Emily Gilman

Making Stuff Up and Writing It Down Since (Before) I Learned How to Write

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Some thoughts on the first third of NaNoWriMo:

For four glorious days, I was on track for 50k. Each day I thought, at one point or another, “I won’t even make it to 1000 words, let alone 1,667,” and then I would keep writing, and then I would make the day’s word count total.

By the fifth day, I was exhausted. Aside from some short reading breaks I’d pretty much gone to work, come home, written until (past) bedtime, and then gone to sleep. My dirty dishes were piling up, as was the clean laundry that needed to be put away. I hadn’t touched my crochet project, which is time-sensitive in its own right. And I was worrying pretty much constantly about the writing time I would lose to orchestra rehearsals and social plans that were already on my calendar before I’d decided to try NaNoWriMo.

So I let my friend point out to me that, as far as my original 30k goal went, I was good through Saturday, and I gave myself Thursday night off. I watched some TV, I worked on my crochet project, I went to orchestra, and I felt a lot better. And I didn’t worry, on Friday, when I was too busy running errands and then too tired to write. Or Saturday, when I was visiting with friends.

But then I didn’t write on Sunday, either, because I needed the introvert time, or Monday, because I went to a concert after work, or Tuesday because I was too tired again. And I was really tempted not to write today, to spend the day off from work watching television and catching up on chores.

So here are some things I’ve learned from the first third of NaNoWriMo:

  • I can write a lot more in a day than I thought I could.
  • If I know enough about my characters and what needs to happen it’s easier than I expected to let myself be vague or wrong or inelegant and plan to fix it later in the interest of getting words on the page.
  • Writing 1500-1700 words every day when I’m working full time is too much for me to do and still be healthy. I need some down time for crafts and things, and I need time to see people, and I need time to do at least some basic chores. Aiming for 750-1000 words a day is probably pretty reasonable, though.
  • It really is easier to write if I do it every day, and it’s hard to make myself get back into it after several days away.
  • I feel a lot better — happier, more energetic, more like myself — when I’m writing.

Some of that is stuff that I knew, or guessed, but even with something like “writing makes me feel better,” knowing it’s true isn’t the same as experiencing it in the moment. Mostly I’m glad I wrote down my intentions before I started, and while I’m pleasantly surprised at how much I can write in a day, I’m also pleasantly surprised at how spot-on my intentions (1k/day, aim for writing every day consistently rather than pushing for a bigger word count and burning out) turned out to be.