Please tell me who came up with the bright idea of choosing November for NaNoWriMo. That was my first query after someone introduced me to National Novel Writing Month, a/k/a NaNoWriMo. I mean, seriously! You chose November of all months?
For starters, November is the kick-off for the holiday season, is it not? Here in America, we have Thanksgiving, which is celebrated on the last Thursday of November. It’s a big deal and usually takes a lot of preparation. I imagine other countries have a holiday or two celebrated in November as well. Then, in December, around the world, you have billions of people celebrating holidays such as Christmas, Hanukkah, Bodhi Day (Rohatsu), Winter Solstice, Feast of the Nativity, and many other holidays, not to mention many of us (myself included) may have birthdays and other celebrations on their calendar.
There’s a lot of planning, plotting, and executing to be accomplished. A lot of time to put aside for family and friends. A lot of parties to go to or make happen. For some, travel plans need to be made. For many, gifts need to be chosen and bought or handmade, and we have lots and lots of decorating to get done. And for those of you (like me) who decorate to the point where it looks like Christmas threw up inside your house (or all over your lawn), that decorating takes more than a few days to complete. And much of this preparation time takes place in November.
So, when, I ask you, are we supposed to find time to write an entire novel (or at least 50,000 words of it) in a single month?
Well, miraculously, I did write over 50,000 words the year I was introduced to this crazed event, and every year since the last turn of the century, so have millions of others. How we find time to make this goal a reality is a wonder. But my query today (which is two-pronged) is what are the side effects of this miracle, and should they be considered a fallout or a benefit?
Since we’re just right around a week into December at the time I write this, I figure anyone who experienced the phenomenon known as NaNoWriMo should be past their hangover (if you suffered one, that is) by now. And as I know millions of writers participated in this annual frenzy last month, I found myself wondering how many of you out there are now experiencing any of the known “side effects,” as I’ll call them for the purpose of this article. Also, if you are, do you know how to cash in on those symptoms?
Now, I’ll bet you’re wondering just what are these side effects. Well, let’s take a look at the two most common ones.
First, there’s The Euphoria Effect
You did it! You wrote 50,000 words or more in a single month, and now you’re riding on the euphoria of that accomplishment. It’s a pleasant side effect, and I recommend you bask in it. Ride that high as far as it will take you. But don’t get too comfortable because it won’t last. Keeping up the pace you managed for those 30 consecutive frenzied days indefinitely is unlikely. And if you’re saying to yourself, “I pulled it off for an entire month, so that means I can keep it up,” I’m afraid you’re dooming yourself to a strong bout of fallout. Instead, take advantage of this side effect by cashing in on it.
“How,” you ask? Well, start by deducing how you pulled it off. Just how did you manage to write so many words in a single month, especially with so many obligations and wants on your time? And once you figure out just how you did it, use that knowledge to further your success.
But beware. Digging out an hour or more every day, day after day after day, can turn something you enjoy doing into a chore. Also, putting so much pressure on yourself can put a kink in your creativity or even go so far as to smother it. We all need a break at times. Ask any well-known author about their own routine, and I highly doubt a single one will tell you they write a minimum of so many words each and every day of the year, rain or shine or whether they are sick or on vacation or... Well, you get the idea.
So, while buckling down for a 30-day writing sprint (woohoo, for you!) is certainly a feat (and you should most definitely be proud of yourself), by no means should you expect to apply whatever discipline you enacted to make that happen to your everyday life going forward.
Instead, examine how you did it and use that knowledge to help you get over those nasty humps that occasionally get in your way in the future. You know, like when you get three-quarters of the way through the story and hit that “what should come next?” speed bump? Or how about when you have a deadline hanging over your head and a million other things you need and want to get done on your calendar as well? Telling yourself to buckle down in that way for a week or perhaps ten days is surely doable. After all, you did pull it off before. So, apply those same principles, and I have no doubt you’ll get it done and once again be celebrating your success.
Then once you’ve navigated that speed bump, give yourself a well-deserved break. There’s no rule that says you have to write 1,666.666666666667 words per day (that’s dividing 50,000 words by 30 days), every day, for the rest of your life.
You’re going to have days when you’re super productive, whether it’s actual writing or working on other projects related to your writing, which are just as important. And you’re also going to have days when all you have time for is thinking about writing (which still counts, by the way).
All of that is okay, and you know why? Because succeeding at NaNoWriMo taught you a lesson that you were able to incorporate into your everyday life. A lesson you learned from. You set yourself a goal—a deadline (well, NaNoWriMo did, but you accepted it voluntarily), and you achieved it. So now, whether you set that deadline yourself or someone else sets it for you, you know that you can get it done!
And next, there’s The Let-Down Effect
This is the side effect most commonly (but not always) suffered by those who didn’t make it through the entire 30 days of NaNoWriMo. The ones who didn’t reach that 50,000-word benchmark. It’s also a side effect that sometimes strikes those who did succeed but then begin to feel that dreaded Imposter Syndrome sneaking under their skin.
These sufferers tell themselves they failed. Or if they didn’t fail but succeeded, that they couldn’t possibly pull it off again. They’re just an imposter, soon to be exposed the next time a deadline comes up. Well, my friends, that is a defeatist attitude and one that will likely assure you of turning this side effect into a great big fallout. But I sincerely doubt that expected repeat of failure is true, and really, it doesn’t have to be unless you let it. Instead, how about learning from it just as others learned from their success?
Take an hour and a really good look at what held you back. What caused you to fail, or is now causing you to believe you could never pull it off again? What got in your way or is getting in your way now? It could have been something out of your control, like an unforeseen emergency, for instance. A roadblock placed in your way when you least expected it and one that you just couldn’t get past in time. Or maybe, your lack of confidence or low self-esteem is what got in your way. We all have that problem on occasion, and for some of us, it’s more often than that.
So again, dissect what happened and learn from it. If the problem was something not of your making and simply bad timing, give yourself a break. Sign up for NaNoWriMo Camp in either April or July, and this time (barring no unforeseen emergencies), watch you go!
If the problem is deeper than that, like self-sabotage, for example, talk to someone. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “You are your own worst enemy.” Well, we are. No one tells us, “You can’t do it,” or “you’re not enough,” more than we tell ourselves just that. And we all need to learn to knock it off.
Share your fears and doubts. Learn how to spend way more time focusing on all you have to offer, all you’ve accomplished over your life so far, and all you have to offer still. I know you have it in you, and you can do it! Turn that negative into a positive. Or, for the sake of this article, turn that fallout into a benefit.
Now go out there and show everyone you’re KILLING IT!