NaNoWriMo and Anxiety

Here’s how NaNo works for me:

Day 1: I make a respectable showing, but not the 1,667. I watch as what feels like everyone else posts large numbers.

Day 2: Still don’t make the 1,667. Feel as if everyone I’ve ever met is now in the 10Ks. I’m demoralized and afraid.

Day 5: I’m almost at 5K. Everyone else seems like they’re done.

Day 10: My years of analytics tell me that there is no reasonable way for my word count line to ever meet the projected ideal.

Day 15: Give up and feel like an abject failure.

My first year’s NaNo ended in me having my gallbladder removed in an emergency surgery. Last year I learned from the year before and began revising my MS on Day 5 instead.

This year, I’m not participating, and I’m very okay with this.

I’m sure you’ve heard it all:

“Don’t compare, your road is not like others. Your writing style is not like others.”

“The first draft is supposed to be garbage, just write, you can fix it in revision.”

“NaNo is about the story not the word count.”

Now, those things are all true, except for me they’re not.

When something has rules, my brain latches onto the rules. It doesn’t matter what the spirit is or the meaning, I need to follow the rules. NaNo says you have to write 1,667 words a day to achieve your goal. Then I don’t. Then I cycle. I tell myself that I’m never going to be capable of hitting deadlines. That I don’t deserve to call myself a writer.

My brain gets obsessed with the fact that I’m not achieving something I set out to achieve. It plays the loop of failure. And the one thing I cannot hear is the story. My stories are characters. My characters are people with terrible things happening to them. They’re making difficult decisions and face impossible obstacles.

The impossible obstacle for me during NaNo is daily word count.

Then, this year I learned something about myself. I gave myself a reasonable deadline. I let myself revise as I went along. I focused on STORY not WORD COUNT. And so, I went from idea to solid second draft in 3 months.

If you signed up for NaNo and your brain is screaming all the anxious self-defeating things, it’s okay to stop. To separate yourself from the arbitrary rules. But don’t give up on your story or your characters. Take advantage of the sprints, take advantage of the camaraderie, but forgive yourself.

It’s okay if this particular style of drafting isn’t for you. Go find yours. It’s out there somewhere!