November is usually my favorite time of year. I love the crisp air and the bright colors of the leaves. I love the overindulgence of food and slightly commercialistic sense of togetherness that comes with a holiday about which I actually have pretty mixed feelings. But the main reason that November has been my favorite time of year for the past six years is NaNoWriMo. Ahort for National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo is an annual challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. I first attempted in 2009 and only made it about halfway through. I tried again in 2011, won, and I’ve been winning every year since then. It combines two of my favorite things: writing and throwing myself into a healthy dose of panic for the sake of a challenge. This year, I actually had the audacity to fear that just writing 50,000 words in a month was becoming too easy. I guess God heard me and decided to put those worries to rest.
This November was one of the harder months of an already hard year, beginning with NaNo. My novel idea was mostly a cathartic one, in which I tried to finally put words to still unresolved feelings about friendships that fizzled out years ago. Within the first couple days, I knew it felt wrong wrong. I started the story with a character that I intended to be the catalyst but who soon proved to be irrelevant. On November 4, I broke the cardinal rule of NaNo: I deleted words. Not just a few words. I deleted the first four chapters of my story. But even after an exhausting day of catching back up and reworking the plot in a way that was at least more exciting, it still wasn’t the story I wanted to tell. This wasn’t a simple case of first draft messiness. There was something fundamentally wrong, like maybe I didn’t want to tell that story at all. Because every draft is a lesson and it had been seven years since I had lost NaNoWriMo, I pushed through that, but I never really felt any better about it.
Then there were external stressors: the election, for starters. This was the first time I voted in a presidential election and the most worried I had ever been about the outcome of any election. I could barely think about anything else. My stomach was in knots for the entire week leading up to it. I felt alienated from close members of my family. The results were, for me, horrifying and depressing, and most of my friends were even worse off. Hearing a paralegal at work sing “happy days are here again” or walking through the living room trying not to listen to the commentary of smug Fox News anchors didn’t help. My workplace went through a major change, as well, particularly in my department: we were outsourced. We still have all the same people and we work at the same place, but we work for a company that runs things very differently from the habits to which we had all become accustomed. New signs had to be posted everywhere. New logs had to be filled after each job. New request slips. New complaints about the new signs, new logs, and new request slips. The change was not necessarily bad and I even got a raise, but it was exhausting, in a month that was already draining.
I’m not a reclusive person. I’ve made so many friends during NaNoWriMo in past years, both in the online community and at the local write-ins, and that community has always been a powerful, encouraging force. This year, I pulled away from them most of the time. Sometimes going to the write-in was too much effort, or I had some minimal excuse to avoid it. When I did go to the write-ins, I often left early. I was too tired to do anything more than try to stay caught up. But I think writing alone so much made it harder.
One evening as I left work, I realized that, for the first time, NaNoWriMo wasn’t fun. I wasn’t screaming with excitement as I plunged into freefall from the madness of fast drafting; I was just focused on getting to the end. NaNo this year was just something to get through, and I hated that. I know it wasn’t really NaNo that I wasn’t enjoying, though. It was everything else. The exhaustion and fear of Everything Else poured into NaNo and made it feel like a waste of time. Writing has always been, among other things, a way of working through when times got tough, but this year, it wasn’t enough.
It’s unjust, however, to talk only about the negatives of November as if that’s all there was. There were some bright spots. If my personal NaNoWriMo journey was rough this year, I was excited for my friends. One particular friend had attempted NaNo once before, while in school, and given up before the end. This year, he was ahead of the daily wordcount all throughout, and he hit 50k with three days before. Another friend used the month just to get in the habit of writing more consistently and expected not to exceed 20k. She ended above 40k. Still another stopped her novel after about a week when the conflict in the story felt too much like real life, but in that one week, she wrote more words than she had in three previous attempts at NaNoWriMo. Each one had a different experience, but I felt proud of all of them.
It was also the month that I first played Dungeons and Dragons, as a high elven bard with stage fright and a limp. The challenge of out loud, on the spot storytelling was new and terrifying. I’ll be honest, I froze and sputtered through most of the game, and I don’t think I contributed much creatively. But as anxious as I was, I enjoyed it so much more. Another friend and I even decided to start a campaign.
I finished my 50k and the last chapter of my novel at 11:30pm on November 30. I may never touch it again, I wasn’t especially proud, but it’s there and it’s finished. That’s my general attitude towards November this year. I got through it. Wasn’t excited about it, wouldn’t like to relive it, but I made it to the other side. Now I’m giving myself a break. I’ve jotted down a couple ideas, but I probably won’t work on any stories for at least a week. I already miss them, so I expect when I come back, I’ll be refreshed and able to remember what I love about writing. And come April, I’ll have to have an epic, doubly motivated Camp NaNo to make up it all.