Freshman year, I saw pretty early on that there was no way I’d be able to do NaNo, not if I still wanted to pass my classes and get some semblance of sleep. Last year, I fully intended to attempt the project, to the point where I spent time planning out my novel using the YWP workbook, Pinterest boards, et cetera. (I started super early, too – August!) I backed out of it at the very last minute – no, really, it was late on Halloween night – because I realized that I once again had too much already going on in my life.
This time around, I made the decision not to do NaNo quite a ways back. Sometime during last semester, I think? Even so many months away, I sensed that signing up could only be a bad idea. And now that I’ve let this opportunity slide, I know I probably won’t end up NaNoing in college at all, since my senior year is bound to be even busier than this one.
I may look back on my college years and wish that I had done NaNo after all, had experienced hunching over my laptop, typing furiously, along with other students, but I think this decision is for the best. After all, without NaNo in my life, I won’t be nearly as stressed and I just know I’ll get way more sleep since I won’t be staying up late to write after I’ve finished my homework.
And that, to me, is more important. I’d rather look back on my college years and see that I was taking care of myself by not dumping unnecessary stress into my life, you know?
I wanted to write this post so I could give my reasons for dropping NaNo the third year in a row. Now that I’ve looked over what I wrote, I’m wondering why I feel so guilty about this. Why I feel like I have to explain myself. I feel as though I’m apologizing, but for what?
No one has the expectation that I’ll do NaNo. I mean, they might hope that I’ll join them, especially when it comes to the folks in my writing group, but it’s not in any way a requirement. I’m not doing it for a grade, or to work towards any of my three degrees.
If I’d be doing it for myself anyway, why do I feel so guilty about this?
Here is what I came up with:
I did NaNoWriMo all four years of high school. Which, looking back on it now, seems like quite the impressive streak considering how busy I was back then too. Also, when I tell people that I did NaNo for the first time as a freshman and continued until college, they seem impressed, which I think gave me the idea that they’ll be disappointed that college!me isn’t achieving all that high school!me did. After all, I’m older and (supposedly) wiser now, so shouldn’t I be doing more and better?
Next, I think there is this expectation that if you are a writer, especially if you have not yet been published but want to be, you just gotta do NaNo. Especially if you’re in a writer’s group, for heaven’s sake. You can’t very well sit it out, especially for multiple years in a row, while all your friends work their butts off in November.
None of the lovely people in the Iowa Writer’s House made me feel this way; I’ve picked up on this from interactions I’ve witnessed online. I’m not worried about judgement from the people I spend every Tuesday evening writing and discussing writing with. But I still feel weird about it.
And to those two reasons, here are the rebuttals I came up with:
Firstly, no, I shouldn’t automatically be doing more and better. There’s this mindset that says we should always do and be better than we were before, and I think it’s dangerous. It’s a double-edged sword: When used sparingly and with much forethought, it can be incredibly motivating. It’s helped me to get through college, because I encourage myself to try harder every semester!
But I think there comes a point when you reach your limit, or have just about reached it, and then it becomes important to know when to back off. If I’m trying to write 50,000 words in a month while taking seventeen semester hours (and shooting for high grades in all my classes!), that won’t be good for my mental health.
2017 has been all about being gentler with myself. After all, I write a ton – both fiction and nonfiction – in my classes. And then there’s all the smaller projects I’ve set for myself. This November, I can “do better” by not overburdening myself with ridiculous expectations.
Secondly… I mean, the expectation that all writers do (or should do) NaNo is just stupid; there’s no other word for it. I know for a fact that not everyone does! Not even everyone in my writing group does; they also have lives filled with work and school and kids and so many other things.
Besides, not taking part in NaNo means that I can give my attention to my friends’ novels. Because I won’t be stressed about how much I have or have not written, I’ll have the interest and the energy to ask them how their projects are going and to listen, really listen. It’s all right if I don’t do NaNo for a few more years because A) I do a ton of writing already and B) I’ll live vicariously through my friends’ NaNovels if I have to.
Will you be doing NaNoWriMo this month or have you decided against it? Either way, I’m curious to know your reasoning!