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  • Writer's pictureHolly Flynn

NaNoWriMo 2020

Updated: Jan 5, 2022

It’s no secret that 2020 has been a tough year for us all. We’ve all been affected – some more drastically than others – and anxiety and depression have no doubt been experienced by us all in some way, shape, or form.

Creatives have all experienced Covid-19 and the ongoing quarantine (here in the US, at least) differently. Some have been able to manifest a great deal of content while others have had to put their artistry put on hold indefinitely. For most of 2020, I’ve fallen into the latter of these two groups. I tend to lean toward “worst case scenario” thinking, and those of you who also catastrophize know that it’s paralyzing. Of course, I’m not suggesting that catastrophizing is a negative trait; it does help you prepare mentally in the event that something goes wrong (and if anything has gone horribly wrong recently, it’s the entirety of 2020). People have lost their sense of stability; some, their jobs; others, tragically, their lives.

My point is, don’t beat yourself up if you’ve been crippled by what has happened this past year. I’m right there with you. And truthfully, it would be remiss of me to suggest that there was anyone who hadn’t been crippled in some way by the events of 2020.

So, NaNoWriMo. Honestly in the months leading up to November, I thought this was a bit laughable for me to even attempt to crank out 50,000 words in 30 days. I mean, “Writing, who even is she?”. I’d tried to crank out some good bits of writing throughout quarantine, especially toward the beginning, but my inspiration eventually puttered out to where I couldn’t get anything worthwhile on the page. So, for the most part, I pretended my writer’s block (or, let’s be real, depression) would eventually just go away and that I’d be able to create again.

But as the months passed by, I had this sense of dread in the pit of my stomach that in fact it would not “just go away”. If I was going to rediscover the ebb and flow of my writing, I’d have to find a way to spark my determination to push through a messy draft.

For me, NaNoWriMo happened to be that “spark”.

Now, for background, this was my third year participating in NaNoWriMo; the other two years were 2011 and 2018 (quite spread out, I know), and during those years, I tended to keep a word count above the recommended daily goal. This year, however, I fell below par early on, and it continued that way for most of the month. The “mishap” occurred around the time of the election, which, understandably was just another stressful period for everyone due to having to wait several days before the results were somewhat final (big sigh of relief there).

Anyway, I spent the rest of the month trying to catch back up, even though in the back of my mind I kept thinking, “Welp, this is over. You won’t finish NaNo in 2020.” To motivate myself, I picked out two writerly things to gift myself if I won (and yes, I bought a winner shirt during the pre-sale to further incentivize myself, so I couldn’t let myself fall behind, right?).

Now, spoiler alert: I did reach 50,000 this year. Woo! I think the mix of incentivizing myself, as well as pushing through the messy scenes were key. BUT! The win is not what prompted me to write this reflective post; it’s what I learned throughout the process that did.

So, without further ado, here were my main takeaways from this year’s NaNoWriMo:

  1. Go gentle on yourself. If you’re anything like me, I beat myself up. My inner critic is constantly putting my writing down. But you know what? The fact that it’s 2020 aside, writing involves creating entirely new people, worlds, an entire story! Though this may be a bit rudimentary to even mention, we really need to stop and think about that sometimes. It takes a tremendous amount of brainpower and patience to do what we writers do.

  2. Let the first draft be messy! This is one that I have a really difficult time with. Though I know writing doesn’t happen this way, I always want that first draft to be sparkly and near-perfect with no errors to clean up. The reality, however, is that your work will go through several iterations before you’re even close to ready to query or self-publish. So go ahead and get that messy first draft out of the way!

  3. This sort of hinges on the previous point, but let your creativity take you wherever it wants. Now, this may only apply to pantsers/plantsers, but I typically don’t go into writing a new story with a hard and fast plot in mind. What I do have is characters, a setting, and a general premise. Once I start writing, the characters develop and end up dragging me along on the adventure for which they were meant. On the first draft, I tag along to see where I end up. Honestly, some of my best scenes come to life this way. So, don’t be afraid to see what you end up with! The worst that can happen is that you have to go back and either cut or edit the scene(s).

  4. Don’t compare yourself with other writers. This applies for any year of NaNoWriMo. As I mentioned above, this year was a bit different for me because I started lagging behind pretty early on. It was hard to see word counts that were on par, or higher than par. I had to have a heart-to-heart with myself about my perception of perfectionism and my idea of “winning”. The conclusion I came out with is this: You win if you write anything at all. This goes for all years, but especially this one. If you sat down and got some words typed out, you’re a winner. It’s that simple. You know why? Because you decided that you wanted to try your hand at a new (or maybe a revision of an old) project and gave it a shot. The goal of NaNo at its heart, after all, is to write.

  5. Stay well. This might be a given, but taking care of yourself during NaNoWriMo is the most important thing I could add to this list. There were some nights I stayed up until 11:30, 12:00, or later, and I finally had to tell myself, “Hey, it’s time for some shut-eye. Come back to it tomorrow.” even if I didn’t hit my intended word count for the day. But this doesn’t just pertain to sleep, it also pertains to getting enough water, nutrients, and some space for self-love (so, come up with some affirmations for your writing space!).

Thanks for stopping by. Let me know in the comments if you participated in NaNoWriMo and any takeaways you had, and even if not, feel free to drop some writing advice of your own. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Please stay healthy and well with the upcoming holidays, and I’ll see you in the next post. ​

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