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NaNoWriMo: Why Taking a Break and Saying "No" to the Frenzy Can Help You Begin Again
Andrea Collier, our NaNoWriMo correspondent, recovers from hitting the wall, and fields a few questions such as: 'Are you nuts?' and 'Would you do this again?'. DAY 15: There is something about knowing that you are at the halfway mark that makes the mind go all screwy. Four months, four weeks, it doesn’t matter. And for writers, this is one of those pivotal points. Pushing this hard on a project, unrelenting, almost blindly, deserves a break. In fiction, it deserves a beat. And when we won’t give it, the break just takes itself. It makes us question every word and every plot twist. The critic that I have been able to keep at bay for all these thousands of words just went crazy on me. It was too much. So I did what I new how to do. I decided on Friday afternoon to just take a break. I will still get to 50,000 when I start up this morning. I will still be able to push through. But this weekend, as a part of the self care, I just said no no to Nano. The scary thing about taking some time off, at least for me, is that I have a rhythm going. It’s like going to the gym at the same time every day for several weeks or even months and then taking a break. That break is great. That re-entry is agony. And today is my agony. I am staring down the page like you are. I am stressed about the thousands of words I missed. But I am better. I happily skipped (yes skipped) to the computer and said, “If I am going to make it, this week I need to be at 3,000 words for a few days at least. Did I miss my characters? Sure did. The ones I didn’t miss may fall prey to a delete key, but not until the revision stage. But whatever I missed by declaring a no-no to NaNo weekend, I made up in social interaction. I helped my husband celebrate his birthday on November 12. I hung out with friends making pottery on Saturday and my family went out for dinner last night. All of these are things that we haven’t done since I started this. I had a Cosmo. I wrote an essay. I read essays from my class. Oh, and I knitted and cooked and I started planning my Thanksgiving menu. YES I DID. This reminds me about how tunnel-vision we She Writers can be if we get a little time and space to get lost in our words. Of course, it is the ultimate luxury to spend hours at a time developing a character or a short story or a poem. And it is seductive. Yet it is also why I had a mini-melt as I headed toward the halfway mark. Balance is everything. So today, November 15, as we all get going again and fire our engines, I feel good and ready to hit the pages hard. I have a direction, but I don’t have that frenzy. I don’t like frenzy, I’ve decided. I will finish this because I have publicly said that I would. But this weekend of reprieve has taught me that at the end of the 30 days, the hot mess that is my manuscript is still my baby. NaNoWriMo is just the starting pistol. And since I didn’t actually write any words this weekend, I thought I would share some of the questions I have fielded, and my answers. Q: What would make you divert time from paying work to do this? Are you nuts? A. Yes, I’m nuts. Q: What has been the most challenging part of shaping a story in this way? A. Giving up control. I did a bunch of prep, but once I started, I wrote with blind faith. I never do that. Q: In a challenge like this, how do you maintain your “writer’s voice?” A: That has been the easiest part. When I write for magazines, newspapers, or websites, there is a voice and tone that is unique to those publications. I stay within their framework. But for my own work—short stories, essays, and fragments of novels, I never ever veer off from my writer’s voice. I had a writing teacher early on who advised me to just talk to the page. Even in this challenge I talk to the page, just faster like something out of an Alvin and the Chipmunk movie. Q: You said you are switching it up and sometimes using a fountain pen. Isn’t it confusing? A. NaNoWriMo is about creating new material. It’s not necessarily about creating new tricks to get it done. Some of my old tricks work just fine. Like when I am writing something that is particularly emotional for me, or I am trying to work out a seamless passage, I always go to the pen and paper. Then I go back and put it into the computer. Most of my essays are longhand first. Q: How hard has it really been to juggle this, and paid work, and the blogging? A. Because I bit off a word count that I could live with—1,700 words a day, that part has been OK. Sometimes I get it out of the way early. Sometimes I am writing at night. These next few make up days will be a bit more taxing. The biggest stressor has been doing this blog twice a week, quite honestly. I want to share info that helps you get through, not just navel gaze. So I sweat that. AND I am supposed to be doing more video. Stressful. But delightful to connect in this way. Q: Will you do NaNoWriMo again? A: Nope. But don’t believe me. I said that last time. Q: What else are you working on while you do this? A: My online essay class has been going on at the same time. I have been writing about technological medical wonders of hot tubes that go into lungs. I am writing a couple of food essays that I am excited about. I am planning a major health journalism conference for NABJ. And I am finishing up a book proposal (not this novel) that I hope to send to my agent soon. So my question for you, dear She Writers and SheWriMos, is … at Day 15-- what kinds of feelings, fears, and angst have bubbled up for you? Andrea King Collier is a Lansing, Michigan based freelance writer and author of Still With Me...A Daughter's Journey of Love and Loss (Simon and Schuster) and Black Woman's Guide to Black Men's Health. Photo: Katherine Munoz/Flicker Related links: Previous posts by SheWriMo Shares All NaNoWriMo group at She Writes Follow other SheWriMos here

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  • Stephanie Ayers

    I took a break and didn't miss my characters at all. When I wasn't writing, I was pushing my brain to come up with something, but nothing would. So, I ditched it. I learned that when you hear "Write what you know", it's true. So, I restarted, only this time I went with what I know. I've only been at it for 3 days, and like you, I have to put in almost 3,000 a day to make it, but, I'm not having any problems with it now. I'm getting nice little surprises in what is developing in the story, and I'm having a ton of fun. That's more then I can say for my daughter who gets mad that she can't watch TV because mom's writing, LOL.

  • Lanita Andrews

    I'm out! Apparently two weeks was more than my family could deal with, (and their bad moods because of it were almost more than I could deal with), so after a long talk with hubby, we decided it's time to call it quits. That said, I'm thinking of treating the first week of each month like nanowrimo. My husband and I both feel that is manageable while our girls are still little, and I think my fiction writing could hugely benefit from it. I don't plan on starting that new routine until the holidays are over, though. Whoever decided on the first month of the winter-holiday-season for nanowrimo must be crazy.

    Kudos to the rest of you Shewrimos for keeping-on!

  • Kristi Holmes Espineira

    Yesterday was really hard but today I had a plot breakthrough (the best ideas always come in the shower). I feel like I am getting the bare bones of the story down, and I will go back to add in all of the elements that fully flesh out the characters, setting, theme, etc. I keep making notes to myself about things to fix in revision -- can't let myself go back now, or I'll get bogged down in despair over all the fixing that needs to be done!

  • Lori L. Tharps

    OMG, today was hard. Why? because in my frenzy to write, I've left off a lot of those little details that help you tell the story. So today, I actually went back and filled in some pieces of the story. Like you, I also went back to my notebook of ideas and wrote some long hand. Revisited my character so I could write her more fully. I'm no track, but now that I officially hit the half way in days and numbers, I need to think about making my way to the end. Thanks for posting.

  • Christina Weigand

    Wow my husbands birthday is today, we did dinner and a football game last night, but I can't say that I did not write. Today I am trying to get back into it, but not too sure how I will do that. It may actually be tomorrow before I listen to my characters and get back into the story. I am ahead on my word count so I do have a little breathing room. It's nice to know that I am not the only one here though.