Dude, Where’re My 50,000 Words? And Other Things NaNo 2017 Taught Me

Don’t start the reveille for my comeback tour yet. Things are still busy around here. But I’ve waited a long time to make an update. Almost a year, which, in blog years, is ten years. I’ve been on the fringes of the blogosphere but in all honesty, I’ve missed a ton. (If you’re interested in what I’ve been up to, keep your eyes open for an upcoming blog post.)

However, it is December 1, which is the first day of Decompress-from-NaNoWriMo Month. This year was my first year that I’ve won NaNo, my second year participating. Last year, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis on November 28, which was a Monday, and I honestly lost all enthusiasm for NaNo, as well as plenty of other things. I was also about 10,000 words behind, having written only 30,000 words up to that point.

This year, I decided I would head back into NaNo with a vengeance. My unspoken modus operandi since my MS diagnosis has been: I will not allow MS to take anything from me, if I can help it. Not my fitness, not my hobbies, not my ability to participate in family life, and definitely not my writing.

In that spirit, I began a brand-new project on November 1. (#Preptober consisted of me drinking half a hard apple cider – I’m the lightest lightweight you’ll ever meet – on Halloween and staying up after Cole and Greg had gone to bed, roughing out a quick-and-dirty hero’s journey outline. I’m not bragging about this.)

Here’s what winning NaNo has taught me, and if you’re thinking of taking the plunge next year, consider this your caveat emptor.

5. Find Your Why

I’ve already explained most of my “why” for doing 2017 NaNo in the intro above, but in case you skipped right to the listicle, basically, I needed something to get me back on the writing train after health issues sidelined me last year in a big way.

But was that lofty and frankly esoteric motivation enough to keep my butt in the chair? Honestly, it wasn’t. Instead, I found myself focusing – surprisingly hard – on wanting 1) This year’s NaNo t-shirt and 2) This year’s “writer fuel” NaNo thermos. I think the t-shirt is snazzy-looking and I broke my favorite coffee thermos just recently, and naturally, I would not allow myself to buy either of those items unless I won.

Stupid? Maybe. But it’s the small stuff like that, t-shirts, and coffee thermoses,that can make all the difference. Most of this is old hat, but set a reward for yourself. Give yourself a concrete “why” for finishing NaNo (more than just “because I want to”), and it’ll help.

4. Prioritizing and Sacrificing Are the Same Thing

I’m proud of completing NaNo with 50,252 words under my belt for the month, but, frankly, I really struggled to make proper priorities out of things once I jumped in. I’m a one-track workaholic when I’ve got my teeth into something, and so I sacrificed sleep, I was on the computer often when I was awake, and although I tried to minimize it, both my husband and son probably felt the impact of my shift in focus.

As a result, I won’t be doing NaNo next year, even though I enjoyed it immensely, and won’t return to it until Cole is at least in preschool, so I can devote some time to it when nothing and no one else needs my attention first. Taking time away from family at night and throughout the day is something for writer parents of young children to consider carefully before diving in. Honestly, I didn’t consider it carefully enough, and that is a regret.

3. Nail Your Mantra Ahead of Time

Here’s mine.

It really helped when I lapsed into being super precious about word choice or was fearful of jumping into a scene that required intense emotion.

NaNo is all about filling the sandbox. If you’re the kind of writer who likes to edit as you go, agonizing over each word in a Thomas Wolfian slow-burn creation fervor, NaNoWriMo probably isn’t for you.

But if you wheedle and dawdle over your writing to the point that you’re not producing anything, consider NaNo your permission to write without involving your internal editor. Your mantra will help, functioning as the advice you’ll fall back on when things get tough, and they will.

2. Choose Your Writing Tribe Carefully

Did you know there are people out there who take it upon themselves to write entire novels (I’m talking 80,000+ words) start to finish in November, 50,000-word challenge be damned? I didn’t, but now I do, because I joined several Facebook groups for NaNoWriMo that were chock-full of these overachievers. I even changed my profile picture for the month, so I could be just like them!

Ultimately, I found this demoralizing, like I’d accidentally entered an ultramarathon intending to run only 26.2 miles. Running a marathon is an achievement, but ultramarathoners are running a different race altogether. And the ultra-worders weren’t my tribe – the ones who finished at just over 50,000 words on November 28, 29, or 30th were. It took me a while to find them, and effort to block out the others (that I could have been putting toward my writing, or literally anything else).

1. Set Your Mind and Keep It Set

If this sounds familiar, that’s because this is part of a Bible verse (Col. 3:2) that reads:

And set your minds and keep them set on the things that are above, not the things that are on the earth.  Colossians 3:2

There were setbacks this month. Cole went through the 18-month sleep regression right around the Thanksgiving holiday, which we host every year, and both Greg and I were so tired we could hardly open our eyes. Other days busyness, missed naps, crankiness, and other obstacles popped up.

Instead of getting discouraged and imagining the ways in which each problem was surely going to ruin my chances at winning NaNo, I tried to adopt the attitude of ::shrug:: “I’ll win, anyway.”

Sometimes, it didn’t work. Sometimes, I was annoyed and stressed and run-down. The reality of living with MS is that when I miss sleep and am fatigued, my body does all kinds of funny stuff – I feel like a human tuning fork someone has just set to vibrating- and none of it is conducive to feeling healthy or writing well.

But most of the time, I didn’t waiver in my determination, which is a totally new mindset for me, I’ll be honest. I tend to jump all over excuses not to do things and use them accordingly. Not this time.

I wanted that damn t-shirt. And that thermos.

Did you win NaNo this year? Did you participate? Why or why not? Let me know what you think in the comments.