I’ve participated in a lot of month-long writing events in my time. NaNoWriMo, to start with, and later a lower-pressure imitation where we set our own goals – where ‘goal’ could legitimately equal ‘something, anything at all’. This is one of the kindest, most encouraging communities I’ve ever been part of, and the absence of pressure is, perhaps counter-intuitively, a great motivator. A couple of years ago it moved from running in November only to also having sessions in June and July, and I was very happy indeed.
The more months I devoted to writing, however, the more I noticed that month-long sessions didn’t work for me. The first few days were always brilliant: I dived in and swam around in a glorious sea of words, surfing an exhilarating wave. I’d write on the train, I’d write in cafés, I’d type up what I’d written longhand, editing as I went, and find that I’d doubled it in the process.
After the first few days the ocean would become a stream. I didn’t have that sense of boundless potential any more, but I could tell that there were words queuing up, waiting to be written.
After a couple of weeks the stream would dry up. I could squeeze a hundred words or so out of the dry ground, but they were forced, and looked it. I’d still show up at the daily check-in posts. I’d still have encouraging things to say about other people’s work, but my own had hit a wall.
Last year I decided to see what would happen if I stopped fighting this pattern, and just let it play out instead. For two weeks of every month, I told myself, I wouldn’t even try to write. I wouldn’t think about the book at all. I’d read, or go swimming, or play the piano, or play Animal Crossing, or make patchwork, or read some more, the theory being that by the end of that fortnight I’d have replenished the stocks of whatever resources I’d depleted, and would be ready to move into the next stint of writing.Was it realistic, after all, to expect my mind and my body to sustain a daily writing habit on top of a full-time job? Probably not, and could I blame my writing mind for shutting off when it had had enough?
Is it working? It seems to be. I’m only eight months into it (and the first few weren’t representative, as I was preparing to launch Speak Its Name, and not actually writing) but the indications so far point to it being a sustainable way of work. At the very least, it’s working at least as well as the previous pattern, and it’s stopped me feeling guilty about the times when I’m not writing.
Would I recommend it to you? Not necessarily. You’re welcome to try it – it’s not as if I have copyright on the idea of Deliberately Not Doing Stuff – but don’t feel that you have to persevere with it if it doesn’t work for you. This works for me because it’s what my mind wants to do anyway, and I’ve no idea whether anyone else operates on the same schedule as me. I’d recommend that you look at your own existing patterns and see if you can find a way to make them work better for you. Or a way to stop feeling bad about the fact that they exist. They’ve probably got your best interests in mind.