Nanowrimo for the Anxious: Planning the Process

I’m new here (hi!) and so is this blog.

National Novel Writing Month is coming up fast.  For various reasons, I want to join the insanity.

I’ve been writing original and fan fiction for years, sometimes even in public, and I’ve done Nanowrimo several times, not always successfully.  But Nanowrimo doesn’t free me like it’s supposed to; it just makes me anxious when I decide to participate.  This results in a lot of predictable questions–like “What if I don’t get my daily word count in?”  “What if I choose the wrong story?”  “What if I screw up the plot and have to start over?”–but the real kicker, the one that that’s real, and often stops me from doing things, is what if I fail?

To be honest, often it’s not even a question.  It’s just, you’re going to fail again.  Why are you even bothering?

My anxiety is like the dumb AI that detects SEO on this blog–it can (and will) flip the switch that activates lists of worst-case scenarios, but on paper they’re actually very basic and, in a lot of cases, not realistic.  Sometimes I think mine takes a few favorite words and puts them on endless repeat, in true SEO fashion: “what if,” “wrong,” “failure,” “you suck,” etc.  My weak points.  Then it puts on a new hat and becomes my internal critic, but–more on that asshole later, in some other post.

I have a few ways to combat this, which don’t work 100% of the time, but some is better than none.  Maybe they’ll work for you too.

It’s important to note, however, that I do not suffer as severely from anxiety and depression as some–or maybe I have enough self-confidence (when it comes to writing) to counteract those barriers in this instance.  I do address that in the last section, but I’m really not trying to be an expert here, nor am I confident I’m saying anything new.  Maybe it’s a good idea to say some of this again, though.

It’s hard to be original.  Not gonna lie.    

Title - Planning the Process

Strategies for Approaching Nanowrimo Calmly

Because I suffer from the illusion that I can actually control life, and my raging insecurities, the first thing I do is set out to prevent the bad results (failure) and encourage the good stuff (not-failure).  I’m a pantser when it comes to plotting, but I need to plan the fuck out of the process of getting to the pantsing.  Yes, I appreciate that irony.

Here’s how I start with Nanowrimo:

Plan for a Few Days Off

Nanowrimo demands that we write fifty thousand words of prose in thirty days.  That comes out to 1,667 words every single day of November, which can be challenging.  For example, I might write 5,000 words on a good day, and only 53 on a bad one, which depresses me and leads to other bad days.  By planning days off, you increase that daily requirement.  If you’re sitting there saying no thanks, I don’t blame you.  But… I’ve never done a Nanowrimo that didn’t involve my taking days off whether I wanted to or not–usually for health reasons, or an emergency of some kind, and hell, sometimes I REALLY need to recharge.  It always happens, and I always hate myself for it, which sets me up for even more bad days.

Instead, I’m going to plan for taking five days off.  One per week, plus an extra. (I don’t have kids and don’t travel for the holidays, so Thanksgiving usually only steals one day of writing time, which… I guess means I’m lucky?)  This brings the daily total to 2,000 per day for a total of 25 days of writing.  It’s more, but not that much more.  Since I end up doing make-up writing anyway, I may as well build it in from the beginning.

Why do this?  To remove the negativity that comes with missing a day.  To be kinder to myself and everyone else who can’t make 30/30 days.  Nanowrimo is a challenge for a reason–it’s hard to produce this much work in such a short time!  And come on–we’re not getting graded on this.  Nobody is docking our pay if we lose a day. (If you’re getting paid for Nanowrimo… I mean, where do I sign up?  I’ll eat the dock in payments if it means I’m getting paid at all.)

I have a hard time remembering this.  I am not, in fact, this kind to myself on a regular basis.  This is what I’d tell you, though, if you emailed me on this topic, and I know I should also try to tell myself.

Do Some Quick and Dirty Story Planing Before Nanowrimo Begins

Like I said above, I subscribe to the Pantsing school of plotting, which basically amounts to starting with no plot at all.  You get an idea, sit down, and dive in.  It’s not that I think Pantsing is superior to Planning, so much as I’ve just found following an outline utterly impossible.  Maybe you think that’s incomprehensible–that outlines are so easy to follow!  Well, not for me, and a lot of other people out there feel the same way.  I follow point one, point two, and then fly off the rails because I get an idea that I think will be better and pursue that instead.  I want the freedom to follow my creativity wherever it’ll go without having to worry about sticking to potentially outdated ideas.  It’s taken me years to come to terms with this, but I digress.

Even if I can’t follow an outline, it does still help to know something about what I want to write.  Nothing kills momentum faster than running into a brick wall of what now? after twenty pages of speeding along on the initial inspiration.  That something I need to know varies from story to story, but this year I’ve decided to try the following:

A week before November begins,

  • know 3 things that will happen in this story.
  • know who my characters are: at least their names, occupations, and basic relationships.
  • have a goal in mind for the end, even if I chuck it halfway through.
  • find some handy reference links for “oh shit!” research moments.

If you’re anxious and a Planner, well, go to town.  I envy you.  Life would be easier with detailed outlines that I could actually follow.

The idea here is to reassure myself that I know what I’m doing.  I do.  I know I do.  Whether I’m a good or bad writer, I’ve been doing this a long time, and I have surmounted the challenge of Nanowrimo before; I can do it again.  It’s just that I don’t believe it, and think this is in fact the shittiest attempt at logic, ever.  Every time I do fail at it, I wonder how it is that I can be such a fucking failure, again, when it’s so easy and I should’ve succeeded this time–because I did it that one time!

Obviously I failed because I suck.  That one time was a fluke.

tl;dr, if preparing is something you find helpful, this could be a positive step to take before November begins.  Maybe it’ll shut down your version of this asinine inner critic, or at least mute it for a bit.

(If you’re new to writing or Nanowrimo–if you actually don’t know what you’re doing, or feel underprepared–planning can help.  It’s fine to veer off the plan, but have one, so you’ve got a goal to point your writing at.  I would suggest perusing some of the “how to write” topics on their blog or forum.  There’s no shame in reading Story Writing 101 before starting.)

Remind Myself that Nobody Cares if I Fail

That sounds counterintuitive, I know.  It’s true, though.  Nobody cares if I succeed or fail.  I find comfort in this, because it means that when if I do screw up or fail, it has no impact on my life whatsoever, except that which I allow it to have.  In the event of failure, I won’t lose my job, my house, my family, or anything else important.  It means I failed to reach the goal of completing Nanowrimo this year, but it’s likely that I will have ten, twenty, or thirty thousand more words of this story than I would have otherwise, by the end of November.

It’s so hard to remember this.  If we fall on our faces after 20,000 words, we have not failed.  If we stop writing after 5,000 words, we still have not failed.  We just wrote 5k words.  If you, like me, have let your fears or anxieties stop you from writing before, then this is important.  That you tried, that you took on the challenge, is important.  That you have something written is important.  Don’t forget it like I forget it.  (Which is often, and never convenient for myself.)

What to Do If/When None of This Works

Yeah.  Reality.  Sometimes–okay, most of the time–plans like this are worth about as much as the paper they’re written on.  Since there’s no paper in this particular case, I’m sure you get what I mean.  The truth is… making plans helps me feel better.

That’s pretty much the bottom line.

I feel better because I have this plan.  It’s loose, so there are no checkboxes to tick off, and therefore it’s hard to feel like I’ve done it wrong.  And if it doesn’t work, at least I took a proactive approach to dealing with my challenges.  I value that sort of thing, so that knowledge also makes me feel a little better.

If you are afraid of Nanowrimo, or anxious about any of the same things I am (failing, failing, and more failing) but you still want to participate, then what you should do is whatever makes you feel better.

I set aside days off because sometimes what makes me feel better is going into the bedroom, lying down, and crying while my cats snuggle up against my legs.  Other times I need a brain break and decide to read all day instead of writing.  Occasionally, I will throw myself into housework to avoid writing, or do my laundry, or make up errands to run so I can do anything but write.

I make tentative plans for my story because I feel like a bad writer if I don’t, because the task seems so much more impossible when I don’t, and because I’m afraid I’ll get bored of my own story if I don’t.

I remind myself that nobody cares if I succeed or fail because I am so afraid of what other people will think, regardless of my success/failure, that I might not start at all.

If taking on this challenge is important to you, for whatever reason, do whatever you need to do for yourself to feel better about the process.  And hey, if you have any other (better?) ideas for dealing with this, let me know in the comments!  I’m still trying to figure this out.

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