Prepare to embrace the crazy.
— Me, c. November 2013
What’s this? A post about NaNoWriMo in July? Well, it *is* only a little more than three months away. If you’re a plotter, anyway. For me, the topic has relevance because it changed my life—and not always for the better.
No, this is not a rant about all the reasons I no longer participate in that event, or how in some ways it contributed to the end of my marriage and several friendships and impacted my ability to write (spoiler: it didn’t). However, it is relevant in what I’m talking about today: productivity.
Back in the days of Magical Words, from whence this site was born, the biggest lesson hammered into readers was this: There is no one right way to do this. However, we all have ideas about where we’d like to be, and while it’s true that if you don’t write every day or write ten thousand words a day you are not a failure, that we all have our own speeds and life situations and individual abilities to produce, nonetheless it can feel that way.
Don’t worry, this isn’t just another mental health post, either, though that can be a factor. Not being productive writing-wise can suck at a person’s self-esteem and, though as I said last time, down time can still be useful for writing-without-writing (or as I called it, passive research), the self-loathing persists because it’s not the usual idea of words on the page. Experience usually adds fuel to the tank, even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time. Regardless. We already dealt with that. Now the question is: what are the best strategies for really getting back into writing after a hiatus?
When I first heard about NaNoWriMo, I was desperately in search of a community of people I could meet with on a regular basis. It wasn’t just about the self-discipline of throwing together nearly two thousand words a day. I wanted that connection, because an online forum and an annual conference just didn’t cut it. So when I discovered that there was a local group that met weekly, I was over the moon. Yet learning how to write quickly in order to satisfy the 50K+ requirements of November would have a massive impact on my skills. I know this, because in reading older writing, I’m often surprised by how good it was. When I didn’t have so many restrictions. When I felt like I could just write, with confidence, and be so damn productive, even as I was learning how to write better.
Yet somehow it became a matter of pride, about proving that I could keep being productive during word wars and during group meetings, and showing that I was worth caring about (yes, approval seeking from peers). I learned how to write in a group, while listening to music on my headphones if I needed not to be so interrupted. Drama erupted (as drama does, because groups of people gathering typically leads to drama, though not everyone understands that). But I didn’t like the pressure of being forced to write something new every year, when I was still polishing the last book. And then there was the fact that rather than actually writing, the group dissolved into just talking all night.
Yes, it became an unhealthy situation in so many ways. And through it all was the running thread of what NaNo symbolized, about writing like crazy even if the end result was crappy.
Learning how to do just that meant I found myself unable to write much at all. I was paralyzed by a desire to produce beautiful writing, and caught in a rut of thinking I didn’t know how to write well anymore. So amusingly enough (in a masochistic sense, anyway), I was caught at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Ugh. So how do I fix that?
Okay we could cut the post right here and say that the only real answer is throwing writing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks and just going with that (which is scarily true), but Imma spell it out all the same. Much like how I tackle necessary chores, I got angry. So I wrote and wrote and wrote Artist’s Way style and finally realized what I wanted to do.
So what works for me, which you might also find helpful?
- I’m more productive when I write daily. (I’m not entirely a fan of The Artist’s Way because reasons, but the morning pages concept was about getting the crap out to free the mind from distractions.)
- I’m more productive when I put myself first, even if just a little, and take time to actually work on my stuff rather than help others with what they want me to do. It’s so easy to always say yes to others, but it’s important to say no sometimes.
- I’m more productive when I get the essentials down first. In other words, I follow some of what Rachel Aaron mentions in her 2K to 10K post linked above (now also a book), and write the skeleton first, often first sketching out what I’m going to write before I add in all the pretty polish.
- I’m more productive when I have a healthy writing environment. That hasn’t been true for some time, but now that it is, I finally feel like I can get stuff done.
- I’m more productive when I exercise regularly. Exercise gets the brain working. It fights lethargy. It fights personal entropy.
- I’m more productive when I get enough sleep. This could be grouped with “putting myself first” but it’s also one of my personal challenges.
I won’t ever do NaNoWriMo again, and yes, you could say that technically I learned from it, but it’s a bittersweet lesson and one of my regrets.
That’s why it makes excellent story fodder!