Tuesday, November 10, 2015

What I Learned by Writing a First Draft in Four Days

Hey all,

When last I posted here (sorry for the absence by the way, I’m still trying to come to grips with the loss of my father, and things here have been stressful) I announced that I was going to dive head first into NaNoWriMo.

Inside, I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to write 50K words this year before the month ran out.

Then mania stepped in (as it has been known to do in the past; though I must say that due to all the stress of the previous month I was already manic before I started writing) and I decided to just go with it—as long as it was only for a short period of time, and certain safeguards were in place.

I kept to my med schedule, even taking so-called ‘emergency’ meds to try to bring my brain back down, and for four days, I just wrote.

My husband was good about making sure I ate when he was home, and that I kept to my med schedule and all but otherwise I just let the writing take over, and before I knew it I had finished the entire 50K goal for the month by the evening of 11/4. (50,207 words to be exact.)

I’d had a 15K word day my first day, a new personal best for me, and then once the story took shape in my head it just seemed to write itself.

There were several things I learned during the experience of writing a novel first draft in four days.

1: I need to turn off my inner editor more often.

Once I can manage to silence the little woman (who looks and sounds to me a lot like Edna Mode) my brain still finds it has a lot to say. Which was wonderful to discover, since I hadn’t written anything of consequence (meaning of any length) since I finished Wishing Cross Station a year ago. Of course I’m not counting the editing and revision process in that, which took until just before the book was released last June. That’s rewriting, not writing. 

So that was a long time to be blocked.

2: I’ve reinforced my belief that when you take medications that specifically target your brain, writer’s block IS a real thing.

There was a good chance I could have failed in my NaNo attempt this year and I’m sure I would have if not for the mania. I think it’s knowing I was already manic that drove me to sign up when I panicked at the last minute and almost didn’t try, afraid I’d fail. In all the times I’ve done NaNo (in November or for Camp in April or July) I’ve never ended up with less than 50K words. In Camp of July of 2014, I ended up with two novels and more than 102K words total in the month. So the idea of the idea running out or drying up once I started writing was terrifying.

3: I’ve learned that once I just allow myself to write for the love of it and not with a view to letting anyone else read it, the struggle to find words is a lot less intense.

4: I’ve learned that in four days I may not write my best work ever but it’s not my worst work ever, either. Meaning, that given time and enough brain power balanced between hypomania and mania, maybe one day I will be able to write another book that I am as attached to as Godspeed, or Wishing Cross Station.

5: I’ve learned to stop caring what others think about what I write and how I do it.

Once and for all, I’ve realized that NaNo haters are gonna hate, and instead of trying to change their minds, I just leave them to stew in whatever juices make them so… how can I put this delicately… unkind to those who choose to participate in the event. Though I did go on a mini Twitter rant begging people to just ignore what others are doing if it annoys them and just go about their own business writing how they feel it should be done.

These aren’t the droids you’re looking for, all of that. Just move along.

6: I’ve learned that somewhere, even though deeply lost inside of my mind sometimes, there still exists a writer. Ideas still exist. Some great, some not so great (I’m glad I didn’t go with the manic plan of trying to write the whole book in the style of Shakespeare’s sonnets…) 

The book I wrote was a decent idea, and since I was writing to write (and, to try to outrun my grief for a little while, though it has finally caught up to me and is now demanding its due) the book didn’t have to be a masterpiece. It just needed to come into existence.

And one more thing I’ve learned by finishing a book in four days:

7: I need to give myself more time, even now, to figure out how my brain works and changes at the demand of Bipolar disorder.

It’s been four years since I was finally correctly diagnosed (after an incorrect major depression diagnosis years before) and I still feel like every day is a learning experience. Sometimes now (instead of never) I know when things are starting to go off the rails; when I can allow myself a few nights with less or disturbed sleep to do something like write a novel in a short period of time, while understanding that it’s a pace I could never keep up for an entire month, not anymore. Not without disastrous consequences to my health.

So NaNo has changed for me. It’s a sprint, not a marathon.

It never did take me a whole month to finish the event (I think my previous record for writing a first draft was ten days) completing this one in four has freed me from the fear that I’ll never write again, which has hounded me for a long time.

I might choose not to seek publication for my writing again, satisfied (well as satisfied as a writer can ever be) with the body of work that I’ve put out there… but that doesn’t mean I have to stop writing.

And that is the most important thing I learned during my NaNo experience this year.

I hope, if you’re participating, that no matter what your word count is come November 30, that you’ve learned a lot about yourself and your writing, too.