No No No No to Na No Wri Mo (sorry 😞 )!

As the short life of my website proves, I’ve only really started going public to obtain critique on my fiction in the last year, and it’s been a bloody tough, skin-thickening year. More learning curves than an AA Road Map, more mistakes than a dating website and more tears than a woman watching Ghost after a breakup. I never thought a hobby could create such an emotional rollercoaster, but it does.

I’m just trying my best to ride the wave without drowning. 🏄‍♀️

The truth is, as someone who uses her own experiences to create fiction, I’ve found the journey can create a heavy emotional load. Typically if I come across a story idea that has a sad or upsetting theme running through it, I might find it jarring, Nine times out of 10 it means I’m forcing myself to relive something difficult from my past, an upsetting situation and/or something I’m yet to make peace with. In order to manage it I have to find a safe moment in my day where I can write the words WITH feeling and WITHOUT connection.

I’m still learning how to do it.

You have to detatch

So when a friend introduced me to the world of Na No Wri Mo earlier this year, the inquisitive side of me had to look in to it and the determined side of me felt sure that it would be a simple process, resulting in a novel of my making and giving me the chance to focus on that single task. Hmmm. Too good to be true, maybe? Lets see…

This is the first time I was made aware that the month of November (here in the UK at least) is well known in the writing community to be a special month dedicated to the arudous quest of writing a 50,000 word novel using the Na No Wri Mo programme. Many lit mags and writing competitions are shut down for the month, allowing writers to focus their time on the most important task – a fast track novel manifested in just 30 days.

It sounds pretty easy, right? The opportunity to have a whole month free of appointments or deadlines and the promise of filling each day with many thousands of written words.

However, for me the reality had many more unexpected (unwelcome) surprises than the book I’d hoped to finish. 📚

In a nutshell, writing a novel meant creating an emotional load that was 20 times larger than anything I’d written before. It took me a while to understand the amount of past pain I was having to drag out of my archive to create new, believable and emotive fiction. The need to detach had never been more important.

But before you get to the nuts and bolts of the emotion of the story and it’s twists and turns, you have to decide if you’re physically ready for the challenge.

Firstly, do you have a novel inside your brain? Is there an idea on which you’ve been jotting copious notes? Have you run rampant around the internet researching the subject? Are you overflowing with plot twists, surprises and interesting, rich characters?

I’m still gonna piss on your parade…

Whatever you’ve done, it’s not enough.

Although 30 days feels like quite a lot of time, we all know how quickly it flies when you’re desperate to make something significant happen.

So, to make sure you complete the challenge, you force yourself to sit at your desk / bed / toilet (ew! 🚽 whatever!) and make time. For me this was a huge problem. Inevitably the time I had available tended to be late nights and weekends. but they weren’t without their downfalls and distractions.

All these problems can make writing a chore. Spurting out words on a computer whilst hanging with tiredness, listening to the kids running around the house and laughing to yourself as you hear your husband trying desperately to control the situation. Normally bribing them with an unhealthy amount or Haribo. These are all huge distractions and, in the end, you’ll start to resent the time that was found to make you happy, and supposed to be giving you plenty of opportunity to do something that previously felt like a pipe dream.

Who can honestly say they are able to completely block out the hustle and bustle of daily life? Who can honestly say that noise, commitments and the view from the window of Sue next door dripping bin juice on her slippers won’t distract them from writing? Who can honestly say they are 100% focussed on the task at hand? Who can honestly say that the smell of a pizza and the pile of accompanying garlic bread won’t stop them bashing away at a keyboard?

Everyone on the planet gets distracted. With just 30 days to juggle it’s highly likely you’ll lose a lot of your writing time to fixing the everyday crap happening around you.

Writing isn’t fun anymore. I don’t want to do it. 😢

If you’re not in it 100%, you’re setting yourself up to fail.

I’ve spent months trying to polish my attempts at writing flash fiction and short stories. The most words I’ve used in this process is 3000 and it took me a long time to write, read, re-read, edit and submit it to the competition. To top it all off, after all that effort it wasn’t even selected. If I need so much time for a (bad) 3000 word short, what chance do I have with a novel?

Again, using a short as a comparison, what are the chances of the first draft being polished enough for submission? In just 30 days a novel will probably take up more time that you ever imagined. There are YouTube channels and social media pages dedicated to writing together virtually. This is an imagined room where authors sit in SILENCE so they can focus on writing new prose. A dead quietness, through a video, that allows an author space. Although it seems I’m mocking it, I know some writers use this highly successful environment effectively and despite the laughter from some people (myself included at one point) many find this is a good way of forcing themselves to make the time.

I had to find ways, like the virtual room, to put myself 100% in the zone. If you’re not committed and determined to work on the task, it’ll be infinitely more difficult to achieve anything you’ll be proud of,

No matter how hard you try, you will need motivating at some point.

Essentially when I found out about Na No Wri Mo I was thrown in at the deep end. I had a few weeks to ready for writing a novel. I didn’t realise I was ridiculously, stupidly, naively under prepared.

So when I made my feeble attempt at the challenge I started out with cocky confidence. I was excited to find out where my story was going (yes, I was THAT unprepared 🙄). I couldn’t wait to talk to others about my original ideas, exciting and crazy characters and wades of progress made.

“I’m going to write a fucking novel!” was on repeat in my brain. I thought I deserved praise and high kudos just for sitting down and thinking for 20 minutes. I’d still written nothing.

By day 3 of trying I was seriously flagging. Enthusiasm was depleted, ideas were bland, conversations were embarrassing and progress was zero.

Tiredness was winning 🥱 .

My brain stopped being energetic and poised for action and began its sarcastic comments and negative narrative that this idea would remain a massive pipe dream because I’m terrible and useless.

I gave up.

I’m not saying for a second that you’ll end up the same. Not at all. But I’m certain that everyone will hit that marathon-famed wall and you’ll be craving motivation and encouragement. I’d say that preparing for that moment would be really helpful. After the event I came up with several ideas that might have helped me to ease back in to the flow. Taking time away from the challenge and focussing entirely on something unrelated. Reading some short stories for inspiration. Using the online chat forums and Facebook groups to get support and understanding (I was too embarrassed to admit my defeat and shame to those people, but I now wish I’d at least tried to talk). Making notes away from the computer about a specific character, going more in depth into their lives and researching the details.

Basically any distraction becomes useful when the enthusiasm is gone and you’ve stopped being productive.

My final thoughts…

In all I was left wondering if I’m even built for novel writing. Maybe I’m only meant for articles, flash and shorts. Maybe I’ve already found my ‘thing’.

Despite all this, the whimsical, creative, fairy tale side of my brain is telling me to go back and try again next year, which I’m certain I will. This time however, I will be OVER prepared, with a years worth of notes, ideas, snippets, research, character builds, screenshots, plot twists and examples to read. Well actually I’ll probably decide on a genre and title and spend the other 11 months and 29 days staring at a blank screen. But hey, at least I’m trying, right?

Seriously though, I’m going to force myself to have prep completed in 2022. I’ll have committed to an idea for the plot and style of the novel. I’ll know clearly who I’m up against author-wise and read some of the successful books in that category. There will also be copious notes, ideas and screenshots of background information on characters I like. I’ll have a plot twist ready, along with other mini surprises to keep it interesting.

I will do SOMETHING to prepare.

So, in conclusion, if you tried and failed at Na No Wri Mo this year, you’re not alone. I think it’s something you can only approach with a year of work behind you, preparing for the marathon of writing you’ll be tasked with completing next November.

I’ll be there. Hopefully I’ll see you too!

In the meantime I can’t help but mention how much this month-long break from my usual writing tasks – short stories and flash fiction competition entries mainly – has bolstered my belief that without a creative outlet I’m nothing more than a spare part in life.

This is the only pastime or hobby I have ever loved and worked hard to improve at almost every day, even if it’s only for half an hour. Not having those competitions to enter meant I had nothing to try and create. There was no need for the informative and interesting part of my brain to engage and come up with new ideas. No taglines or genres to try and wade in to and pad out, no research to complete, and worst of all a lack of content for my website. You may have noticed I’ve done a bit of rambling lately. Na No Wri Mo is at fault, not me!

So just like any other forgotten posession, my brain stopped caring and required a lot of effort to grease the wheels. It’s mid-December now and I’ve written 2 short stories this month. Two. Finding original ideas that evoke a strong emotion is still pretty much impossible. It feels like I’m back to square one, scrambling for ideas that aren’t there. Waiting for a eureka moment that never comes.

I’ll now spend 11 months working on and improving my craft only to stop for a month again in November, lose all my flash and short story improvements and feel bereft over the disappearance of my writing routine. I probably still won’t have a novel either.

But practice makes perfect, right?

Grogu (Baby Yoda)

Finally a note on the picture, which has a very loose, tenuous connection to the post.

Baby Yoda (or Grogu as my partner keeps correcting me) is probably the only character in the Star Wars franchise that I have any affection for. My partner on the other hand, loves the films (sometimes I think more than he loves me), so when I saw a Grogu drawing I tasked myself with making something similar for him as a token of love. I enjoyed drawing this immensely. There were 24 layers of detail and hours upon hours of work putting finishing touches on things that can barely be seen.

Much like Na No Wri Mo, I started the project wholly unprepared and with no real understanding of the style. I had no idea the level of commitment and detail that was needed, I had no idea how much time would be taken up, I had no idea I’d need to take notes of my own changes and ideas. This was, without doubt, my biggest drawing project to date, just as a Na No Wri Mo novel would be. It was my enjoyment alone that got me through it, but it was 100% worth it to have made something unique for someone I love.

I must also mention clearly that the inspiration for the drawing came from someone else’s work. I have made many changes and put a ‘Steph’ twist on it, but without the original it never would have happened.

I have tried via social media (and kept evidence) desperately to find the original artist, but I’ve had no luck. So I want to credit the nameless and highly talented person here and acknowledge their beautiful work and envious creativity.

I would never steal. Not cool.

Published by stephc2021

Hi! I'm Steph, an amateur writer and illustrator specialising in Mental Health and being a self-confessed Spoonie. My website is home to any successful fiction I create, with stories that have won so far covering difficult subjects such as baby loss and mental health in grief as well as some funny and heart-warming tales when I get the inspiration. Every drawing and picture on my website was created by me. I spend a lot of time coming up with illustrations to accompany all of my posts and pages. I try to create original content across all of my channels, whether I'm writing about my own fiction or just generally musing on mental health or my own issues. I want to be part of the change because I believe the understanding of MH in the UK is getting better, but has a very long way to go. By being honest about my own struggles and symptoms I think others will relate and hopefully it will encourage them to talk to someone and get the help and support they need. Long term my goal is to help children too, help them understand their own mental health and how to help with the mental health of those around them. I live in the UK with my partner, daughter and dog, I swear frequently and I adore a well made, traditional, gooey, chocolatey, delicious brownie.

2 thoughts on “No No No No to Na No Wri Mo (sorry 😞 )!

  1. It’s great that you attempted in the first place. And that you’re learning more about yourself with each effort you put into your craft. I guess that’s all that matters, and not just one month of writing. Wishing you all the best in your writing journey!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. Yes, I agree it’s the taking part (or trying to take part) that counts. At least I know what to expect next year and understand that some preperation is needed rather than blindly throwing myself in at the last minute and expecting the next bestseller to manifest. I appreciate you taking the time to look at my blog and have a read! Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

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