NaNoWriMo, Self Care, Writing

A NaNoWriMo Discovery: Why I Quit

This is not another NaNoWriMo (NNWM) story, and it is. When I say it’s not, it’s because I’m not touting the achievements I’ve made and that I’m all into hitting that 50,000-word mark by November 30th.

NaNoWriMo

And this is not to discredit anyone who can and will hit that mark. Best wishes to all of those writers.

To tell the truth (as I should), I hesitated to use the word ‘quit.’ Using the word smacked of failure and I’m not a failure. It’s simply that I did not meet my personal contract and expectation of 1,1667 words per day.

Instead of ‘quit,’ I’d say I surrendered.

I started out with the best intentions, replaced my Twitter banner with the one above, and tweeted encouraging messages to fellow NNWM’s. I sat down every day to write until my wrist and back hurt.

And,

this is not an NNWR story because I won’t hit the intended mark, and I don’t want to do so.

I’m a few days behind the daily word count. That would be 40,008 words by tonight, and I’m at approximately 35,000 words.

“The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.”

Philip Roth

Along this writing way, I’ve learned some interesting things about my writing self. I learned to plan more and ‘pants’ less. I enjoyed writing out character sketches and delving into the world of the characters. I use onestopforwriters.com, and this helped me a lot.

I also learned that the expectations I had for myself didn’t consider my feelings or emotional state while writing. When writing about psychologically heavy topics, the NNWM exercise can’t be sustained over the long haul.

Not that NNWM says this word count can be. They’re actually very realistic about the exercise and have loads of tips to help a writer write.

I’ve written four novels, three YA and one Adult, and two are in varying stages of revision. Three novels took a couple of years, each, but the longest one (several years) is also the YA novel that deals with violence, attempted suicide, and immigration. The novel, Strong Women Grow Here, is due for publication in Spring 2023.

This NNWM novel I’m writing deals with a likewise emotional topic, for me, and that is one’s survival of cancer, and another’s death from cancer.

As I began writing the chapters about cancer, the memories came alive in my mind. I began to rethink all the ‘what ifs’ and the questions (in the novel, a character asks the questions):

Why did I survive, and why didn’t a friend live?

I had to explore the questions so I could write the scene. I asked these questions of myself sixteen years ago, but they were covered with the joy of achieving remission and being grateful to live and see my son and daughter graduate high school.

So, I’m typing along daily, making my word count for twenty days. Then I hit a wall, and my subconscious said enough.

After forty-eight hours of not writing, I realized that November 23, 2005, was the date of my last chemo. I knew this date on the calendar, but I didn’t ‘feel’ this date until I hit that writing wall.

When I was writing the character’s experiences (based mostly on my own), I remembered that three months after that last chemo was the date of my last radiation. A year later was my last monthly Herceptin drip, and nine years later was my last daily pill of aromatase inhibitor.

Everything that I’d buried came to the surface as I wrote the character’s experience with cancer, and I didn’t want to deal with it.

I had insomnia, my stress level went up, I was emotionally eating, and I just wanted to binge another K-Drama on Netflix.

My favorite K-Drama

I realized I was reliving my diagnosis, my chemotherapy, and radiation. And I was also reliving my emotional, mental, and spiritual state. This returned me to the state of my relationships, the battle with my body, and my perception of what it means to be a woman and be me.

When that realization hit me, I surrendered. I said no more daily word count, no more burying my emotions at the expense of my health, and no more typing out emotional experiences like they didn’t mean something to me.

What I learned was to check in with my mind, spirit, and body. I needed to sit with myself and think through the why’s of not writing.

When I write lived experiences of ‘survival,’ I need to take a break. It’s okay to write for shorter times, and I am gentle with myself.

Some days I’ll have 1,667 words, and others, I’ll have zero. I’ve reset my expectations for NNWM, and I’m good with the word count I’ve written because I’m further ahead from November 1, 2021.

I count this NNWM exercise as a success because my lived experiences have found their way onto the page, and that’s a good thing for me.   

“The road to heaven is also paved with works-in-progress.”

Grant Faulkner

Best wishes for a happy holiday weekend. Be well.

4 thoughts on “A NaNoWriMo Discovery: Why I Quit”

  1. Sounds like you have a lot of deep experiences to put into your stories. I still think you’re very much on point to finish this novel though, as 35,000 words is a lot regardless. But you’ve already written a few and you know the drill, so I’m just stopping by to give you what support that I can. Take care!

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