This year I am participating in NaNoWriMo, a particularly intense undertaking where you attempt to write 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. Quite a few of my friends join the insanity each year and I thought it was time to jump in. My oldest is doing NaNo with me. My younger two are too, by doing the NaNo Young Writer's Program which allows them to set their own word goal for the month.
I was planning on writing for NaNo, and then as November drew closer I started having second thoughts. I had only been blogging for 6 months and had been feeling really great about my ability to publish at least one new blog post each week. My readership had been picking up and I was starting to focus more on my writing as it related to my blog. If I took a month to focus on novel writing how would that affect my blogging? I just didn't know. I had never tried writing something of such length before. I'm not really a fiction writer. Character development, description and setting tend to trip me up. I love to read beautiful prose, but I'm not know for writing them. The essence of NaNo is to focus on writing words, quantity not quality. Muffle your inner critic and start writing whatever you can write. I had talked my sister and best friend into joining in on the craziness which was self-created peer pressure. Only a few days before the start I took a deep breath, went to the site and signed up. Two days before it began I had a name for one character and thought I would write about a teenage girl. Hours before I was to begin writing I decided to write about a mom instead. I had a name and a very vague idea of what I would be writing about. No outline, no plan, no real plot to speak of.
The die hards begin writing at midnight on November 1st. I was really tired and was planning on going to bed around that time. I woke up after a very brief sleep and knew the girls were still awake. My story ideas started rolling around in my head. I headed to the kitchen and found myself writing from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. before returning to bed for more sleep. I completed the entire days word count goal in those two hours and started thinking that perhaps I might be able to do this after all.
For some crazy reason I had thought that the house would be particularly peaceful and quiet since we would all be focused on writing. I had forgotten that for some people writing involves a lot of procrastination. I also didn't realize that I would be wanting to write and write and write without stopping. I would get up in the morning while the girls were still asleep so that I could get in a couple solid undisturbed hours. Then I would focus on food needs. The week was unusually sunny and warm so we took a lot of walks to enjoy the weather get our vitamin D before the rains returned. Late afternoon I would write for a while since the younger two were often playing with friends. However, stopping to make dinner was a challenge. Most of the time I really wanted to keep working. I was writing on a desktop in the kitchen that couldn't go online. It was good to not have the option of going online because that would have been an easy distraction. However, it was hard to write in the kitchen when the house was full of people or the TV was on in the evening.
What really caused the most tension in the house was that I was zipping through my word count. My words were piling up at a ridiculous rate that was completely unexpected. The problem with this was that it frustrated the girls. Even though the younger two weren't trying to accumulate the same number of words, even though I was an adult with an English degree, even though it wasn't a competition, the girls were seriously annoyed every time I mentioned my word count. We were trying something new together and it turned out I was doing great and they were feeling bad. I was trying to make sure that I was not ignoring them because I was writing, I was making sure their needs for food and attention and interaction were being met. I was determined not to let my writing become a higher priority than my family. However, I wasn't sure what to do about their feelings. I was finally writing, finally doing something I had wanted to do my entire adult life, and I was totally rocking it. But if it was really bothering my children should I keep writing?
Sometimes when our children have strong feelings we don't need to do anything to fix the situation, we just need to validate those feelings. I didn't try and change my girls' feelings. We didn't have long discussions about how this wasn't a competition or how I had years of experience, I didn't tell them that they didn't need to feel envious of my word count or frustrated by what I was accomplishing. As an adult, if had a friend zipping through the word count many times faster than I was there was a good chance I would feel the same way they did: frustrated and annoyed every time that friend posted their word count while I was banging my head against the computer not coming up with anything to write. It's entirely possible that I did have some adult friends out there cursing at me through the computer screen and I just didn't know it.
In the end I didn't need to give up writing, I didn't need to slow down my writing. I needed to be respectful of my children's feelings. My oldest was o.k. with hearing my word count. She would grumble a little, but I knew she was happy for me. My husband was always ready to congratulate me on my latest word pile. For the younger two we talked briefly and I agreed to block one of them from seeing my word count when I posted it on facebook, and I tried to avoid talking about my word count when they were in the room. As with so many tensions, this one passed and after a couple days was no longer much of an issue for any of us. The girls got farther into their own writing and began to feel better about what they were accomplishing. I kept writing while trying to stay available.
It turns out that I can write 50,000 words in a month. I ended up writing all 50,000 in one week! I also managed to keep our family functioning and finish one blog post. And while I didn't make a big deal of it to the girls, part of me really wanted to throw a party for myself when I hit 50,000 words on day seven. This week I'm exhausted, which isn't at all surprising. Having completed my goal, my word count is now a non-issue in our house as the girls continue their writing adventure. I'm working on my first rewrite at a more leisurely pace. And my mind is already considering trying the same process for a nonfiction book in a month or two.