to go back and fix what was broken, before moving forward.
NaNo works great for some people. I can name several authors who rely on NaNo to get their first drafts written. The whole deadline thing is amazing and I’m still trying to figure out a way to set my own deadlines that I’m this committed to. And for some people, it’s just a fun challenge. But for me—and for now—I don’t think it’s a very good fit.
Setting up a coffee station in the office is the best thing I’ve ever done
I think I’ve mentioned that before—I’m sure I have—but seriously. Being able to make a cup of (good! real!) coffee (or grab a snack) without going to the kitchen and getting distracted has done wonders for my writing. Getting up and making the coffee—and, let’s be honest, the resulting caffeine hit—is the perfect short break to get me through that mid-session slump, when all I want to do is close the file and walk away. (It helps that my pour-over setup makes a single gigantic cup of coffee. After it’s made, I tend to want to stay at the desk and working until the cup is empty, which can take anywhere from half an hour to an hour.)
There have been a few times the last few months when I wondered if it was overkill, but it’s really not.
So. What comes next?
I’m going to spend the next week and a half going back over Violet Lane and getting the first half in order: fixing those giant plot holes and redirections that I just papered over in pursuit of the finish line, so I’m ready to pick up where I left off in the new year.
Then I’m going to push through and get this thing finished.