I didn’t win Camp NaNoWriMo this April. It was my fourth NaNo/CampNaNo, and the first time I hadn’t reached my goal. And . . . nothing bad happened.
I know, right? Not a thing! No one shook their finger at me, my manuscript didn’t explode, civilization remained intact—but most importantly, I wasn’t disappointed in myself. I like to say I’m not competitive, but I am SO competitive. Not so much against other people, but against me. And I’m a perfectionist too, so when I decide I’m going to do something, it’s all or nothing, yo. Take no prisoners! Be all that you can be! Raaawrrrrr!
But not this time. This time I realized pretty early on that I wasn’t going to be able to make my goal, and instead of getting mad at myself, or stopping because—why continue if you’re not going to win, right?—I shrugged and resolved to keep on trucking at whatever pace I could manage. I got a stitch in my side, so I paused, drank some water, and walked the rest of the way. No biggie. I knew I’d get to the finish line eventually.
So what changed? Well . . . not long before this, I’d spent several months not writing at all. I’d burned out. I’d stressed so much over my last manuscript, I literally could not write for a good chunk of time. Just thinking about writing something new made my brain hurt. So when I finally did feel ready to write again, I promised myself I wouldn’t stress so much this time.
I thought back, wistfully, to when I started my last manuscript (which was also my first). I thought about how I didn’t know the “rules” back then. I didn’t know that you were “supposed” to track your word count each day, or even write each day. That you were “supposed” to just get the words down and worry about their quality later. I mean, don’t get me wrong. There’s something to be said for all that. If you have an actual deadline and you need to focus, that’s a good way to do it.
But when you’re in the early exploratory phase of your manuscript—be that pantsing a rough draft or meticulously putting together an outline—or when your only deadline is one that exists in your head, it’s okay to take the time to enjoy what you’re doing. Yup. Enjoy the story as you write it. THAT’S what you’re “supposed” to do. That’s why we all started writing in the first place. Do you remember that? I’d forgotten.
So if you’re finding yourself stressing over your words too much, worrying about how long you’re taking to finish, angsting about how everyone knows you’re working on this thing and you’re still not done yet, oh my gawwwd why aren’t you done yet? . . .take a step back and remind yourself that this is not a race. It’s not a competition. The world will not stop spinning if you have to take a week off for some reason or other.
It’s okay to give yourself time when you need it. Stop and read a book when your fuel tank is low and you need to fill it up with someone else’s words for a while. Take an evening off to catch up with friends without feeling guilty that you’re not typing on your computer instead. Catch a movie for inspiration. But then get back to it. Because though it may not be a race, you do want to finish. And you know what? You may find that when you do slow down and enjoy yourself, you’ll reach that finish line sooner than you expect.
When she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.