My NaNo experience

So I won NaNoWriMo today!

I’ll be honest, I’m very glad it’s over!

I won because I’m very stubborn and apparently extremely competitive, but only with myself…

As soon as I contemplated NaNo this year, I knew I was going to take part and I knew I was going to win. There was never a question in my mind. Nothing to do with ego or anything, I just knew that I wouldn’t let myself give up. Only exceptional external forces would get in the way, and fortunately life is in the calm between storms phase at the moment (personal theory – life is just a series of storms, it’s only the intensity and frequency of the storms that change, they never pass over for good – this theory was inspired by a painting I was given with the phrase “life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain”).

I wanted to do NaNo because I used to write a lot creatively. It was one of the first things to give me a sense of pride and achievement. An infant school teacher encouraged me to write creative stories in the back of my English jotter and would mark them like school essays. I would experience that amazing “Muse Trance” where it felt that I was just a conduit for the words to flow through and when I looked at the finished product, I almost felt I could claim no credit for it, I’d just been the writer/typist not the originator of these words… I felt for a very long time that if the words weren’t just flowing like that, it wasn’t worth pushing it, just put it down and pick it up later. Sooner or later the Muse Trance would hit me and something lovely would pour out, no Muse Trance, no point wasting time on it.

I had complete faith in my ability to write good stuff. It was a cornerstone of my personality and self-worth for the majority of my life.

Then I started my Advanced Post Graduate Diploma in Integrative Counselling & Psychotherapy.

This was amazing for boosting my sense of my own intelligence and ability to learn, however it almost killed my creative writing and it’s taken several barren years to recover.

For that course I estimated that I wrote some hundreds of thousands of words in all over a period of 4 years (with an extended break near the end due to life being one tempestuous storm after another). Each term required at least a 10k word essay, a 20min spoken presentation, class notes and reflective journals on each class, and two to three other assignments of varying length. The research and thought process was immense (this isn’t including the personal counselling, the 100 client hours and supervision) and it’s no wonder my brain went on an extended vacation afterwards – even now the thought of entering into a study programme again makes me quail a little inside.

So I approached NaNo with an open mind, a lot of enthusiasm, no thoughts of quality, no pressure for this to go anywhere at all, just a desire to write the required number of words in the time allotted and see what happens. With that attitude, whatever happened was the right thing to happen and held a valuable lesson in its grimy mitts.

Picture if you will a building site with many people building things. Some are serious architects with plans and goals and focus, some think they are serious architects but actually haven’t got a clue and are loudly building their castles with no foundations, some are experimenting, some are building on previous foundations and so on… and then there’s me, over in that corner over there, see the sandpit? Yup, that’s me in there throwing around sand with glee, making lots of mess and noise.

This may go some way to explain why I felt upset and affected by some very valid views very early on in the process. There I was making lots of mess and noise, being a playful toddler in the sandpit of Nano, when suddenly I felt made aware of just how messy and noisy I was in the face of people who took this shit seriously and built structures of beautiful quality that I was utterly envious of (as I sat there covered in metaphorical writing-sand)… I felt disrespectful and immature in their desire for quality and integrity, but at the same time resentful along the lines of “don’t squish my sandcastle, dude!”

I got over it and I got their point. NaNo is many things to many people I think and just as I have got upset by people taking a weekend course and calling themselves a qualified massage person, they had every right to see people thinking they could do a month of NaNo and become a published author, the growth of self publishing on Amazon and the like had lead to an increase in truly awful pieces of writing (I can’t call them books!) being in the published arena.

I carried on playing, but I did it more quietly, I didn’t post about NaNo on my facebook status anymore (apart from a few milestones and the finish line), and just got on with it.

My enthusiasm waxed and waned over the month, my huge mindmap soon stopped being useful as a structure guide as I let my “gardening” whims take the lead.
I wrote myself into and back out of corners, tried plot and random ramblings, I had a few glorious Muse Trance moments and some sentences here and there make me smile each time I read them back. I even tried writing a scene of sexy fun times – yeah that was an excruciatingly embarrassing experience! I think the world of erotic fiction can consider itself perfectly safe from me!

The last week I had definitely run out of motivation, enthusiasm and plot. Or rather… I did still have plot… but I was running out of words and had no desire to carry this on past the goalposts, I’m so done and over this now, move on, next project please! My 50,000 words is appallingly structured. With each passing day it was a bit more of a grind and the thought of writing was becoming a chore rather than the joy it had been, but my stubborn nature wouldn’t let me give up, my early enthusiasm had ensured I had a comfortable lead for most of the month, so I just crammed as much of the remaining plot in as I could, wrote what I could each day whether that was 5 or 3000 words and left it on a bit of a cliffhanger. They can all stay there, the characters, standing or sitting around the table in the library saying goodbye to the girl who shouldn’t have been living… (oooh, mysterious, eh?!)

I submitted the words, watched the winners video, changed my facebook icon and printed out the certificate.
I may have also welled up a little with emotion.

So farewell, NaNo 2013. I’m glad I took part, I’m proud I completed it. I may even try again next year and take it a little more seriously. We shall see. Not making any promises yet! Although if I do… several work colleagues have expressed curiosity in NaNo, and that could be a very interesting indeed!