Nanowrimo’s False Start

So we’ve already gone over that I didn’t have the most productive Preptober. All of my Nanowrimo planning was done in the scant few days before it started, but by the last weekend of October I’d managed to scrabble together a bunch of plans that I then started fleshing out over the next couple of days.

And then, the evening of the 30th, one of my close friends died.

Which makes this first Nanowrimo update pretty different to what I intended from the outset. I had intended to talk to you about how using the plot embryo was going, and how the first week had panned out. That’s not what we’re going to talk about today – we’ll cover that next week.

Today, let’s talk about grief and writing.

The 31st, when we got the news and huddled with our best friends for solace, went past without me thinking about Nanowrimo much. I did one thing related to work that day, which was to make the decision that I wasn’t going to work for the rest of that week.

This was 100% the right decision. I wasn’t in a state to do anything. I spent most of the rest of the week veering between crying, madly cleaning the house for something to do, and mutually supporting my friends. I’m not fully right now, to be honest – but I’m now at the point where my grief needs restraining slightly.

I talked about this on Twitter this morning, but grief to me is a bit of a child. It needs to be let out to play, and to run wild, but it also has to be told to rest and be quiet and eat its greens sometimes.

I could have given up on Nanowrimo entirely. It would have been pretty reasonable given the circumstances. But I don’t want to do that. I want to write this novella, and I think it will be good for me to write.

But in the first few days I couldn’t write at all.

I tried. Once, I wrote a poem for this late friend as a Christmas present. I found it when looking through old things not long ago, and re-read it after he died. It made me want to write something for him now. Bits of it have swirled about in my head – but I haven’t been able to do it. Not yet.

Eventually I will, I’m sure, but I’m not ready. And I wasn’t hugely surprised that when I tried to think about writing it that I couldn’t. It was still only a few days after. Reality hadn’t settled in – honestly, it’s only just starting to.

So I tried to write other things, because I know that writing is to me a salvation from the horrors of reality, just as my friends have this past week been the glue holding the world together.

But I would get halfway through a sentence and not be able to finish. Even about something as mundane as describing the weather. I just couldn’t do it.

So the idea of starting Nanowrimo was…scary.

Because it meant that at some point I’d have to go from not being able to form words to being able to write thousands and thousands of words.

I did pretty well, surprisingly well, at not thinking about how behind I was. To be on track, I was meant to be at 6,820 words at the end of today. And I had no idea if I would be able to write 6, let alone six thousand.

I promised myself I would try though. That I would do everything, set everything up right – and that if I couldn’t do it, well, then I’d tried. And it would be understandable.

I got up ridiculously early (for me – it was 6.30am), got dressed, read some more of The Descent of Monsters, went running and hit a personal best for distance and pace, had a shower, and ate the overnight oats I’d made in advance. By the time I sat down to start Nanowrimo, I felt like I’d already won the day.

It really, really helped.

Because soon I was writing, and writing, and writing.

The first 600 words were tough. I was constantly pausing to make up names (I hadn’t done this in advance), I wasn’t quite used to writing in first person yet, I kept slipping out of present tense accidentally.

Then suddenly I had 1800 words. I realised I only had 400 more words to hit what had been my only-write-on-weekdays target before (2,275). Then I’d hit that. Then I thought to myself, if I write 3,000 words a day I’ll easily finish on time. I could do that.

And before you know it, I had 3,000. I didn’t even use all of the time I’d blocked out for it. I was able to take a break – and as if the world had decided to cut me some slack, at the same time as I stopped to triumphantly take that break (before writing this), I found out that Oracle was listed in Tim Clare’s pitch rush podcast.

I’ve no idea if the words I wrote were any good. It’s a first draft, so that’s not wholly the point. I know the worldbuilding excited me, and that by the end of those 3,000 words I’d gotten the hang of the voice of my narrator.

And most importantly of all, I know that I managed it.

So if you’re struggling with Nanowrimo, trust me – you can still do it.

It’s not too late to start. Start and write the average amount if you want – let your victory be having written 1,667 words every day for 25 days. Or do what I’m doing and catch up, but do it at your own pace.

Don’t feel you have to rush and push for par. I’m not going to. If it happens because I’ve had a flurry of inspiration? Fantastic. Otherwise, I’m happy to plod along doing 3,000 words a day until I’ve managed to catch up.

Maybe I won’t even manage that much some days. But if I do more than what’s required, I’ll be happy. I’m happy enough that I can write at all. I’m grateful that I can – because it means an escape from the regular feeling that someone’s punched me in the gut.

When it comes down to it, Nanowrimo is a personal challenge. So pick the bar that will be challenging for you. Let it move if it needs to. It’s okay. Just try. Try, try, try.

I will be.

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