NaNoWriMo Diaries #3: Taking a Break & Falling Behind

Welcome to the end of the second week—and the beginning of the third—for NaNoWriMo 2020. This has been a relatively challenging seven days for me in terms of consistency with daily writing and also dealing with creative blocks. Today I wanted to chat briefly about the relief and hardships that come with taking breaks and the setbacks that arise in light of them. To any new folx here, NaNoWriMo Diaries is a Sunday segment I began to track my first-time experiences with this community-based event. The first entry can be found here and the second one here.

On Monday (9th November), I had felt excellently about the progress that I had made in my first week. Between the chapter outlines, world-building, and the handful of chapters written, I had a marvellously constructive kick-start. This positive and productive energy followed me into the second week as well. However, on Wednesday (11th November), I became sick with the seasonal cold and found myself unable to concentrate on any activity that did not involve resting and indulging in comforting cartoons. My writing took a relatively huge hit and I felt utterly dejected.

Sometime during my rest and recovery, I remember having nightmares about my laptop and highlight pens coming to life and berating me for falling behind on my word count. When I awoke, I was so overcome with anxiety that once I did get over my cold, I could not write a single word, not even with regard to note-taking. Feeling frustrated, I meditated for about half an hour and asked myself three important questions:

  • Why am I really stuck? – This is an essential inquiry because on occasion when I am working on a creative project, if I find myself hitting metaphorical walls, I have discovered that it is almost always due to an underlying issue that I am too afraid to confront. For NaNoWriMo, I had to figure out if the problems plaguing my mental well-being were indeed related to anxiety from falling behind, or if there was a whole other issue that I had not realised yet.
  •  What caused this issue? – The next thing to ponder are the motives behind the blocks. For example, last year while working on a short story collection, I found that the experiences that I had used as inspiration for the collection no longer fit with the person I had become (i.e.: depressed and in a dark place versus being psychologically stable and assured). I had to find a way to tap into my old self in order to keep writing without deprecating the positive changes I had made. Here with my current writing block, it was a matter of deciphering where the creative lines were being shut-off and working to open them back up.
  • Should I step away? – This is a technique that I struggle with the most, more so being a workaholic who likes to constantly stay busy and productive. Once I uncover the cause of my dilemmas, I try to formulate ways of resolving them. However, if I work at solution-hunting for too long or too exhaustively, then it can significantly exacerbate the issues at hand. In this case, if I kept trying to push through my rut, then eventually even looking at my laptop would fill me with an overwhelming sense of dread and enervation, which are not feelings I want to be associated with my project.

By the end of my contemplations, I decided to take a much-needed mental health break. The downside of stepping away is that I will remain behind on my current word count, and this debt shall only increase as each day goes by. Nevertheless, the space away will also provide me with an opportunity to rejuvenate my brain energy and my physical energy, which shall then allow me to work diligently for long hours at a time without burning out or being overcome with incredible bouts of fatigue.

Where there is an unexpected setback, there shall undoubtedly also be an unforeseen opportunity!

I will be honest. I am still stressed out about the low numbers on this project, but I also like to remind myself that life is extremely unpredictable. Sometimes things will happen outside of my control—like catching a cold—and I will need to learn to adapt accordingly. Life is also incredibly flexible and fortified as well. Where there is an unexpected setback, there shall undoubtedly also be an unforeseen opportunity!

Going into the third week, my main focus will be to write as much as I possible can in order to get back onto track with my manuscript. Even so, I will not rush to the point that the quality of my writing or the integrity of my story shall suffer. The key will be finding a balance that works best.