While washing dishes last weekend, I dropped a plate. Like a crab claw, my thumb and finger automatically snapped apart. I remember this from last year: the beginnings of carpal tunnel. Even though I type hundreds of words every day, somehow NaNoWriMo is my tipping point. Since it’s the kind of stream-of-consciousness fiction that prioritizes just getting raw, unedited words on the page, it’s a lot more repetitive than the type of thoughtful writing I usually do.
So with that, I’ve quit. Sort of. Even though I’ve taken myself out of the running for the 50,000-word goal, I’ve still gotten a few things out of this exercise:
Four new pieces of creative fiction
After last year’s heavily researched science fiction draft on quantum mechanics, this year’s novel was on the lighter side. I wrote about a fanfiction author with a secret who visits her pen pal in Japan. And whenever I ran out of ideas for that storyline, I broke it up with drafts of actual fanfics I’ve been meaning to write. I published one, and I’m working on the other two now. Without NaNo, that might have taken me years or more realistically, never happened at all—since I put such a low priority on fiction.
A new way to write
I was stuck on a slow Metro train when inspiration for my novel struck, so I started taking notes with my thumbs. By the time the car started moving again, I’d written 300 misspelled, poorly grammaticized words—but 300 words all the same. I realized that when I can’t finesse the spelling and grammar, it frees me to get my thoughts down first without worrying about the final result until later. I’m not a particularly speedy texter, but when I type just for me, I can write almost as quickly as I think. I’ve started writing my weekly streaming reviews this way as well, and the best part is I can still type easily while wearing my wrist brace.
Not always writing to my strengths
One of the reasons I don’t prioritize fiction is because the nonfiction writing that makes up my day job comes first. The other reason, if I’m really honest, is because I’m not as good at it! As a ghostwriter, I’m good at matching other people’s tone and voice; as a fiction writer, I’m not too good at developing my own. As a technical writer specializing in niche topics, I’m good at establishing detail; as a fiction writer I’m crap at worldbuilding and creating a convincing plot. I could just avoid those things, but then I’d never grow. One advantage of personal development that should get more attention is that improvement is a lot more interesting than sticking to your comfort zone. NaNo has been a great way to hone my weaknesses in a kind, supportive space.
Continuing to write every day
I’ve decided to no longer aim for the finish line, but I’ve still been returning to my manuscript daily. After 20,000+ words (that’s 50 pages in Google Drive), it’s habit forming. I have a lot of unfinished threads I want to pursue, even if it’s not at the rate of 1,600 words a day. I’ve been editing, rearranging, and massaging the wording—all the things they tell you not to do during NaNoWriMo because it will slow you down, but it’s precisely this slower pace that is keeping me from injuring myself further.
Last year, I kept writing beyond the point where I was dropping plates. After a close friend died, I’d realized that we never know when it will be our last chance to accomplish a goal. I’d been putting off NaNoWriMo for years and nothing was going to stop me that time; my resolve was unwavering even as I knelt to pick up the shattered china. My novel that year, about a woman in a parallel universe trying to return home, is a palpable metaphor for grief. But this time I’m choosing to celebrate the writing I did do instead of worrying about the writing I didn’t.
NaNoWriMo is an amazing exercise that can push you beyond your comfort zone; I guess this year it was just a bit too much of a push for me. I still want to try it again next year, just with daily carpal tunnel exercises baked into my writing routine. Even if I don’t finish again, it’s such a good opportunity to grow as a writer, which is why I’m always encouraging people to join. Want to use it to work on an existing project? Sure! What if I use my 50k to write 30 different daily blog post drafts? Sounds good to me! Maybe I should offer that same flexibility to myself.
I’m concluding my official count at 21,708 words, but if I do a word count on the manuscript I’m still editing, it’s grown to 23,441 by now. I’m moving a lot more slowly, turning this lump of pure ideas into something more polished. If NaNoWriMo is less about finishing a book in a month and more about starting a habit, well, it’s working for now. Maybe that’s all that really matters.
Photo of kintsugi pottery, which has been broken and mended, via.