NaNo Uh-oh: How NaNoWriMo Wrecked Me

It didn’t end well. In fact, it ended very badly.

Cramming_for_Test_HAs regular readers of this blog know, I participated in National Novel Writing Month for the first time this past November. I decided to use the event as a catalyst to finish the first draft of Roses Are White — the third book in the Wolf Dasher series. I had 12 chapters done when the month began, and my goal was to write a chapter a day, five days a week, with a view towards finishing the book by November 30. On the two weekend days, I would plot the coming week’s five chapters, so nothing could slow the actual writing process.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. It seemed like a good plan.

The thing with NaNoWriMo is it takes a lot of time and dedication. Making yourself sit down and write those words every day requires a certain . . . obsession. And obsession is something I know about. I’m mildly OCD, and, when I get it in my brain to do something, it’s difficult to knock me off-course.

Ordinarily, that’s good. Writing a novel is a huge undertaking, and obsessing on it actually gets me to the finish line.

As that final week of NaNoWriMo rolled around, though, two things happened. First, I’d hit a real flow on the book. I was coming down the homestretch into the big finale, and my brain was on fire. I could see “The End” right out there in front of me, and it was so very close. I was thinking about the book all the time.

Second, time was running out. I could see from the way things were going that there were going to be more chapters than days left. At a pace of one chapter a day, I would come up well short of the end of the book by the 30th.

In addition to being obsessive, I’m also pretty competitive. (I was an award-winning game designer prior to becoming a novelist.) It doesn’t matter that NaNoWriMo isn’t actually a contest. There is no prize for winning. But I was in competition. I was competing against myself and against the clock, and I saw no reason I should lose.

Now, I knew no matter how hard I worked I wouldn’t actually get done on the 30th, but I figured, if I put my mind to it, I could get pretty close so that I only actually went a day or three over deadline. Then I could brag to myself (and maybe on the blog) about how well I’d done.

So I started writing two chapters a day. Sometimes it was only a chapter and a half, but I increased my word count from approximately 2500 words a day to 5000 words a day. To be sure, I had to do it in multiple sessions. I couldn’t just bang out that many words all at once, but I started using any free time I could find to write.

And it was Thanksgiving week. The children were all with their respective other parents, which afforded me extra free time.

Last Monday, I finished Chapter 37. I was two away from the finish. I was hoping to find enough time to write both of them on Tuesday, but I would have been happy with a Wednesday finish. Everything was lining up for me to hit all my writing goals for the end of the year.

And then on Tuesday afternoon I started feeling strange. My muscles were aching terribly. It was getting hard to think. I was short-tempered.

By mid-afternoon, I knew I had a fever. A long to-do list was only half-finished, and I couldn’t figure out how to get anything on it done. I drove my daughter to her doctor’s appointment and started writing Chapter 38 of Roses Are White on my laptop in the waiting room. It was slow-going. I didn’t get very far.

Refusing to fully surrender to my body’s cries for rest, I took the family out to buy a Christmas tree as planned. I was still trying to get a little work done afterward and was harboring delusions of maybe finishing Chapter 38 before bed when the fever erupted into a debilitating game-ender. I went to bed shivering, unable at first to get warm and then to get cool.

And that’s pretty much how I spent the next three days. I got up long enough to get people off to school and then went back to bed until it was time to pick them up. I barely ate. I went to bed before everyone else.

Over that time, my mouth exploded with a series of sores the likes of which I hadn’t seen since junior high and the number of which I had never experienced. I also developed a cough. There was a burning sensation in my chest that I couldn’t determine whether it was related to the cough or the sores. It hurt to eat. I lost weight.

The fever broke Friday, and it was like I’d woken up for the first time in 72 hours. I still didn’t feel well, but I gradually improved over the weekend. By this Monday, I was finally able to work again. I’m still not fully well, but I am convalescing, and I’m trying to strike a balance between taking it easy and making up for lost time.

A week after I began it, Chapter 38 of Roses Are White remains half-written.

The worst part was the new Wolf Dasher book wasn’t my only priority last week. I’m running sales on my other books for the holiday shopping season, and I’m trying to get the pre-launch work for The Sword and the Sorcerer done. All that takes time to do.

And then there’s my freelance gig as a local theater critic at a time where at least one new show is opening a week and my regular work as the ferryman of children here, there, and everywhere.

And it’s Christmas season. And we have to get the house ready for my parents to come visit.

There’s likely never a good time to get sick, but I picked a really bad one. I was like a race car coming around the final turn and heading for home but crashing before I got there. Only we’re not talking about spinning out and ending up on the infield with a thrown rod. This was like hitting the wall, flipping over three times, and exploding.

I hope to finish Roses Are White this week. It shouldn’t take too much. A lot of the fun has gone out of it, though. In addition to failing to complete it on time, there’s the bad taste of how it wrecked me. I suppose that’s not the book’s fault, though.

I’ll post again here when it’s done. I still want to write a NaNoWriMo wrap-up post.

In the future, though, I’m going to have to think carefully about participating in NaNoWriMo. It’s possible I don’t have the right temperament for it. I need to give myself room to breathe, especially at one of the most stressful times of the year.

Then again, you never know. Next November I may have forgotten about all this.

And even if I haven’t, I’m awfully competitive.

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4 thoughts on “NaNo Uh-oh: How NaNoWriMo Wrecked Me

  1. Of course, we’ll never know for sure if it was NaNo that caused that illness but I think November is a pretty stupid month for people to try and fit all that writing in alongside all the holiday stuff we have to do as well. Why couldn’t we have it in March when there’s less going on? (Although NaMarWriMo might not have the same ring to it!)
    I never participated … but then I write so slowly I irritate even myself lol.
    Hope you’ve recovered enough to catch up 🙂

    • Suzanna, I don’t mention all the regular life stress in the blog, but I’m sure that was a contributing factor as well. I suspect my “feverish” obsession with finishing RAW contributed to lowering my immunity.

      And I agree with you about the timing of NaNoWriMo. Picking one of the short months doesn’t seem too wise and picking the one with Thanksgiving and Black Friday seems downright foolish.

      I’d never participated before for a variety of reasons, but I found myself with the “time” to do it this year, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I liked the sense of community connecting with other NaNo participants created, but I think I will need to think twice about participating again.

      Thanks for the comment and the well wishes. With any luck, I’ll be fully recovered by the end of the week.

  2. I’m glad to hear that you’re over the hump on your infections, John—it sounds like your body just gave out on you, so be sure to take good care of yourself :-/ Your progress and enthusiasm for _Roses are White_ are infectious, so don’t let this (very minor, in the grand scheme of things) setback deter you from continuing the book as time permits. And, we can’t work all of the time, and all work and no play makes Jack a dull writer, too—we all need to some time around the holidays to recharge our muses while we’re watching some football (or The Desolation of Smaug, or whatever), visiting with family, and getting away from it all for a little while. Chin up, and motor on, my friend. We, and the book, will still be here in 2014 😀 ….allan

    • Thanks for the kind words, Allan! I relapsed a little last night, feeling feverish and generally blech. Woke up feeling the same, so went back to bed after getting kids to school. I’m trying to remember to take it easy so I can finish recuperating. Not easy for a guy who loves to work. . . .

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