by Tess Adair
I completed my first self-imposed mini NaNoWriMo challenge this weekend. It didn’t go quite as I planned.
The plan was to write for two solid hours, and I figured Friday nights were the best time to guarantee I actually got it done. So Friday night, I was supposed to lock myself away and type furiously until a mysterious 2-hour buzzer rang somewhere. (Mysterious because I wasn’t actually going to set an alarm or anything. I’m just, you know, trusting the universe to let me know. The universe, or hunger.)
Unfortunately for my plan, my lungs had other ideas.
I’ve been dealing with this persistent cough since August (really the end of July,) which is now past the 3-month mark. A few weeks ago, I went to a doctor and got prescribed two different antibiotics, as well as an inhaler to deal with the symptoms. It seemed to get better for a little while (although I now think that was just because the inhaler made it easier to deal with,) but this past week, it’s been back with a vengeance. On Wednesday night, I woke up in the middle of the night to a coughing fit so bad I couldn’t breathe until I got my hands on said inhaler. Thursday night, the coughing started as soon as I lay down. The only way I could get to sleep was by abusing the inhaler and dosing myself with Nyquil.
So, on Friday, I knew I couldn’t spend the night writing. I had to spend it dealing with the Cough That Won’t Die.
I went to the same clinic I’d been to before, and I saw a nice doctor who was overjoyed by the mysterious nature of my condition. Apparently, it’s not super common to get a cough that lasts for months and isn’t cured by antibiotics (and also doesn’t present like pneumonia.) The doctor ordered a chest X-Ray to rule out some kind of fungus (as well as subtler signs of pneumonia and a few other things.) The X-Ray came back clean, which is good but also means they still don’t quite know what’s wrong with me.
In the end, I got a prescription for a steroid inhaler that should help if what’s happening to me is an inflammatory reaction to a bad virus, similar to temporary asthma. And I spent 3 hours of my Friday night in a hospital.
So far, the inhaler seems to be helping. So I wouldn’t call it a total loss.
But it did mean the plan had to change. That’s okay. Sometimes they do.
So I set about to write on Saturday instead. The new plan was to write from 11:30 to 1:30. That plan sorta went out the window, too. In a good way.
I did sit down to write at 11:30. But I hadn’t looked at Novel 2 since late September, and I wanted to make sure I still had the feel for it. So I started reading it. From page 1.
It’s always dicey to choose to read some of what you’ve written before you dive into writing. You don’t want to start writing a scene only to realize, once the bulk of the work is done, that you forgot something you wanted to add, or you accidentally changed the tone of it and now nothing makes sense. But the more you re-read, the more you run the risk of getting lost in your own stuff, or getting lost in editing and criticizing yourself.
I have done all of these things to myself. I have lost more than one writing session to either hating myself too much or loving myself too much. Both pose a risk to creativity. Hate yourself too much, and it won’t feel worth it to continue. Love yourself too much, and you either become blind to your mistakes, or you slip from producer to consumer--you don’t want to write, you just want to read! Hey, how come this stupid novel stops halfway through, anyway?
On Saturday, I slipped into the latter category.
I can’t promise that I’m writing a novel that anyone else will love, but I’m definitely writing a novel that hits all my benchmarks. There’s a strong female protagonist, a theme of class differences and disadvantages, subtle hints of scifi that build along with the story, and a dash of danger. And I start the whole thing off with a little bit of adventure.
It’s the perfect novel for me. So it’s a bit of a misstep to think I can start off a writing session by “quickly reviewing” the solid 15 pages I’ve already written (15 in a Word doc in small print, so it’s a bit more like reading 30 pages of a novel.)
On the plus side, it’s pretty motivating to read over your old stuff and fall in love with it all over again. It’s always good to be excited about your work. Ah, if only I could say the same about my 9-to-5. [Pause for awkward silence.]
So I ended up re-reading and editing for about an hour. The editing part is technically work, but it wasn’t what I set out to do, and in fact, it kind of flies in the face of the whole soul of NaNoWriMo. The point of the month, and the point of this challenge to myself, is to get the creativity going. To write all your shit out before you get a chance to second-guess yourself. The time for editing is after November is over.
So I re-set my clock a bit. I decided I wouldn’t stop at the two-hour mark--I’d stop when I felt I’d done something worthwhile. I got to writing the beginning of Chapter 2, and as I worked, I came up with a few things. Jotted down some new plot ideas. And then I ended up drawing a giant map.
See, I’m doing a little bit of low-level world creation for this one. It takes place in the United States, but in a possible future where the world looks a little bit different. And my main character will be spending most of the novel at a special school. In Chapter 2, she gets to the school, goes to her room, and meets her roommate. Which means I have to figure out how she’ll get to her room. So I have to have some vague idea of how the school is laid out.
So, map. I drew a map. I misjudged the scale a bit and ended up stretching the grounds onto a second sheet of paper. Probably shouldn’t have let the entrance take up a third of the page.
I guess you can’t exactly say that drawing a map is writing. But it was necessary, and it did force me to push my creative boundaries quite a bit. And considering how much I’ve already had to reference the damn thing, it was definitely something I had to make before I could get any further.
In the end, I only got down a few paragraphs during my supposed two-hour writing block. But that’s okay. I felt so much momentum from it, I ended up giving myself a second writing day on Sunday. Chapter 2 now boasts a full two pages. Not too shabby for a weekend almost waylaid by medical hell.
It’s good to be able to make plans, and it’s good to stick to them. But there is one skill that will always be more important than that: the ability to adapt. The ability to take your momentum and run with it, wherever it might lead you.
Maybe NaNoWriMo has a point after all.