When I chose to do National Novel Writing Month this year, I did it for a few reasons: to create an arbitrary deadline and goal for myself in hopes of jumpstarting some more regular writing practice, to get further than 10,000 words on a novel for the first time, and to again prove to myself that I could do it.
Though I have a half-dozen half-hearted attempts under my belt, the only time I’ve “won” NaNoWriMo was in sophomore year of high school when life was a lot simpler. 50,000 words in a month is already a considerable undertaking. When you add in a global pandemic, an election year, a college graduation and the fruitless job search that followed it, 2020 was perhaps one of the worst times to try and write a novel. I decided to anyway.
In the end, battling existential dread and brain fog, I eked out 20,000 words. Having shifted my expectations halfway through the month, I counted this a win, nevermind not hitting that 50,000-word target. Though I did not “win” NaNoWriMo this year, I still managed to learn some things about my writing process during the flaming roller coaster ride that was the November of 2020.
Words written: 611
Off to a start slower than the daily par of 1,667 words, but, hey, we can catch up after the election. I have faith (perhaps too much) in my outline.
Words written: 986
Election day. A surprisingly good writing day, considering… everything. For most of the day, I don’t let myself think about the election, as coverage won’t start until the evening anyway. At night, I FaceTime my sister rather than trying to hit par for the day.
Words written: 46
A bad writing day. I keep refreshing the Associated Press electoral vote map on Google and checking Twitter instead of writing.
Words written: 2,365
Georgia and Pennsylvania begin to turn blue. A very good writing day. (My best of the month, it turns out.)
Words written: 815
The Associated Press calls the race. I consider giving myself the day off to celebrate, but later that night, the words keep coming anyway. The cloud of election anxiety disperses bit by bit over the next few days, and I find I can concentrate on my writing process better.
Words written: 410
For the third time now, I notice that I end up writing a good chunk of words after two days of writing smaller chunks of words. Psychologically, I conclude that this is because the day after a good writing day I feel less pressure to write a lot, but after the third day the pressure is back on. I subconsciously repeat this pattern the rest of the month, creating fun hills and valleys of productivity.
Words written: 403
It’s somewhere around here that I realize I will not reach 50,000 words unless I really ramp it up. I decide the stress isn’t worth it and adjust my goal to 20,000 words. I begin the process of acceptance that, contrary to my aspirations, I am not a fast writer and will never regularly churn out thousands of words a day. (By the end of the month I will average 667 words per day.) I also accept that I have trouble writing before 9:30 p.m. as other obligations always take mental precedence, and I don’t feel free to create unless it’s cutting into my sleep. Oh well, whatever works.
Words written: 0
I give myself a Thanksgiving break. I’m too full of sweet potatoes to have room for words anyway.
Words written: 2,159
At 17,269 words, two days left of NaNo doesn’t seem like enough to reach 20,000, considering my average daily output up to that point. I decide that since I was already not going to do a classic NaNo, I might as well break some other rules. Instead of writing new words from scratch, I dig into past drabbles I’ve written for my story and add them to my Scrivener file, rewriting them so they fit in with my updated version of the story. At the end of the day, I have written 2,159 words, my second-highest daily total.
Words written: 588
An easy end to my NaNo 2020 experience, though the whole process was anything but. I cross the 20,000 line and add sixteen more words just for funsies then call it good.
Accomplishing anything in 2020 is worthy of note, even though survival, not productivity, is all that should be expected during a pandemic. I fought against brain fog, election anxiety, regular writing anxiety, and imposter syndrome just to write anything at all. I may not have a completed novel, but, to follow Shannon Hale’s metaphor, now that I’ve shoveled the sand into the sandbox, I can make whatever castles I want with it. I’ll take it.
Lauren Cole (’20) graduated with a major in English and minors in French and psychology. She grew up in Grand Rapids and wants to live as she wants to die—surrounded by trees. She loves adding books to her TBR, but actually reading them is another matter.