Just less than two weeks ago, I input the final numbers into my NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) online calculator and saw the little bar graph on my personal page sneak just up over 50,000 words. The competition challenges would-be writers to put their pens where their mouths are and write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. This year was my first time, and from the beginning I told myself that the key point here was to create important writing habits no matter how many words I was able to complete.
I trailed behind the daily target for the entire month. I was writing on an almost daily basis, but I wasn’t always spending as much time as I needed to get the necessary 2,667 words on paper. Even so, I kept reminding myself that the continuous writing was what mattered and that no matter what I finished with, it would be more than what I’d started with.
But as the end of the month drew closer, I really wanted to win (winning, for NaNoWriMo, is completing 50,000 words). I had challenged myself to something bold and exciting, and I didn’t want to just do it halfway. I wanted to own it.
So I ramped up. On the two days that I travelled to and from my family’s house for Thanksgiving, I wrote 17,000 words. On the planes, sitting in the airport, I was either writing in my notebook or typing away on my computer. Back at home, I downloaded a dictation speech-to-text app on my iphone and dictated scenes and dialogue while I commuted to and from my office. I set my alarm early and wrote before work. I skipped out on social events. I used the Write or Die application and typed until my wrists hurt.
And on that last day, when I hit the 50,000 word mark (and kept writing), I felt not just pride but deep comfort.
I had shown myself that I could do something that felt impossible.
I wasn’t such a fragile soul that a 50,000 word limit could get the best of me. No, I was strong and capable.
Nowadays, in the creative world, we talk a lot about having compassion for ourselves, about listening to our bodies, taking time to rest, stopping when we’re tired. I’m not questioning the importance of any of those things. But I wonder if sometimes there are bigger things at stake.
In the days since November, I haven’t felt burned out. I’ve felt the exact opposite. Pushing myself past what I thought were my limits gave me a renewed sense of my own abilities and potential, something I’d lost sight of in the last few years.
I don’t know if those 50,230 words will ever find their way into a novel, but I would do NaNoWriMo again in a heartbeat – just to remind myself that I can.