It’s time for this year’s final meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The first Wednesday of each month, we share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears.
This year marked the eighth time I officially participated in NaNoWriMo, the eleventh overall, and the tenth time I won. The only year I failed to make 50K was the first year I unofficially participated, 2010, and I didn’t begin that project until 18 November. Had I started on the first of the month, I most definitely would’ve overachieved.
But I don’t feel good about this win, since I barely eked out 50K, and then only about ten minutes to midnight on the final day. My best years ever were 2018, when I got to almost 131K, and 2019, when I got 101K. Now I’ve been reduced to the bare minimum, which is so unrepresentative of what I know I’m capable of. Once upon a time, I easily wrote several thousand words every day, and 5K days were hardly rare.
By the end, I was just writing garbage I knew was garbage, just to have enough words in my NaNo 2021 file. For the past few years, I’ve been well aware more than a few of my NaNo words are garbage and filler. E.g., I’ll write and rewrite the same sentence, stop in the middle of a sentence, write lines and even entire paragraphs or short scenes I realize are bad or don’t belong in the book. So I’ll keep them in the master wordcount file but immediately delete them when I C&P them into a chapter file. It’s like NaNo has in some ways had a deleterious effect on my writing, since I can write stuff I know is garbage but that it’ll still count towards the minimum goal.
And had I not counted my creative nonfiction (mostly blog posts) in this wordcount, I wouldn’t have made it to 50K.
Although to be fair to myself, writing a research-heavy book during NaNo is difficult. When I did 20th century hist-fic, particularly with characters I’ve known for years, the words just flowed effortlessly. Even my 19th century story came really quickly and easily, after some necessary refamiliarizing with the era.
The alternative history I’m currently working on also needs much more careful, thoughtful writing, since it involves real people and an era I’ve never written about before. While Medieval Italy is nowhere near as out of my wheelhouse as, say, fifth century China or 1890s Brazil, it’s still not as intimately, back of my hand familiar as the 19th and 20th centuries.
I was so stalled, I stopped in the middle of Chapter VI, which is set during the Christmas season of 1274, and jumped ahead to Part III, which opens in late 1287. That did help me with starting to pull up significantly, but I still ultimately found this book needs overall careful writing, even with parts that come faster than others.
Maybe I needed that wakeup call and humbling of my pride, this very humiliating demonstration of how far I’ve fallen, so I could finally start fighting to regain my former writing habits and prolific daily wordcounts. The impact of lockdown on my mental health can’t be underestimated, but I also had free will. I chose to passively accept almost two years of poor writing output. This NaNo, I also chose to prioritize other things, like watching the Grand Prix circuit of figure skating, instead of spending those few hours writing on all those nights.
And speaking of skating, I was like a skater who realizes she’s off-kilter in the air and just gives up, resulting in an ugly fall. Even if you know you messed up, you can still fight for a sloppy landing or popped jump, or even fall properly instead of splaying all over the ice like a limp ragdoll.
Some years just aren’t our years, and NaNo 2021 wasn’t one of mine. I’ll now turn my full attentions to researching and writing my WIP with the thought and care it deserves. This isn’t the kind of book that can be fast-drafted and come out well.
Did you do NaNo this year? If you ever had a year where you barely won or didn’t win, was that a learning experience for you? What did you do differently next time?