NaNoWriMo Diary Continued… (or maybe the No-NaNo diary)

Okay, I know that technically a diary is  something you write in every day. I should probably have called this a journal instead.

And since I’m way behind, here’s a few entries all at once: 
Tuesday: wrote 600 words today,  falling further behind. Now expected to finish April 2014.
Wednesday: 150 words. Crawling now. Expected to finish May 2014
Thursday:  2050 words, now expected to finish this year. December 31st, but still that’s 2013.
Friday: 1850 words. 
Very exciting yes? No? (I’ll spare you Saturday and Sunday’s totals.)

What you might glean from this is that most days I have not written the 1667 words per day required to finish 50,000 words in a month. Partly this was because some days it hasn’t seemed so crucial as other things, such as sitting with my daughter while her nose poured blood. Or such as dashing off to get more printer ink because we’d run out and both girls had homework to print out, and I also had stories to send off. 

I have several projects I’m working on right now, so Nano happens when everything else is done. And that’s okay. To be honest, if I don’t write 50,000 words this month it won’t bother me, but I do find that the challenge helps to spur me on. 

But I also noticed I just wasn’t getting the enjoyment out of writing the story that I had expected, nor the sense of achievement I’d felt during previous NaNo ordeals, oops, I mean adventures. 

When writers write there is something that a friend of mine calls the “black parrot” that sits on our shoulders. This black parrot says thing similar to those thoughts in the photo below. (And that’s not me, by the way, but my husband!)  I’m pretty used to noticing, and then either letting go of or just ignoring, those thoughts. 

Several days last week, the black parrot said that what I was writing was mostly all c**p. I reminded myself that was okay.  As I’ve said many times on this blog, it’s by writing the c**p that we get to the good stuff – or at least that’s how my mind works. So when it seemed that this story was meandering all over and lacking the spark it needed, I kept trying to convince myself that was okay: even if three quarters of it needed to go, there would a nugget in there somewhere. The crafting could come later. At least I was getting something down to work on, even if all the main character had done in 3000 words was to take a shower, get dressed and do some packing.

Except,  each day, instead of feeling better about the writing, and getting the flow I felt would eventually come if I kept going, I was feeling the same lack of direction, the same sense of a plot going nowhere. I really didn’t want to write 50,000 words to find that there was nothing of value, or maybe nothing more a few hundred words. Sometimes the hardest thing, when writing, is to recognise which thoughts are helpful and which are hindering us. So today, instead of trying to push through yet again, I took some time to notice some of the thoughts that have been regularly coming into my mind. I don’t mean, “This is c**p.” I already know not to pay attention to that, and that it means nothing.

No, the thoughts I noticed today went a bit deeper than that. They ran along the lines of: “You have to get on with churning out words or it proves you are lazy.” Those weren’t the exact thoughts, but it’s the gist of them. My mind was doing what most minds do and trying to use fear to motivate. That was a red flag to me.

While most people do still think that fear is a good motivator, this is not actually the case. Kristin Neff, a professor at the university of Texas has spent many years researching the effects of having self-compassion or a lack of it, and her conclusion is that fear de-motivates us because it releases hormones such as cortisone into our blood, which make us feel anxious and less able to act. When we are motivated by self-compassion, which is essentially love, we release hormones that make us feel safe and more able to act. (You can read my review of Neff’s book here.) I’ve also read about other research conducted in industry that indicates that workers who are criticised actually are less productive than those who are motived by encouragement.

So, when I realised I was trying to motivate myself with fear, I knew it was time to let go. The outcome is that I decided to pay attention to the persistent feeling that the plot line of the novel is not working. Then I noticed where it was going awry, and worked out what to do to fix it. I haven’t written a word towards that 50,000 word count today, but I feel far more satisfied with the novel and can trust that it will now have a proper plot and shape. Whether I finish a first draft by November 30th or not really doesn’t matter. NaNoWriMo provided the impetus to start writing, but I need to go at my pace, not someone else’s.


  1. Absolutely!!! I read somewhere that editors dread December because they get hastily written, perhaps fear-driven manuscripts rather than more well thought-out and polished ones. And certainly figuring out how you can fix the plot is worth well more than 1667 words!!

    1. Sarah, a UK publisher once told me the same thing about NaNo novels – except he gave January as the month all the un-edited novels poured in!
      I think NaNoWriMo can be a good way to get focused, but you do definitely need to treat it as a first draft.

      Thanks for your comment.

  2. Pingback: Find Your Own Writing Process | Yvonne Spence

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