Things I learned from trying and failing at #NaNoWriMo

I admitted defeat this evening, ten days into NaNoWriMo. I fell well behind my target this week, leaving me in a position where I’d have to write 2000 words a day to finish the book. The fact I failed to write anything today means that number has only increased. The last two weeks of this month will be absurdly busy. I’ll be doing five talks, visiting four places and will only be at home for five days. Given I’ve struggled to meet my target up till now, I just don’t see the point in making myself miserable by trying for the rest of the month when it clearly won’t happen. Here are some things I’ve learned from the attempt:

  • I need time to mull over the plot for fiction, whereas ideas for non-fiction flow reliably as long as I’m reading, talking and blogging widely.
  • Whereas I can write non-fiction to a passable standard whatever psychological or physical state I’m in, it’s hard to write fiction unless I’m in a good mood and well slept. I usually have the former condition these days but the latter is much rarer in my life, unfortunately.
  • The word target for NaNoWriMo was a great motivating force when I was meeting my daily target of 1,666 words. But once I’d fallen behind, it started to really stress me out. I was writing to meet the target rather than to help a story unfold, exasperating the aforementioned difficulties with writing fiction unless I’m attentive to the plot and in a mood to enjoy what I’m doing.
  • You have to block out time for this. I have to at least. I’d expected to be able to write fiction in a quasi-automatic way, as per my academic writing. But I’m realising it’s a rather different craft, requiring a lot more care than academic writing. I just didn’t have the time and energy this month to give it the care it needed and this is why the project has gone off the rails. Whereas I can usually fit 90% of the academic writing process around the rest of my life, with dedicated blocks of time only needed for serious editing and preparations for submission.
  • I’m usually conscious of how Twitter intersects with my dispositions to form a machinery of distraction but trying to write fiction really intensified that awareness. Twitter leaches mental energy in a way that I’m coming to find profoundly unnerving.

It was a useful experience and I’m definitely going to try again next year. Though it remains to be seen whether my post-Brexit cyberpunk techno-fascist police thriller will be the foundation for something real or a faltering first attempt at serious fiction writing.

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