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?