NaNoWriMo learnings 2020 – Part 1 – Motivation

Photo of the sea, water coloured from sandy to turquoise and an island in the distance
Time to read: 4 minutes

“I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year!”
And I can see the eyes glaze over, the ears perk up in case they could pick up an extra syllable I may have left hanging in the air, that might help them decipher this… sound I just made.

Na-No-Wri-Mo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and is a 30-day challenge to write 50’000 words. The premise requires that it be on a new story.
The tagline of NaNoWriMo is “50’000 words in 30 days”. And every NaNo-er knows that means writing 1667 words every single day in November. It’s not for the faint-hearted.

I attempted it again this year – I’ve been attempting it since about 2002 – and again discovered many things about myself and about writing in the process. So I decided to write a short series of three or four articles about my discoveries. This one is about how an escapist setting can help you want to write, and discovering that having a story to push forward gave me a sense of purpose.

For NaNoWriMo, as with life, the topic you choose is important, because it needs to keep you going.

Choose to escape (or not)

I had been thinking of writing about consulting and/or technology and design, because that is the space I work in. I actually have some deep expertise in something, so figured I’d use it… and then I looked at how dark it got by 15:00 and how I couldn’t go anywhere for months (thanks, lockdown 2) and decided it would be wiser to do something more escapist. I had no desire to be in an office again, so why write about it, when I could write about… a beach?

There is this island I love. I’ve been there five times in the past three years. It has a soul-unknotting quality, a peace, the wind, the sand, the colours of the sea… and a history of harbouring pirates. There is an old jeweller there, who told me he took up silversmithing because he fell in love with the island and needed a way to make money and stay. Every year since meeting him I wonder if I could go be his apprentice, because I’ve fallen in love with that island too.

Photo of the sea, water coloured from sandy to turquoise and an island in the distance

So I thought that if I could have the story be there, then I could be there in my mind’s eye? I know it very well by now. Every turn, rock, bay, tree, goat and star. So why not set it there? And since it’s been inhabited since the neolithic, I could choose any time. Given my interest in my heritage, I thought it might be amusing to set the story in Ancient Greece, around 360BC.

A friend joked that it was Assassin’s Creed Odyssey fan fiction. Not entirely wrong… I love that game, and I titled the “book” An Odyssey for her. So… yeah. Maybe. Who cares? Choosing to imagine the island and summer kept my brain in a place of beauty and light, while everything around me was dark. It helped me keep going, and keep wanting to come back to the story. And that’s what mattered. A reason to want to go do the thing, even if the reason is a trivial as “I want to imagine myself there, in that place of beauty”.

A sense of purpose

In the winter, I am more likely to feel sad. During November, that didn’t come to haunt me.
Every day, I had to think about what I would write later that evening. Where would the story go. What might my characters be inclined to do next? Is there something else I should practice? Switching to the present tense? Dialogue? Description of a place? Morphology and behaviour of a character? Research on what was available in that time and place?

There was always something to look into, to ponder, to shape, to solve, to practice. Something to obsess about. Something towards which to direct my thoughts if I went for a walk, or had some time to stare towards the horizon.
I also couldn’t spend the entire evening in front of Netflix. At some point I had to stop, and go write, because the 1667 words of the day would not write themselves.

And… when this ended… or more accurately two days later… I fell into sadness. As if I’d been running at full speed for a month and suddenly ran out of ground and off a cliff… free falling into a void.

That’s when I noticed that NaNoWriMo had given me a sense of purpose. With it gone, I realised that my life has no point. I don’t have a mission, a purpose. I have no-one to love. No partner to talk to, no child to teach, no pet to play with. My job has been quiet-ish since August and I am exhausted and bored at the same time.

NaNo gave me a mission. Now that it’s over, I feel the emptiness of my life clawing at the sides of my brain.

I also have discovered that when I do not write, I feel empty. Which is funny, because when I write, I empty my brain onto the page… so how can emptying my brain fill my soul? What an odd mechanism! Is that what writers feel? Maybe it is.

So now I need to find something else to write about.

I have no idea what it will be, but odds are that when I find it I will share it here, on the blog.

For now, I’m starting by writing about what I discovered during NaNoWriMo. This was the first article of a series of three or four. They’re not fully planned yet. That’s ok. The point is to keep writing.

Oh. In case I didn’t mention this at the start. I “won” NaNoWriMo this year. I wrote the 50’000 words in 30 days. 💪 It was difficult, but I persisted, and I made it!