NaNoWriMo: Goals and Deadlines in a Time of Strong Emotions

Dear friends,

It’s hard to write this post in a time of such strong feelings. Whatever your reaction to the results of the U.S. presidential election, the intense emotional atmosphere of the moment makes it difficult to face the blank page. Our thoughts are whirling, our hearts are pounding, and our bodies are feeling the effects of two tense days with insufficient food or rest (and, for some folks, a little too much alcohol).

And yet, I have my commitment to write posts for all of you, and you have your commitment to make your writing goals and meet your writing deadlines, whatever those may be.

NaNo writers only have to contend with the interference of presidential elections every four years. But in any year, a loved one might fall ill, a long-awaited pregnancy might be announced, or your partner might spring a marriage proposal or a break-up on you. Conversations over the Thanksgiving dinner table can turn ugly right when you’re making the last push toward 50k. In an emotionally challenging situation, you will have to look at how your big feelings interact with your writing, and decide whether that merits adjusting your approach.

This isn’t just a matter of balancing priorities or trying to figure out whether you get to write or to feel. I used the word “interact” instead of “conflict” very deliberately. Sometimes those big feelings are motivating. Sometimes they’re motivating in an unexpected direction; you may find yourself wanting to shelve whatever you’ve been working on and start something new that’s a better conduit for your emotions. Sometimes you may want to write or create other art but not know how to do it when you’re so amped up or crushed. You might lose focus, or start to hyperfocus. Sometimes writing is the best escape from what’s happening in your life. Every situation is different, and every writer is different.

So first, pause and take stock of your situation. Set aside the goal-driven urgency for a moment of introspection and analysis. Much as an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, half an hour of sorting out what’s going on and getting a handle on it will make the coming weeks much easier.

  • Are you okay? What do you need right now? If you’re in crisis, please contact a helpline right away. Big feelings may make it hard for you to eat, sleep, take your meds, or reach out for support, but you need to do those things in order to survive whatever’s going on for you. Take care of yourself as best you can. Getting through this situation intact matters way more than meeting any self-set goal or deadline.
  • Are your feelings about the non-writing situation disguising themselves as feelings about your writing? For example, if yesterday you thought of yourself as a capable writer and today you feel like the world’s worst hack, it’s unlikely that you lost 90% of your writing skill overnight; your perception is what’s changed, fueled by your unhappiness over what’s going on in other areas of your life. Acknowledge and validate that unhappiness instead of yelling at yourself.
  • Is it possible for you to write at all right now? When you try to write, how does it feel? Do you get the sense that you’ll feel differently once you’ve adjusted to the recent shock, or do you think it’s going to be like this for a while?
  • How are you feeling about the NaNo deadline right now? Does it make you anxious or despondent, or is it a welcome distraction? Does it feel like your emotional situation will make it harder to handle the deadline pressure or vice versa? Are you more motivated to make the deadline than you were?
  • If you’re feeling very turbulent or distraught right now and have no idea how you’re going to feel in a couple of days, it’s fine to take that couple of days off from writing. When your emotions and situation settle down a little bit, reassess.

Once you’ve got a sense of what’s happening, make adjustments to your writing plan.

  • Does working on your current writing project feel healing and good for you right now? Does it help you feel in control, celebrate the best parts of yourself, or escape into a happy fantasy for a little while? If so, definitely do as much of it as you can. Feel entirely free to use NaNo as an excuse to duck away from social media, family conversations, or anything else that’s feeling hard right now, and to focus on your writing instead.
  • Do you feel the urge to write but want to work on a different project that’s a better fit for how you’re feeling right now? Go ahead. As I said last week, it’s always fine to change your goals if your situation changes. You’re the boss of your own NaNo; you decide how to go about it. If that means writing 20k words of a novel and 30k words of passionate poetry, then that’s what it means. Don’t let someone else’s arbitrary goal get in the way of healing yourself with your writing.
  • Does the pressure of the NaNo deadline feel extra stressful right now, or interact in a toxic way with how you’re feeling? If so, you can adjust the deadline too, or decide that this is not the year for NaNo and drop the deadline entirely. Again, writing in a way that feels healthy and good for you is what matters right now.
  • Do you need different external circumstances for your writing? Maybe you were doing just fine writing alone but now you need people around, or you’d been hanging out in a café but need to be by yourself now. Maybe you need to write in shorter or longer bursts to balance your changing ability to focus. Maybe you need to cut into your writing time so that you have time to engage in activism, support loved ones, or just get some breathing room. Adjust your writing space and schedule to meet your current emotional and community needs.

And then persevere, in whatever way you can. Art is one of the primary ways we come to an understanding with our feelings and our situations. Angry art, healing art, activist art, passionate art, loving art, art that reaches out to people like you, art that bridges differences… when we make art in the midst of turmoil, we create what we most need to have in the world.

It’s easy to think “my writing doesn’t matter” or “I could be doing something more important” but your writing does matter and is important, as a way for you to express yourself and understand yourself and as a way for others to connect with what you’re writing about. We’ve all had incredibly precious moments of seeing ourselves reflected in someone else’s writing, of learning or comprehending something because of the way a person wrote about it, and of desperately clinging to the emotional catharsis of passionate words or the big fluffy blanket of a comfort read. If you, as a writer, give those things to even one other person, you will have made the world a better place. Even if you’re the only person who sees what you write, you will still have made the world a better place by enriching your own mind and heart or just scratching your writing itch. So yes, you get to write! Make space for your writing. Demand that others make space for it. And if it motivates you to visualize your eventual audience being moved by your work, keep that visualization front and center in your mind and your heart.

It’s easy to hear “we need art” or “your writing could help someone else” as pressure on you, specifically, to produce art or produce a certain kind of art. But the pressure that matters comes from within. If you’re not feeling the sort of internal pressure for which art is a relief valve, then let the external pressure pass you by. It is 100% okay for you to not make art right now, or for a while. But at some point, when you feel the urge again, let yourself do it.

It’s easy to honestly say “I can’t write right now” and then to let “right now” sort of extend forever, until you’re out of the habit and don’t know how to get back into it. For times like that, an external motivator like NaNo can genuinely be helpful. Let it push you into doing what you know you need to do but can’t quite figure out how to do.

That’s what I did tonight, with this post. Helping people make art is my art, and right now that feels more important than ever. Facing the blank page was hard, but here I am two hours later with nearly 1500 words that might help someone, somewhere, feel a little better in a difficult time. And that helps me feel a little better too.

Hang in there.

All my best wishes,

Story Nurse

P.S. I’m publishing this to the world a few days early because it feels important to help as many people as I can right now, even if that means breaking my agreement to give my Patreon patrons early access. Also, I’m closing comments, as I’m not up for doing comment management right now. Thanks for your understanding on both fronts.

This post is part of a special NaNoWriMo 2016 series supported by my fabulous Patreon patronsGot a writing question? Ask the Story Nurse!

 

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