Nanowrimo for the Anxious: Missing a Day

Have you missed any writing days yet?  The frenetic pace of Nanowrimo almost begs us to trip up.  I always do, eventually.

I’ve missed two days, so far: one thanks to bad planning, and the other because of an emergency vet visit.  Our boy is fine, but wow, did that kill my motivation to write.  Over the last two years we lost two cats to seemingly unpreventable medical issues–one to a collapsed lung, and the other to small cell lymphoma.  We caught it as soon as we could.  It wasn’t soon enough.

Every time I walk into a vet now, I’m terrified.  Literally terrified.  I get tense, shaky, and my stomach gets all twisted up.

So, yeah.  I didn’t write that night.


I hope you’ll forgive me if this post is a little rough.  My normal editing calendar is out the window this month, and then there was Thanksgiving, so I feel a bit hurried.

What to do After Missing a Day of Writing During Nanowrimo

I have a list of self-care and other strategies for this eventuality, but there’s one thing we should all do, no matter how many days we’ve missed.

Forgive Thyself

Ah, the piece of advice I have the hardest time with!  

Look.  If I had missed a day at Starbucks without calling ahead, two things would have happened: I’d have left my coworkers high and dry, and then I’d have gotten fired. I don’t know the formal process, but there are actual consequences for everyone if you don’t show up to your shift.  Since I experienced this early in my career there–i.e. somebody didn’t come in, and two of us had to handle morning rush hour by ourselves–I had a picture in my head of what those consequences would look like.  And yeah, I would’ve felt horrible.

If I miss a day of Nanowrimo, nobody gets hurt, nobody is short-handed, nobody has to work overtime, and nobody gets fired.

So… we missed a day of Nanowrimo.  Or maybe it was two.  Four.  Take a deep breath and tell yourself–lie to yourself, if you must–that it is okay.  You had your reasons.  Yes, “taking a break” is a good one.  If it’s just not going to happen this November, that’s okay too, but missing days does not equal failing the challenge.

Just saying.

How Far Have You Come?

If you have more than zero words, you’re getting somewhere.  A hundred words isn’t a lot of ‘somewhere,’ but it’s still more than nothing.  A hundred words can tell you so much, too: you might realize you started in the wrong place, that you haven’t developed your character enough, that you have no idea what your setting looks like, or that you forgot something else important.  Maybe you wrote the first hundred words and realized you don’t want to continue this story after all.

I remember reading, in some motivational interview or other, that if you only write a hundred words a day, but you write daily, then at the end of the year you have 36,000 words–not a novel, but not nothing.  You could publish that.  It isn’t the required word count for Nanowrimo, but it’s your creative work.  The story exists.  You made that.  Many people don’t even get to the writing stage, so thirty thousand words is not something to be ashamed of.  It’s not a failure.

That said, I have a hard time following my own advice when it’s time to remind myself I’m not a failure.  I do try, though.

Work on Your Story Without Working

If I’m having trouble writing, I often resort to other methods to keep my head in the story, so to speak.  Which one depends on the situation, of course, but there’s always something you can do.  For example:

  • Build playlists and choose character songs.   Some people associate songs with characters, or like to build soundtracks for their stories.  Coming up with appropriate background music for writing sad scenes (or funny ones, or dramatic ones) can also be a useful way to inspire yourself or keep thinking about the story.  One of my current favorite authors, Sarah J. Maas, devoted a portion of her website to her book playlists.
    • Also, related: music can be a great de-stressor.
  • Take notes. Meaning, brainstorm the shit out of a scene or relationship (or whatever) that you’re having trouble with.  Go nuts with the ideas.  I often use this after I braindump my way through a day of Nano with no story progress.
  • Zone out on the train.  Some people get tons of ideas while moving, so your commute (or morning jog, or whatever) might be a cool time to think through your next scene.  I can’t read on trains for various reasons, so back when I had a train commute, I listened to music and zoned into story-land.
  • Cast your characters.  Decide which actors would feature in the roles of your main characters/villains, if your story got turned into a movie.  This is a favorite thing to do in fandoms, and I’ve seen it used as a characterization exercise, too.
  • Ask yourself what they would think about XYZ.  If you’re stuck at the DMV, what would your characters think of that situation, if they were in your shoes?  What would the inner monologue be right now?  Would they get tired of waiting and blow the place up, or talk to their fellow sufferers in line, or browse the internet for cat memes?  Be a good author, and turn your suffering into their suffering!

I’ll admit under duress that I zone out a lot, sometimes when I’m not supposed to.  Don’t be me.  Or do be me, if that’s the only way you can engage with your story today.

Maybe You Need to Recharge

For various reasons, I might not write at all.  When my mother-in-law was in hospice, I didn’t write.  When one of my cats was diagnosed with cancer, heart disease, and kidney failure (yes, all at the same time), I did not write.  When I got my most recent rejection, I didn’t write.

Sometimes writing isn’t the answer, no matter what gurus on the internet say.

I did, however, continue to get ideas–inklings for how to solve such-and-such problem in an existing story, and other thoughts related to writing.  Ideas are easy.  Coming up with them, cultivating them, is also part of the process of writing.  If that’s all you can do in your current situation, sticking to brainstorming in Evernote isn’t a crime.  It won’t get your book written, and you should be aware that doing this can be a procrastination tactic, but–it’s still a legit way to engage.

In any case, the takeaway here is: sometimes we need to recharge.  The events I mentioned above are emotionally taxing.  They’re not all equal; a story rejection doesn’t hurt as much as the others, but it was still painful.  Pain requires energy, steals energy, and leaves you with little or nothing.  If your bucket is empty, then you don’t have much to put into your writing, do you?  And this is not less true of stressors that are unrelated to death.  Stress steals energy too.

Take the time to recharge, and your writing will be better.  You might even feel better about it.

Still Don’t Feel Better?

I mean… fuck it, I’m in the mood for some chicken tenders and fries.  How about you?  I’m definitely having more coffee, chicken tenders or no.

Meanwhile, if you have better ideas, I’m all ears.  Leave a comment!

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