NaNoWriMo 2015: What I learned

I was looking back at my old scrivener files and the first year I started NaNoWriMo was 2012. Life has changed a lot and I’ve learned a lot too.

This year is the first time I planned and developed so much before November 1st. When I started in 2012 it was pantsing all the way – and it was crap! This time I feel like I have something worth keeping and editing. Interesting that. Such a surprise. (Maybe there’s sarcasm here.) Last few times I attempted NaNo I lost. Either health problems or doctor appointments or both got in the way. I tried Camp Nano in May 2014 but then spent about 4 weeks recovering from a really tricky lumbar puncture. Last year’s NaNoWriMo I caught a cold the first week of November and spent the rest of the month SICK. Anyway.

When you have any or all of the above: chronic illness(es), easily sick, chronic pain, cognitive problems, fatigue issues, dietary restrictions; then regular writing advice about how to write and how much to write isn’t helpful. Self care must come first. Always. Read advice about writing itself. Read books on how to improve your writing. Read books on how stories are organized/developed. Don’t listen to someone say you must write every day to be a writer. If you identify as a #spoonie, someone living a #chroniclife, or another hashtag I have forgotten (see what I did there?) then you have to figure out writing for yourself. It sucks but we are used to the universe not being fair, most of the time.

You must write to be a writer. It’s that simple.

I managed to write, on average (guessing didn’t do math) 3000 words about once a week. I didn’t know I had that in me and it was easier because I planned and had a more developed idea before I started writing. But there are also days where you just have to stop looking at the words. Some days I was barely able to get out 1000 words. 1000 words is still 1000 words.

I did not attend any local write ins for a variety of reasons. I did however, pay attention to @nanowrimo and @nanowordsprints on Twitter. I also made a friend online to check in with daily. We were like each other’s cheerleaders. I’ve grown to appreciate the nanowrimo subreddit as well. Last, I joined in on the local nanowrimo group that has their own FB page. There’s also the official nanowrimo forums but they are overwhelming for me. It’s like by the time I figure out the right thread to post in I’ve forgotten what I want to say.

A lot of people (writers) will recommend a dedicated writing place. I can’t manage that. I don’t have dedicated transportation right now so sometimes I can’t leave the house. I do, however, have a laptop so I can write in different places. It’s important for me to not get stuck in the metaphorical rut and sometimes write in a different place. But, as great as a laptop, a laptop in your lap is probably bad posture. It only took one night of typing away on the laptop in my lap to learn I can’t do that (anymore). Bad posture is worse than not stretching. Which is another thing. Stretch and move about regularly. Stretch arms and wrists too.

Also important, but I think I did fairly decent here, is remembering to eat and drink regularly. Snack if necessary, don’t automatically assume caffeine is (or isn’t) ok. (For me, I can’t tolerate much at all.) While sugary snacks are ok, you can’t do that every damn day either.

Last, there was a number of random things I learned about writing.┬áDon’t force yourself to organize your writing as you’re writing it if that is slowing you down. I did not write linear and I did not write chapters. I wrote scenes. This will make editing a little more interesting – or easier – depending.

And remember good book openings are just like porn, you know it when you see (read) it.

Writing Advice for Chronically Sick People

Everyone likes writing advice. I would bet every single published writer with a presence online has been asked about how to write or how to be a writer more times than they can count, or remember, or forget.

What’s been impossible for me to find advice for is writing and writing goals for people who cannot write every day or cannot write a lot every day because of their health. Finally, I realized, after months of reading online and trying to make myself fit into someone else’s routine, that the only reasonable advice is:

Find what works for you.

If you really want to write, it’ll happen. It might not happen every day or every week. Your health is more important than the next 1000 words. No buts. It just is.

I’ve been fighting myself trying to find a way to write. I joined Camp Nano again for April thinking it would be the motivation I needed to write. Well, most days I had no idea what to write, no focus to think through writing, or no energy after I finished the other things that needed done that day. Maybe this is what made me realize that someone else’s routines and goals won’t help me…. or at least I better have planned out exactly what I’m doing to be able to succeed for something like Nanowrimo or Camp Nano(wrimo).

Things I’ve learned:

1. It’s okay to not write every day.

2. Sometimes you can just think about writing.

3. Reading is good too.

4. Finding ways to brainstorm a little at a time is helpful. For example, I’ve started brainstorming a story idea on notecards. I have lots of notecards and write down a simple thing on each notecard.

5. There are days where you have to take care of yourself and rest and writing just won’t happen. If you can’t decide if you want to go back to bed after breakfast, you probably won’t be writing. Or maybe you’ll be writing after you take a nap.

How I use notecards/plan to use them: When I’m ready to actually sit down and write, I can grab one notecard at a time. I don’t need to start writing with chapters in mind. A first draft, or a pre-first draft, or a zero draft is just that… the very beginnings of a novel. The baby novel. The not ready to meet the world yet novel.

This advice works for everyone, but I think it’s especially important for anyone who is chronically sick or chronically ill and has to “count their spoons” to get through every day.