Well folks, I have a confession to make.
I, Hannah Stahlhut, have a nasty competitive streak when it comes to writing.
The month of November, looming ahead of me, is a dark shadow prodding my competitive spirit. Every year in November authors around the world participate in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, taking on the challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days.
I was determined not to participate this year for two reasons. One, because I knew I would be busy with some home renovation projects in November and thus wouldn’t be able to complete the challenge without ripping my hair out. Two, because I know from experience that when I participate in NaNoWriMo I tend to become… obsessive. Last year I updated my word count on nanowrimo.org no less than 12 times every day. More than that, I logged in incessantly to see how my writing buddies were doing with the challenge, and with that, inevitably, I began comparing my own success to theirs.
This is a pit many writers fall into, and one I like to think I am too good for, but alas I am only human.
That’s part of the reason why I decided to do my own nanowrimo challenge, to bring a manuscript I am writing up to 50,000 words in September, a challenge I called #SeptemberNaNo. #SeptemberNaNo was great because I only had myself to compete against. It was still stressful, however, as I was constantly measuring my success based on word count, even when I know that a lot of the work behind writing a novel involves just thinking about your story, exploring options in your mind before adding them to the page. With much stress and a very frazzled few weeks. I completed my September challenge, giving myself full permission to sit back and be a cheerleader to all my friends participating in #NaNoWriMo during the traditional month of November.
That’s when I saw my friend Mallori‘s posts about writing in preparation for NaNoWriMo. Mallori is a fellow writer and close friend, and I have been excited for her knowing she hasn’t had the time to participate in NaNoWriMo in years past, much like I won’t have the time to participate this year. I was happily prepared to cheer her on from the sidelines, and to offer assistance as a beta reader later if she will allow me (please, Mallori?). All these supportive feelings of camaraderie dissolved momentarily, however, when I scrolled through my Facebook feed and saw her share on a serene image of her writing space. It included a frothy beverage on a clean table next to a fireplace, along with a caption that this is where she looks forward to writing during #NaNoWriMo. It was everything a writer dreams of for his or her work space. This image evoked not only a streak of jealousy for this idyllic writing scenario, but also a deep spirit of competition that is distinctly not supportive.
My competitive spirit, the same one that makes me obsess over my word count goals and toil over not keeping up with my friends, was threatening to make me feel underachieving and jealous of my close friends who are participating in the NaNo challenge. More than that, my competitive spirit was tempting me to participate in NaNoWriMo after all so I wouldn’t feel left out. So I could prove to myself for a third time that I can complete the challenge. So I too could write peacefully next to a fireplace with a comforting hot beverage.
Then I stopped and asked myself, Why can’t you do that without the challenge of 50,000 words?
That’s why I decided to have an intervention.
My name is Hannah, and I have a NaNoWriMo problem. I am constantly trying to measure my success by any means necessary – by my word count, by how well I’m doing compared to other writers, by how peaceful (or not so peaceful) my writing process is compared to the impressions I get from posts of other writers on social media. All of these things are detrimental, not motivating, forces in my creativity, and it stops here!
Thus, I have decided to set a new NaNoWriMo goal for myself, one that is challenging but achievable given my workload and my need for both a challenge and for a break from comparing myself against others:
I challenge myself to NOT check my word count numbers during the month of November.
It’s that simple.
I will focus this month on building positive writing habits. This includes working on my book every day, which may mean words on the page OR something as simple as researching medieval cures for the plague (sorry guys, there are dark times ahead in the Spirit Seeker Novels). Some of the most productive days in writing are the ones where you may not write a thing, and I need to get that through my thick brain.
More than that, I need to be supportive of my friends and stop comparing myself to them. We are all different in our lives and our writing processes, and what we need most is support. Support from within and from others in the writing community. This month I hope to better support myself and my friends with my #NaNoAnonymous challenge.
Have you ever found yourself obsessing over word count during NaNoWriMo? Are you suffering from feelings of inferiority because you cannot participate this year? Join me and begin the steps to recovery with the #NaNoAnonymous challenge.