Why I decided to quit NaNo

I know, it’s only like nine days into November and I’m already throwing the towel in? Pathetic, right? Well not when my mental health is at stake. Besides, Obscura is already at 20k something words and I’m still planning on working on it, just not this intensely. Here’s a thing I wrote up about it today after I gave myself permission to quit. I hope it’ll explain it a bit:

Imagine being so jazzed about an idea that you can’t write it out fast enough, you have to make a bullet-point list in your notebook before it gets away. Imagine getting so into a scene on lunch that you hide your notebook on your lap under your desk and take breaks between your work to scribble furtively so your boss doesn’t catch you. Imagine being so inspired and full of ideas that all you think about is your story: you daydream whole scenes, often scenes ahead of the one you’re trying to write. You feel high and happy all the time.


Until you don’t. Until the pressure of only having half an hour or an hour before work freezes you up. When all the scenes that were so vivid and real the night before are dead on the page the next day. Worse, getting them out is like trying to shove an orange through a keyhole. Every fruitless day makes you feel like you fell behind and are getting trampled by the rest of the crowd, never to catch up. You feel guilty if you don’t spend every spare moment thinking about the plot or “finding the time to write.” The slightest distraction frustrates you almost into fury: your spouse being in the same room, having to make dinner, having to talk to your mom on the phone. When the novel is all you can think about, and when a new idea isn’t sending you into full-body writer’s highs, it’s hanging around your neck like a noose: you can’t stop thinking about it, and it’s driving you crazy that you can’t get it off your mind for even a moment.


But isn’t that what being a real writer is? Isn’t that the romance of it? The struggle? The helplessness in the throes of inspiration and being at the mercy of the muse?


Not if you can help it, no. When the encouragement of your peers and the spirit of NaNo and the parameters and pressure encourage you to push yourself into a state that your friend eventually (after a bunch of alternately depressed and frantic emails) identifies as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, it may be time to throw in the towel.


At this point, I think the chemical reactions in my body of the writer’s high, seasonal affective disorder, and frustration are making me physically ill. Here’s the thing: I will work on this novel and I will finish it. It will probably take longer than November, even for a shitty first draft. It always has for the previous ones. Kris giving me the challenge was a good impetus to finally finish book 2 get going on book 3 (which I hadn’t even had much idea for until we started talking seriously about me tackling it) and generating an outline, but my writing has always gone better (and I’ve always felt better) when I let it come in a more organic way. “Sitting down to the page every day” sounds very noble and putting your life aside for a month to devote it to writing a novel sounds very romantic and admirable, but some of us can’t handle that. Plus, if you let the faucet run constantly, the well’s going to run dry. Some of my best writing comes when it’s been pent up awhile while I do other stuff.


And, not to denigrate anyone’s efforts, but NaNo is a LOT different when you’re trying to grind out a serious novel rather than just playing around for fun. If I was going to sit down and write 2000 words a day about whatever flew into my head without regard for logic, plotting, reality or appeal, it’d be a lot easier. But I’m not, so I’m done. I gotta do this my own way. I gave it a shot (and yeah, I didn’t last that long) but I’m calling it. Thanks for understanding, and I hope the rest of you have fun.


~ by Amber on November 9, 2012.

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