Sigh… This was the year I failed National Novel Writing Month. I’ve been participating for twelve years, and won every year, right up until this year. Despite that, this year’s NaNoWriMo was actually a pretty good experience. At least much better than the previous two years, where it felt like nothing was working, even though I was able to finish.
This year’s NaNoWriMo started quite well. I had an idea that I thought had potential and that I enjoyed writing. And after a whole month writing with only vintage pens, I was also very happy to do some long-form writing again with my favorite pens, which I hadn’t used for several weeks. The first week of NaNoWriMo was really great.
As I mentioned in my post from October 15, I had a goal of writing 15,000 words by hand in one day this year. I decided that the first Saturday, November 4th, was a good day to try this.
That Saturday I got up at 3 in the morning and started writing. I passed the 15,000-word mark 20 and a half hours later, at half past eleven in the evening. Time-wise, I spent about as long on 15K by hand this Saturday as I did on 50K on a computer a couple of years ago, when I did my whole NaNoWriMo project in one day. I would still say that 50K in one day is a little bit more difficult. At the time, I sat at home all day and managed my schedule all by myself. During the 15K day this year, I was in a write-in with other people from 10 in the morning until midnight, with the distractions that brought with it. If I’d sat at home I would’ve probably worked more efficiently, but it wouldn’t have been as much fun.
In one hour of intense writing, I manage approx. 1,500 words by hand. In one hour of intense typing on a keyboard, I manage around 4,000 words. That means I need ten hours of efficient writing to reach 15K by hand, while I need twelve and a half hours efficiently to type 50K on a keyboard. That’s without taking into account the necessary breaks along the way. I also tend to write more slowly early in the morning, but the figures still give an indication that 50K on the keyboard is slightly more difficult. That’s also how it feels when I compare the two challenges afterwards.
One of the other participants who also wrote by hand this year pointed out something else that I hadn’t thought about much myself, but which made sense when I became aware of it. Writing by hand requires more brain capacity. You don’t just have to type in the words, but you have to constantly make active choices in how to shape the letters. Research shows that you activate larger parts of the brain when you write by hand. This can also make you more tired than when typing on a keyboard, which is a factor that should be taken into account. With that in mind, perhaps 10 hours of effective writing by hand is closer to the 12.5 hours of effective typing on a keyboard than the numbers first suggest.
Another thing I often experience myself is that I get more sleepy when I write by hand, especially during those really long write-ins we have here in Trondheim in the weekends during NaNoWriMo. When you sit at the computer, you have the light from the screen which actually helps you stay awake. You don’t have that when you use pen and paper, and it can make quite a big difference in your stamina during long writing marathons.
Anyway: I managed my goal of 15,000 words in one day. That was one of the most important goals I had for this year’s NaNoWriMo. After the first weekend, I was far ahead of the number of words I had to have in order to be up to date. I was over a week ahead, actually.
In the context of NaNoWriMo, week 2 is often regarded the hardest week to get through. By then, you’ve gotten over the initial inspiration, and the self-doubt towards your own story and ideas often begin to creep in. Many people struggle to get through week 2 without losing their motivation, or the flow of their writing. I myself basically ended up skipping the whole week, writing next to nothing, mainly because I was busy with other stuff. I worked a lot on the blog post about Eberhard B. Oppi, I had a lot of work preparing for a 24-hour writing event that I was to be in charge of on the third weekend of NaNoWriMo, and I play in two bands that both had rehearsals this week. At the same time, I had gained such a big lead after the 15K Saturday that even after a week without writing, I was pretty much where I was supposed to be with my word count. On paper it was all right, but I had completely lost the continuity of my writing, and that would haunt me throughout the rest of the month.
There was very little time for writing in week 3 as well, which meant that I was a little behind when we got to the third weekend. But that didn’t worry me too much, as we had a 24-hour writing event that weekend, and I knew that I would write a lot during this event. The blog article I’d been working so hard on was almost done, and as soon as the 24-hour event was over, my schedule would open up. I wrote around 10K words during the 24 hours this event lasted, which meant I was back up to date with my words. I was starting to run out of ideas for my novel, but I’ve gotten through those kinds of obstacles before, in previous NaNoWriMo projects, so that in itself wasn’t a big concern.
But then I got sick. For the next few days I was more or less bedridden, and could not bear the thought of writing. When we got to the last weekend in November, I started to recover, but was once again far behind my word goal. I still had 18,000 words left to reach my goal of 50,000, and under a week to do it. I was running out of ideas, and I had gradually begun to lose faith in the story I had been so happy with at the beginning of the month. Along the way, my plot had revealed more and more flaws, and the story was moving in a direction I didn’t like that much.
During November, I had more days that I had to use for other things than days where I could write. I had completely lost my momentum, and my entire NaNoWriMo project was more or less reduced to a few big-effort writing sessions on the weekends. This last weekend I had a choice: should I try to make a dash towards 50,000 words, and set aside the whole weekend for writing, hoping to make up for the lost time and words, or should I give up? The more I considered it, the less I wanted to try to find 18,000 more words on a story that was basically dead in the water. And the more I felt that my time would be better spent on other things the last week of November.
I have never done NaNoWriMo with the ambition of actually writing a good manuscript. For me, it’s always just been about enjoying my own creativity and having fun along the way. That’s the most important thing about NaNoWriMo for me. But now, after writing a little over 30,000 words and getting to explore the ideas I had for this story pretty well, I no longer felt the same drive to chase after 50K words. It was no longer fun, but just felt like unnecessary stress during a period when I also had many other things I should spend time on.
On top of it all, I got sick for almost a whole week, it took the last bit of zest out of me, and I decided that 50,000 words was no longer my goal. The goal now was to just slow down, and have fun for the rest of the month, participate in the write-ins we still had left, but not push myself to write more on a dead story. As soon as I made up my mind, it was like the fog bank lifted from my head and it immediately felt like the right decision. This was the year I failed NaNoWriMo, and that was perfectly fine. I had gotten what I needed out of this year’s NaNoWriMo. I was okay with not reaching 50K words.
I had too much to do in November this year. Some of it was self-inflicted. I didn’t have to publish the longest article I’ve ever written here on the blog right now in November. At the same time, I was driven by something inside me that I didn’t really feel I had full control over. The article about the Pan pens and Eberhard Oppi was a very important project for me, and well worth not winning NaNoWriMo for.
The fact that I chose to write this year’s novel draft by hand also contributed to me not being able to finish it. If I had written on a computer, I could have spent much less time on my novel, and still’ve written much more. That should be a lesson for next year: if I have a lot of other things going on in November, I shouldn’t write by hand.
This year’s NaNoWriMo was a lot of fun on the days I had time to write, and my story was better and more thought out than what I’ve written in the last couple of years. That’s why this year’s NaNoWriMo feels more successful than the previous two years, even though I didn’t get to the 50K mark. When I had time to write, it felt like I was back with NaNoWriMo the way it was several years ago: fun, playful, and inspiring. Just as it should be! And that’s exactly what I have to take with me from this year, and make sure I get right next year as well!