I’ve been pretty absent from this blog for a while now. Actually, if you knew me in real life, you’d know that I’ve been pretty absent from all sorts of things: lectures, social activities, ballet classes… The vague illness I’ve been feeling for a few weeks decided to completely decimate me for the past week, which I spent primarily in bed. On the plus side, I watched all thirteen episodes of Jessica Jones and the first season and a half of Gossip Girl, plus finishing my Brooklyn 99 re-watch and catching up on Doctor Who, but that doesn’t really make up for waking up at 5pm and realising just how messed up my sleep patterns are.
And, finally, I finished NaNoWriMo. A couple of days ago now, actually. It’s my slowest NaNo ever, unless you count the July Camp NaNo of 2013, which I don’t. In the past, my 50k wordcount goal has been achieved in seven days, four days, three days… even my first year, when I started late and it was my first novel ever, it only took me fifteen.
But this year it took me 26.
To a certain extent, I followed my usual pattern. I was more consistent this year — some years I’ve very much written in fits and starts, with large amounts on some days and nothing on others. But I still followed the pattern of getting off to a good start and writing loads in the first four days, then slowing down considerably. It’s just that where a few years ago ‘a good start’ meant finishing in the first weekend, this time it meant just about hitting 10k.
So why was this year so much harder than all the others?
There’s the obvious answer: university, of course, got in the way. I found NaNo hard last year too, for similar reasons. Writing the number of essays we have to write at Cambridge cuts into novelling time and writing power, and my brain’s frequently too tired to form sentences. Then there’s the fact that I’ve been ill for all of November, another issue I had last year. Sleeping fourteen hours a day does absolutely nothing for my wordcount.
Also, there’s the fact that I wasn’t writing a novel. That might have had something to do with it.
The first 35k that I wrote this month was made up of short stories based on folk songs. Short stories are not my strongest point, so this was an interesting experiment, and it definitely made the wordcount harder. Every time I got into a story and felt I was in the flow of writing, I’d finish it and have to think of another. I was constantly needing to invent new characters and settings, which slowed me down considerably, even when I’d vaguely planned what I was going to do beforehand.
The last 15k was a little different, because I got upset about the ending of a book I was reading and decided to write a cute, happy fanfic to make up for it, so I did that. I’m not going to give you details, because I don’t post fanfic under my own name for reasons that should be fairly self-evident, but while it might not be my magnum opus, it was fun to write, and gave me a way to get some words on paper.
That still wasn’t easy, though. I kept having to second guess myself while writing: did I sound too much like myself? Should I be imitating the author’s style more? Did my characters sound too British when they were supposed to be American? Would they ever use this phrase? Unlike writing ‘original’ fiction, I couldn’t just make up the answers to those questions, and I discovered firsthand why writing fanfic is remarkably difficult.
So those factors all contributed to my slower writing speed and smaller wordcount. Add to that an unhealthy dollop of mental health problems (nothing major, just causing serious fatigue and stuff), and you’ve got a recipe for a failed NaNoWriMo, which is why it feels so good to have finished. It’s not a victory if it’s easy, and this certainly wasn’t.
A couple of nights ago I found myself desperate to write something that I really cared about and which really mattered to me. It was odd, because the whole reason I started this short story project was to get out of my comfort zone and try something that I wouldn’t get so invested in, so that I wouldn’t be paralysed by anxiety about it. I guess the detox worked, because at 3am the other night I settled down with Butterfly of Night and continued work on the second draft, which I abandoned a while back.
It probably wasn’t entirely necessary for this to happen at 3am, but I’ve thoroughly messed up my sleep patterns, so I was awake and my brain was a frenzy of activity. I do think, though, that the whole Moth Trilogy is very much a 3am book. It’s born of all my darkest thoughts: the fear and the anger and the violence and the desperation. Isabel, my protagonist, is a twisted mirror image of myself. On the surface, we’re nothing alike, and our circumstances have shaped us into entirely different people. But I think core elements of our personality are the same, so that had Isabel’s upbringing been different, she might have turned out more like me…
So it’s a 3am book, born of all the things I hate about myself, and it lends itself to that kind of frenzied, intense writing that happens in the middle of the night.
Ironically, I think I wrote more in that session that I have on any single day for NaNoWriMo, with the possible exception of the very beginning of the month. When I tried to do the same the next day, it felt like pulling teeth. Maybe 11pm isn’t late enough.
I haven’t been reading much, I haven’t been doing stuff, and I haven’t even really been thinking. So I haven’t had anything to say. But hopefully as the term draws to a close and the pressure starts to lessen slightly, I’ll be back on the blog with more regularity. Here’s hoping.