Story Hospital

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.

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

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!