Lena Corazon

Flights of Fancy

ROW80: CampNano, and Learning to Walk Away

I’ve never been very good at walking away from things.

I’m stubborn, I suppose, or maybe it’s more accurate to say that I believe in sticking by my commitments. When I dedicate myself to a cause — friendships, romantic attachments, jobs, volunteer positions — I see things through to the bitter end, even if it would be easier to pick up and leave.

Persistance can be a positive trait.  Add a dash of ambition and you have the recipe for the formula that got me through high school, college, and the past few years of graduate school.  Even when things seemed the hardest, when I would find myself sobbing over the mounting stress and seeming impossibility of getting my work completed, I would push myself to keep going.  I wrote papers that way, battled my way through seminars and lectures, propelled myself into the “big leagues” of a PhD program by sheer force of will.

There’s a dark side to all of this, however.  I’ve lingered in toxic, dysfunctional relationships because I didn’t know how to break away. I’ve drowned in jobs that were too demanding, stressful, and overwhelming because I didn’t know how to say no.  In grad school, I piled on the stress, pushed myself to work constantly, guilt-tripped myself for taking naps or reading novels. I developed a mindset that demanded constant productivity, forced myself to eat, sleep and breathe my research, and berated myself when I was unable to work because I was completely drained.

The past month of tackling CampNaNo has made me more aware of this duality than ever.  Some people have trouble forcing themselves to sit down and write; I have trouble forcing myself to leave the darn chair.  “One more word,” became my mantra. One more word, one more sentence, one more paragraph, and then I’ll turn off the computer.  A few hundred more words, and I’ll go to bed.

It’s little wonder that my brain felt like mush on Wednesday, or that on Thursday I was this laughable husk of a zombie, drooping at my desk, aimlessly surfing the web and feeling inordinate amounts of guilt over the thesis that I wasn’t writing.  It was a rough day, with me trying to force words out of my pen, as though the sheer effort would magically outweigh my dragging fatigue.

On Friday, though, it hit me: all of the pressure I was feeling was pressure that I had placed on myself.  Those ROW80 goals that I’ve set over the past few weeks?  Those are goals that I’ve chosen, goals that I decided to pursue.  No one’s holding a gun to my head and forcing me to get things done. In fact, the whole point of ROW80 is the ability to be flexible, to change things up without feeling guilty.

So I’ve unplugged a little over the past few days.  I closed TweetDeck, quit Scrivener, put away my writing notebook and dug out my battered copy of Lois Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion for a bit of light reading.  I took naps and curled up with my cat and spent time with old friends.

CampNaNo has taught me a lot.  I’ve learned that having the drive, the confidence, and the passion to reach my goals is essential.  The burn of competition, along with the desire to see my novel unfold, have acted as catalysts, propelling me upwards and onwards.

At the same time, the ability to maintain that drive is also necessary, and that can only come from balance and a healthy sense of perspective. I can’t endure daily marathon writing sessions, so I need to take that into consideration when I build my writing schedule. I can’t ignore my body when it’s tired and crying out for rest and some healthy food, which means that I have recognize the signs of fatigue. The world won’t end if I fall short of 50,000 words. As Em has reminded me, it’s fun, not fear, that should rule the day.

There are other practical preparations that I will make before November. Outlining and plotting are at the top of the list; churning out 1600+ words a day can only happen if I have a sense of where I’m going with each chapter and what I’m trying to achieve. Plantsing is definitely going to be my technique of choice (Jody Hedlund’s technique is one of my favorites). And hey, I might just break the rules a little and work on one of my WIPs (although ideas for a new stupid story are forming in my head, much to my dismay).  The bottom line is that I want this experience to be a pleasant one, one that allows me to accomplish my goals but without driving me completely crazy.

Any other NaNo vets out there?  Any tried and true techniques that you’d recommend for tackling the monthlong novel-writing gauntlet?  

46 Comments

  1. I can REALLY empathise with this (as you know, from my post last week!). And I’m torn because on the one hand I’m proud of such a high level of productivity and achievement, but on the other hand it can leave you feeling wrung out. And actually now I’m in my thirties, it’s becoming more pronounced, which makes me warier because the stresses feel a little more extreme. It’s important to keep a balance and to look after yourself physically and spiritually (like relaxation, meditation – which I’m rubbish at but know to be important) as well as climbing intellectual mountains!

    • Ah, yes, exactly! You totally understand this. 😀 You’re right — physical and spiritual health is really important. I’ve been dabbling in meditation here and there, and I’m hoping to get back into it once the school year begins again. There’s something incredibly comforting about being quiet, and not reading anything, or writing anything, or staring at a computer screen.

  2. I feel your pain, Jamila. There was a time (not long ago) when I was pushing myself to 20 hours a day in an effort to get everything done. Day job, family, writing, social media, every thing. I read a report in my teen years that said four hours of sleep was all a person needed. So hey, I had the facts behind me. Right?
    Then life changed. Burn out hit and productivity tanked. In retrospect, had I maintained a more reasonable schedule I would have accomplished just as much, just not in a burst. ROW80 and Bob Mayer’s Write It Forward have taught me a great deal. I guess you could call this round of ROW80 my stress test. I now have a clarity concerning my goals and hope that in the coming days (and rounds) that I will be able to set goals that don’t destroy my love for writing.
    I’m not a NaNo person, mainly because I doubted that I could find the time. But, I do know what it is like to push oneself to the limits and beyond.
    Dan Blank had an article over the past week I’d like to share with you. http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/2jn6iM/wegrowmedia.com/want-to-grow-your-writing-career-stop-looking-for-balance/
    It’s about how we have to become comfortable with life not being in balance and in doing so, free ourselves to both accomplish our goals and live our lives.
    Jamila, I have more respect for you then I can convey. You are one of the diamonds that I have had the pleasure to meet through ROW80 and I enjoy your writing and your support. I’ll leave it at that, because I tend to gush.
    Recharge, reflect and I hope that we will see you again soon. A new, stronger, Jamila.

    • This is a great article, Gene. I definitely see what he’s trying to say about moving beyond the discussion of balance to talk about prioritizing instead.

      I am always so appreciative of your support, and I’m so glad to have met you as well. Thanks so much!

    • Hear, hear, Gene! Great article and every single thing that I wanted to say to Jamila (who’s gonna JAM with Balance for her final weeks of Row80).

  3. Heya Jamila, your struggle touches my heart; being a perfectionist (to a certain level) has caused me a lot of pain -especially in my old-line of work and affected my health dramatically. I am learning slowly with ROW80 and some great writers and bloggers that it’s ok to not burn yourself out -or else I’d be hopping from one task to the other and one of these days may have a nervous-breakdown!

    I have not done CampNano and I signed up earlier this year but am beginning to worry if I can cope with the added pressure -seeing how long it’s taken me to get back to my WIP. I will use caution.

    Personally, I think you are doing smashingly and I wish you all the best with your decisions; sorry I have no more insights to share with you regarding CampNano.

    • Oz, I’m so glad to know that I’m not the only one with perfectionist tendencies. Burnout is always what gets me into trouble, and I know that once my school year starts back, I won’t be able to maintain this pace for long.

      I think exercising caution when it comes to NaNo is the best bet. I don’t know if I can reach 50K in November, and while I’ll attempt it, I’m definitely not going to berate myself if I can’t.

      Thank you so much for you feedback!

  4. I hope your time off to nap and read and just not write for an eensy tiny bit was positively glorious. 🙂 For someone who could probably use a little more drive herself, your ambition is a problem I say I wouldn’t mind having a bit more of, but you’re right in the fact that, sometimes, a break is a necessity and I hope yours was as recharging as a break like that should be.

    I can’t say I can call myself a NaNo vet; I’ve tried it three times and failed miserably each time, but I think this September, reading others’ experiences with NaNo, I might really just sit down and dedicate myself to all this “outlining” and “planning” that I keep hearing so much about.

    Good job relieving the pressure a little and keep it up!

    • Thanks, L.S.! The downtime was really wonderful, especially to be able to move from one task to another without feeling like I had to hustle (working at a leisurely pace is new to me). There was also time to have a silly photo session with my cat, who has taken to sleeping on my lap while I work. All in all, a success.

      I have to admit, all the planning and outlining makes the pantser in me all sorts of horrified, but I can’t see any way around it when it comes to NaNo. Still, I think it will pay off in the end. 😀

      Have a wonderful week!

  5. Jamila ~
    I really appreciate your post this check-in. That ugly beast, the one that demands constant productivity, lurks in my thoughts, too. I struggle to let things go if I feel any sense that I’ve ‘let myself down’ or ‘missed a goal’.

    I think we’ve actually got one of the best personality types for success in this business – writing. I rarely have any issue in making myself work…as a rule, I’m eager to work, eager to achieve a goal, eager to surpass it. This drive also makes me seek perfection, whether in writing or in any task I take on (I had to learn the hard way – many years ago – that I would never achieve perfection…because I’m an im-perfect creation…accepting this truth and moving on is probably why I didn’t end up giving myself a facial tic or something…lol) But, to make it to the finish line, we need balance. We must find a way to balance our high type-A drives with _________ insert what works for you here.

    My husband and kids have been great for me. “Honey, step away from the computer/notebooks/admin/lesson plans/….. and come have some fun with us.” Powerful. My sister, who is NOT a type-A personality is probably the most settling for me. She makes me laugh. I think laughter may be the cure for just about everything that’s wrong with me. Best wishes for finding

    • …what will balance you…
      (Sorry for writing a book here…lol)
      ~ Nadja

      • Nadja, I always love how thoughtful your comments are, so no need to apologize! And I think you’re right — our personality traits are really useful when it comes to writing, because it’s easy for us to focus and to dig into the work that has to be done. But, as you say, there’s no use trying to achieve perfection, since that’s pretty much impossible.

        Having supportive people around who encourage you to step away from work and have fun is absolutely wonderful. I fall into the trap of growling at people whenever they try to break my ‘zone,’ but I’m trying to get better about remembering that it’s my family and friends who are ultimately the most important in my life.

  6. Realize that while you’re writing your thesis, it’s a great task to take on other writing assignments that requires equally committed time. You simply have a passion for writing, which you have a gift for by the way, and want to do it all, which I well understand. 🙂 It does become challenging to juggle all of that. I’m going to guess that you’re one to get on the internet and look for challenges that will help you to excel and become your best. Though, I can feel the stress you’re going through from where I sit 🙂 Yes, go ahead a relax your rules a little and enjoy those writing challenges. Life is a constant balancing act and you kinda wanna add some dancing in there with the marching. 🙂

    • Yes, you’re totally right — I am definitely that person who gets super excited and enthusiastic, and wants to jump aboard as many challenges as possible. But dancing! I need more of that in my life. 😀

  7. I know the feeling. It can be easy to put too much pressure on myself. Sometimes I have to step back and decide it’s okay to relax and chill. But the danger I find, is it can be hard to get back into the habit of regular writing if I take much time off.

    • I think that’s a fear of mine, especially because I’m coming off of a 2 year bout with horrible writer’s block. For so long there was just… nothing… and now that I have ideas again, and the words are flowing, it’s scary to take a break, because what if I come back and everything’s dried up again? But I think we have to trust that the stories will stick around, at least long enough for us to have a breather now and again.

  8. It is a difficult balance. Writing novels is so long and arduous that it will never get done if you make excuses for yourself. If you’re not feeling very good, not feeling creative, then it’s still necessary to write to simply keep up the discipline. But perhaps it’s just as important to set up reasonable expectations. For me, I have daily writing maximums. Not in word count but in hours. After that, I have to do something else.

    • Alan, the idea of having a daily writing maximum is fantastic, and something that hasn’t quite occurred to me. When I started this journey a few months ago, it was all I could do to force myself to focus for more than 15 or 20 minutes, but as I’ve gotten into the swing of things, I find that I would rather sit and write than do a lot of other things. Once the school year starts back, I think I will try to implement an hourly sort of deadline.

  9. not a perfectionist in any way but still pushing myself hard – more because I enjoy it but every now and then I crash – am learning to pace myself better – the first book I put a season the second would be published on the second I just put the year! so can take any btumbling block to publication with more leisure – It’s a difficult lesson to learn but I think ROW 80 is a help.

    I am trying NaNo for the first time this year – hope I haven’t taken on more than I can do!

    all the best for this coming week

    • Thanks for swinging by, Alberta. Yeah, I think pacing is definitely key. We’ll have to share tips about surviving NaNo during November!

      Have a great week as well. 😀

  10. I also experienced feeling some guilt and self-induced pressure to write. But then I remembered like you that in ROW80 you can change your goals. I haven’t changed them yet, but I’ve decided that if I’m too exhausted from work or a spontaneous trip to another country for the weekend pops up, I’m going to live it and my WIP will be at home waiting when I return.

    I have don’t NaNo either. But I think you answered your own question the other week (in a comment on my row80 check in I think), where you said that you would plot as much as you could so that all you would have to do during NaNo is write. And if that doesn’t work you have lots of writer friends to cheer you on. 🙂

    Have a great week.

    • Yes, I think we do need to allow ourselves a chance to live life outside of our writing. I’ve been trying to do the same thing, but it takes practice. I’m definitely grateful for all of you to keep me grounded. 😀

  11. I pushed myself too far some years ago and paid a heavy price. When your body tells you it’s time for a break, you’re definitely doing the right thing by listening to it!

    • The body always knows, doesn’t it? I’ve had to learn how to listen to the signs. When I got to grad school, I developed migraines from the first time, and I’ve learned that they pop up when I’m under-slept and over-worked. One of my biggest goals these days is learning how to avoid them.

  12. Brilliant post Jamila and it is obvious from the comments that this is a common problem, remember you are not alone!! I often have moments when I am tired and sit to write with burning eyes and get annoyed that I have to write. Then I remember it is me who is choosing to write so it seems strange to get stressed about something I have chosen. With you, you have your thesis commitment which is a huge commitment to balance alongside work and other writing. Writing should definately be fun and a release for you and maybe you need to sit yourself down and work out your priorities for the coming months. Some things have to happen, others are extras. No one will blame you or judge you. All our journeys are different and you have to work out how you can have the best journey possible for you.

    Remember fun not fear and you are not alone!

    • You totally hit the nail on the head, Em. Prioritizing is definitely something that is going to be taking place over the next few weeks, along with a bit of thinking about how I can make things a little easier on myself. Thanks for the affirmation!

  13. ps. Thank you for the shout out again!

  14. I admire your drive, I could probably use a little more myself, but everyone needs to refill the well and recharge the batteries. The challenge is finding the balance and it’s different for each person.

    I won NaNo last year after failing the two previous years and that was to prove I could. I have too much going on in my life to put everything on hold for a month to churn out 50K so doubt I’ll be doing NaNo again. I learned that slow and steady is better for me and the craziness that is my life. Setting smaller daily word count (number of pages to edit) goals keep the burn-out at bay for me. I also end each day with something non-writing related like cross-stitch.

    I hope you feel refreshed 🙂

    • The idea of ending each day with something non-writing related is a great idea, Raelyn. One thing that I’ve noticed is that with everything going on, my fun reading-time has gotten crowded out a bit. I think that’ll be something I try to implement for my nightly routine, instead of writing until I collapse. :p

  15. I did NaNo two years in a row and finished both times. And my husband did NOT like how I was during those times. That’s why I chose to never do NaNo again. ROW80 is the challenge that makes more sense for me. It has allowed me to write a couple of novellas (I would have done three if I hadn’t had a real life crisis) without the awful stress I felt during NaNo. I’m not saying NaNo isn’t a good thing for some people..just not for me anymore.

    I admire your determination to stick to your goals and even go beyond. But PLEASE take care of yourself from now on. Don’t let anything put your health, mental or physical, in jeopardy.

    • Yes, I can totally understand what you mean, and why you’re not doing NaNo this year. I get the feeling that the only way I’m going to get through it with a measure of grace is if I decide that reaching 50k isn’t an absolute must. I really do love ROW80 for the sanity that it brings to the writing process, as well as the community. Makes things so much more pleasant!

      And yes, thank you, I am committing myself to doing what I can to make sure that I listen to my body and its needs. Can’t afford to have anything break down this year. 😀

  16. This post sounds like a clip out of my life. I too have issues learning when to give up or walk away. Yes, that should be a good thing. But you are right, there are times that it would be better for everyone to give it a rest. And only you can decide when that is. I feel I accomplished more with my writing with NaNo than I am with Row because of the solid word goal. I am giving myself more slack with this one and other things crowd out my writing that would not have if I were set on the massive NaNo rush. I work better under pressure, but I do push myself too much at times. Then it takes longer to get back up. We are all learning as we go. And what works one day may not necessarily work the next. It’s a day at a time for me. I’ve accepted that. But I think that is how life comes at times.

    Keep up the good work. This is very encouraging.

    • I’m so glad to hear that I’m not the only one trying to figure out when to unplug and take a breather. You make a really good point, Wendy, about how it’s a day-to-day sort of process. Definitely something I am going to keep in mind moving forward.

      Have a great week!

  17. You’ve carried an inspiring load for some time now… but you’re right — maintaining your momentum is what is important at this point, and sometimes there’s truth to the old “slow and steady” adage. We must have breaks, even if it’s just a surprise afternoon. Isn’t it funny to set our goals so high, and then tear ourselves up for not reaching them? I have two small kids, and my husband thinks I chose a pretty interesting time to “find myself” with my writing. For me, achieving my writing goals means I’m a real person, and a successful person, not just mommy. I have a career, but for some reason it is reaching out and taking my dreams that is satisfying at the end of the day. Still, I’ve realized in the past few months that I need to stop pressuring myself to reach specific daily goals. Weekly goals works better for me, because with small kids, you just don’t know how any day is going to work out. And maybe that’s true with writing in general. Obviously you’ll write more “butt in chair,” but is it really a lot more over the course of a week than if you’d taken a couple of days off?

    • Great point, J.R. about the weekly vs. daily goals, and I think it might be something that I try to adopt for Round 3, that way I can be a little more flexible with things. And I totally get what you mean about tackling writing that can make one feel like a real person. As much as I love my graduate studies, it’s writing that makes my heart sing, and makes me feel fulfilled, and it’s something that I don’t want to lose.

      Hope you’re having a wonderful week!

  18. This is one of the reasons I think I am not going to do NaNo this year. I tried 09 and won, tried 10 and lost. I was a little miserable both times. It’s one of the reasons I appreciate ROW80 so much, that flexibility and accountability only to myself. And while I haven’t turned out 50k in 30 days, I am still further ahead than I had been before. I think going in with a good game plan is a great idea.

    Snuggle that kitty for me 🙂

    • Ahhhh, the kitty snuggling has been epic. He curls up on my lap when I sit on my desk and work, and it makes me sososo happy.

      I sorta feel like I’m gearing up for battle, prepping for NaNo. Combat boots, check. Blaster gun, check. Outlines and plot sketches and character profiles? Check, check, check.

      Hope you’re having a great week!

  19. Isn’t that the best part of ROW80 – we can keep changing our goals!
    As for NaNo, hmm… I wonder if I can distill what worked for me last year, as I go into it this November. Romantic suspense aspects of the novel definitely got me excited. Also the fact that I’d done a bit of research beforehand so didn’t keep getting bogged down by “is this plausible” type questions. And I put square brackets (thank you Diana Gabaldon) around everything I wasn’t sure of and just ploughed on!

    • Square brackets have saved my life, otherwise I feel like I’d never get anything written! I will say that the CampNaNo experience has taught me the value of not getting hung up on the impossibility of creating a ‘proper’ and perfectly polished first draft, and I’m really grateful for that. I think October will be my month for pre-planning and doing researchy things, that way November is freed up for writing.

      Thanks for swinging by, Deniz!

  20. stopping in from the erotica circle to say hi. I actually failed at camp nano but that had more to do with outside chaos than anything. I’ve ‘won’ nano several years running. For me, the success I have in it depends on a) my competitive nature b) having friends that are supportive and are willing to kick my butt if necessary. I do occasionally go to the write ins since ours is relatively small but I am rural and live some distance away. However there, when there is a word war (which yes I could easily do online regardless of where I am) I am really compelled to write. I’ll be doing nano again this year.

    • Jana, thanks so much for swinging by! I agree — I think a sense of competition, and a supportive circle of friends, is totally essential. I’ll be looking forward to chatting with you in November about how you’re doing with NaNo.

  21. Wow, I totally get what you mean. I, too, have a tendency to beat myself up for not being productive enough and to push myself until I just can’t give anymore. Good for you for working at finding that balance – I know you will!

    • Thanks, Crystal! I think we definitely need to take a step back and congratulate ourselves on what we’ve managed to accomplish. Writing isn’t easy, especially when we’re juggling it with a bunch of other things.

      Have a lovely week!

  22. Excellent post sweetie – and the topic truly is one I battle on a constant basis. I will dive right in, burn up the keyboard, and then feel the burn-out. I have trouble saying no and walking away because there are so many many things I want to do! I keep thinking that at some point I can do it all, but then reality crashes in and I struggle with the balance. Always the balance. I’m a Libra – you’d think I could balance in my sleep 🙂 lol.

    No matter what schedule you’re keeping, it’s important to incorporate some “ME” time, we have to be good to ourselves in order to sustain. And curling up with a good book and a fuzzy pet is a perfect way to do that 🙂

    Marie

    • Thanks so much, Marie! Yeah, the quest to find that mythical level of balance is really difficult, isn’t it? I am going to be working hard over the next few months to make sure that I carve out some daily personal time — I think that’ll make all the difference.

      Hope your week is going well!

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