One of my dear friends recently made a post about her feelings towards NaNo, and I think my comment was longer than her entry. Really, what I needed to do was post my own entry, with my own thoughts, because my feelings here are rather not simple.
First, a bit of background. I first participated in NaNoWriMo in 2007. For both 2007 and 2008, I didn’t realize regions existed (my area didn’t have one), didn’t know anyone else doing it, and failed miserably. We’re talking about around 15,000 words combined over the two years.
In 2009, I became the ML for a newly created region, and did much better. In 2010, I moved north, joined a different region, and became ML for Elsewhere, which I have done twice now. I did well both years, but my approach has changed a lot.
I won’t say that NaNo taught me how to write long-form fiction, but it definitely gave me the kick in the ass that I needed to just do it. The community was, and is, incredible, and the encouragement from the Wrimos and MLs that I talked to was awesome. I was riding a writing high, let me tell you.
In 2010, I was all about the competition. I raced one Wrimo to 50k, deciding that the best way to win was to stay up all day on the 1st and get it that day (I did, for the record). I kept sprinting, and eventually had a race to the finish with another Wrimo (the dear friend from the beginning, actually).
But there was a lot of what I saw that year that I didn’t like, maybe that I had just never paid attention to for. The competitions were becoming more personal, and more of what people focused on than the writing. I don’t mean to imply that quality of writing should be paramount (that is not the point of NaNo), but that all that mattered was the numbers, that the words that got you there weren’t even important.
I saw people getting nasty on the forums to people just because of their word count. I was told that I couldn’t complain, just because I had already one, and even not to post because my word count made people feel bad. Hell, one person cried at the TGIO after asking about my word count – I felt just great about that, let me tell you.
So last year, I backed off, at least some. I didn’t compete with anyone else. I wouldn’t get into word wars with people, and didn’t sprint with people. I kept my word count to myself as much as possible, and talked about my writing progress in general terms. It certainly helped, and yet…
The pressure was still there. Not from anyone else, but from where it had always been: from myself. I tracked my word count per day, and felt awful when I fell short of whatever goals that I had set for myself. The last week and a half I spent mired in a failed story attempt, or writing something else, just trying to not have a zero word count day, but never really living up to my potential.
And I think that’s what it came down to. I knew what I was capable of, and I knew that what I was doing didn’t reflect that very well. It wasn’t about other people, not at all; I didn’t even have a friendly competition with someone, but there was still that drive.
The best thing to come out of last year is something that I want to keep going for next year. I gave the NaNoOverachievers their own chat, where everyone pushing themselves beyond the 50k could come and not compete. We chatted, we encouraged each other, but we ran no word wars, no sprints. It was camaraderie without competition, and I think it helped keep us sane. I know it did me.
But that brings me to this year. I know, it’s still more than six months away, but NaNo is important to me, and something I start preparing for in advance, certainly mentally, with my approach.
As an ML, I feel a certain responsibility to be the bright and shining face of NaNo, but I think I’m going to have to go to even fewer forums this year. There is just so much drama over word counts and achievements, so many people comparing themselves to others, that I would rather pass on. That… anonymous and automatic competition is probably my least favorite part of NaNo.
On the other hand, I am considering competing in friendly challenges, being very particular as to with who. That pressure to succeed, that drive to write more, will be there regardless, and I have found that it can help get me outside myself. I have to be careful that whoever it is can compete the right way, but I wouldn’t rule it out.
I will also still be leading my region, of course. I love being an ML. I may not go to as many in-person events, though. I don’t like how much I write to be the object of attention, and it can be. I just want to get together with people, complain about our novels, swap funny stories, and write. I want the community, the support, and the story without the negative aspects of the competition.
But I guess we’ll see how it turns out.