Standing at the end of the road, but looking ahead

I love NaNoWriMo. I love the idea of it, the experience of it, and the satisfaction you get from participating in it with a bunch of other people in exactly the same boat as you. It’s all about forming habits, setting goals, and just jumping in there, head first, and not looking back. And while it is, in practice, all about writing, its concepts can be applied to anything in life.

Which is why it’s pretty gut-wrenching for me to admit that I can’t continue on my NaNoWriMo journey this year. Simply put, my life has other plans for me this month.

The last week has been one of the craziest, most intense, exciting, and atypical weeks I’ve had in many years. For the first few days I soldiered on with my word count, despite being plagued with a nasty head cold and being utterly exhausted and brain dead at the end of each busy day. But a few days into that week, which was at end of day seven of NaNoWriMo and after 10,227 words, I realised something:

I wasn’t having fun anymore.

In the beginning, I’d gotten in there early and got a bit of a lead with my word count, just because I knew it was going to drop off considerably as soon as the craziness began. When that craziness did begin, I continued on with it, but it was for reasons that I don’t consider good reasons. Reasons like stubbornness, and because I’d told several people that I was doing NaNoWriMo again this year and didn’t want to look like a quitter. Meanwhile, I was ignoring what I actually needed in my life this month; dedicated time for some R&R, reflection on each day’s events, and time spent with the important people in my life. In reality, I’d simply bitten off more than I could chew. I thought I’d be okay, going through this crazy, out-of-routine, transitional point in my life while still achieving each day’s word count. And while I know that I still could achieve it if I wanted to, I know what it will cost me. I need my sleep, my down time, and my social life and support circle right now more than ever.

The other reason is that my participation in NaNoWriMo has evolved over the years. My first NaNo in 2009 was when I really needed that push to get those words down every day, to form those habits, to write that book that had been floating around in my head for years. It’s a fantastic tool to use for that kind of thing. But now I’ve formed those habits, I do try to write consistently, and NaNo has become an event that I participate in for fun and to be a part of the community. The forums are very lively during November and filled with useful, encouraging, and deeply entertaining discussion. Without the time and ability to be a part of that right now, its purpose is not the same.

It’s still pretty hard to admit to myself that it’s okay to stop. I don’t like to quit anything, whatever the reason. My personality type usually forces me to continue with things until the bitter, bitter end. But even though I won’t be completing the journey with the rest of you NaNoWriMo crazies, I don’t come away from this experience unchanged. I’ve learnt a thing or two about myself, mostly that I’m now grown-up enough to recognise what’s truly important in my life, and that to think about myself and what I need isn’t a selfish thing to do.

Also, I’m proud of the fact that I attempted it this year rather than not bothering in case I didn’t have the time. It’s always better to give it a go. If you don’t succeed, so what? It’s rarely ever about the end result anyway.

Of those 10,227 words that I’ve written, most of them are a bit rubbish. Okay, a lot rubbish. But you know what? Some of them are okay. Some of them are even great. And some of them I’ll actually use when I finish the thing. It won’t be during November, but it will get written one day, and it will get finished, and I’m super excited about that. Also, I’d be lying if I said I’m not relieved to be able to write it a teensy bit slower than the break-neck pace during NaNoWriMo. To those of you still in for the long haul: enjoy the experience, learn a bunch of things about yourselves, and write like the wind!