NaNoWriMo Diaries #4: The Final Word Count + Important Writing Lessons I’ve Learned During the Month

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is just about finished and I must say that while I was not able to meet my fifty thousand word count total, I did learn many lessons about the way that I like to write, what tends to hold me back in writing, and the overall writing process in general. For me, that means that NaNoWriMo was quite an insightful success and I am wholehearted grateful that I took an opportunity at giving this event an attempt. Today I wanted to briefly discuss how my journey with crafting a fantasy manuscript has fared thus far, and what lessons I shall carry with me as I move forward in my authorial pursuits.

When I began NaNoWriMo, I was extremely motivated and marvellously inspired to complete at least fifty thousand words in an Indian-iTaukei inspired fantasy narrative. The first seven days consisted of regular writing and meeting daily word goals. With the arrival of the second week, I began discovering a comfortable balance between life’s priorities and personal time for working on the manuscript. However, by the arrival of the third week, I fell behind due to a seasonal cold and then struggled with finding my way back to the track. I shall openly confess that initially I felt rather discouraged by my lacking ability to write. It did not matter to me that I was sick and needed to take care of my physical health first. Somewhere along the line, I mentally convinced myself I was a failure, which was complete hogwash.

…we should not allow those strong negative feelings to become their very own monstrous mould of barriers in our path forward.

This was where I learned my first lesson: life happens. If I did not get sick, any number of other obstacles could have risen up to stop me in my writing pursuits, or at the very least, cause a significant setback with them. It is virtually impossible to prepare for every potential hindrance that life tosses one’s way. Yes, it can be extremely unmotivating and demoralising, and it is more than okay to feel the frustrations that comes with them. Nevertheless, we should not allow those strong negative feelings to become their very own monstrous mould of barriers in our path forward.  

Once I was over my cold, I calculated that one and a half weeks were remaining in NaNoWriMo, which meant that I had plenty of time to formulate a plan of action and catch-up, or at the very least find my way to fifty thousand words by the end of November 30th. This is where I would learn a couple of more lessons about my own writing methods, such as self-imposed deadlines being horrendously dangerous for my creative processes, a one month restriction is harmful for my ADHD, and if there is no fun to be had, then there is no inspiration to draw from.

Professional deadlines do not bother me or impact my ability to get my work done. Since they are a natural part of life (e.g.: deadlines for work projects and goals, or deadlines for completing homework in a timely manner for school and university), I have grown familiar and relaxed with working with and around these sorts of deadlines. But if the deadlines that I have to meet are self-imposed, I have a far more challenging time with being able to meet them. My theory is that by giving myself a deadline, it is much easier to keep changing it and pushing it back as much as I want or need to if I find that I cannot meet them. There is no real risk or consequence of not meeting my own deadlines—aside from self-deprecating thoughts and feelings—and that prevents me from taking them seriously. NaNoWriMo is a community-based event, however, everyone must hold themselves accountable for meeting the deadline and there is never a real effect to the cause of failing.

My solution for this problem (one that is currently being tested out) is to have someone else hold me accountable and to create a reward/consequence system that gives me a genuine feeling of pressure to make those deadlines feel more authentic and realistic. My brain is very much wired to think in these terms, thus I needed to formulate a way to adapt to its unique understanding. Insha’Allah, this method will prove fruitful in some ways.

Discovering the intricacies of how my ADHD impacts my writing was quite a frustrating experience during NaNoWriMo, but it was also an incredibly vital lesson that needed to be learned and understood.

I have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), which means that my brain is prone to highly abnormal hyperactive bouts of impulsive behaviour. What this means in terms of writing is that by continuously working on a single project for extended periods of time, I can get severely restless and agitated. The need to switch activities and do something else becomes extremely compulsive, akin to having an incredibly persistent itch in the centre of your brain. The problem with a one-month restriction with writing is that it requires very long writing sessions in order to be plausible (for me). When my ADHD is triggered, I have a relentless resistance towards doing the same activity again for at least a full day. Discovering the intricacies of how my ADHD impacts my writing was quite a frustrating experience during NaNoWriMo, but it was also an incredibly vital lesson that needed to be learned and understood. It helped me to better comprehend my limitations so that I can accommodate them moving forward.

Lastly, if I am not having fun, then what is the point to what I am doing? Writing has always, first and foremost, been a passionate hobby of mine. As I grew and got older, it slowly blossomed from a hobby into my dream career. Even though I want to make writing my profession, if it starts to feel like a dreaded chore—such as washing a towering stack of dirty dishes or having to give my cats a bath—then the passion dissipates. If the passion dissipates, so does my ability to tap into the deepest creative recesses of my imagination, which is a primary facet of professional creative writing. With NaNoWriMo, I became so obsessed with meeting the numbers that I had lost sight of my story and what I wanted to accomplish with the narrative that I was pouring my heart and soul into. When a manuscript goes from focusing on sharing a magical (or twisted) tale into a pile of papers that concentrates on numbers and outside forces (will this appeal to an agent or publisher versus will this appeal to my idea and vision), it can lose a lot of the charm that drives it into creation. For me, having fun and feeling passionate about whatever I am creating is one of the most important aspects of being a writer and I never want to experience its loss again.

As you can see, NaNoWriMo 2020 was quite an adventurous creative campaign for me. There are many fascinating bits of wisdom and observations that were accumulated that I feel shall only me to grow as a writer and to further hone my skills at storytelling. I am bummed that I was not able to meet the word count, as my total number came to approximately twenty-five thousand (although I did forget to update this on the NaNoWriMo website), however, I also began a short story collection during this time and I finished eighty-five percent of a poetry manuscript. So, while my fantasy manuscript still has plenty of work left on it, I also began a couple of other wonderful projects that I am genuinely excited for and look forward to sharing with the world one day. Plus, I know these two projects shall definitely be finished before 2021 hits the clocks. All in all, my NaNoWriMo was a thrilling success in numerous ways and I am so happy I partook in this event!

NaNoWriMo Diaries #1: First Time Participating + Writing Goals
NaNoWriMo Diaries #2: Balancing Life with Writing + Daily Goal Progress
NaNoWriMo Diaries #3: Taking a Break & Falling Behind

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.

NaNoWriMo Diaries #2: Balancing Life with Writing + Daily Goal Progress

Welcome to the start of the second week of NaNoWriMo! Today, I wanted to chat about how the first seven days fared for me, and the challenges of trying to balance writing with my personal life. For folx who are new here to this segment and to this blog, today’s post is a part of a short Sunday series that I am holding on The Djinn Reader called The NaNoWriMo Diaries, where I shall be discussing my experiences—the good, the bad, and the in-between—with my first-time participating in this national novel writing event.

Aesthetic for my WIP

When I first sat down to begin work on my adult South Asian-Polynesian fantasy novel, I felt rather intimidated. The more that I contemplated the prospect of trying to complete a full-sized novel within the span of thirty days, the worse that my anxiety became. I confided in a friend about my woes and they were kind enough to gift me with a copy of Scrivener (a professional novel writing computer programme) to help motivate me and encourage me to not give up or feel overwhelmed before I even had the chance to write my first words. I became wholly emotional, but that spot of support was all that I needed to conquer those initial fears.

Since I work as full-time blogger and beta reader, and have been on recovery from a heart-related surgery for these past few weeks, my ability to devote large chunks of time to writing seemed nigh impossible. On day one, I had a plan to write before I did anything else, between the hours of three and six am (I am a nocturnal human). My total word count for that day was about twenty-two hundred. I was stunned yet excited to be able to accomplish so much on the first day.

The second day and the rest of the week, mostly, became less productive as the world went into mass discomfort with the start of the American elections. The stress of waiting to see who would be elected President of the United States, and the tension from virtually everyone on every online space, was practically palpable. It created a vortex of restlessness and an inability to focus on much of anything, including my self-care activity of daily blogging. My main source of reprieve came from either video games or binge-watching comfort films.

Even so, I did manage to put in small portions of writing time aside so that I could chip away at my story word-by-word, and now that the first week has ended, I am glad that I put in that extra effort as I feel less overwhelmed about being a few hundred words behind schedule.

My overall mood while writing has been comfortable. While I did struggle with putting the plot pieces together on a couple of specific chapters, I also reminded myself that I was working on a first draft and it was okay to not have a polished work of perfection by the end. The point of writing a first draft is to get all of the ideas and main points down on to the paper so that a skeleton of a story can be established. The second and third drafts are for adding flesh to the tale via severe editing, adding things, cutting things—all of the beautiful elements of being an author who is also their own editor. I put this reminder on a sticky note that I then stuck next to my computer so that way if I ever started to feel like I was inadequate or crafting a mess of a book, I could glance to it and remind myself to take a breath, calm down, and go slowly.

Thursday night, or day five of NaNoWriMo, I sat down and wrote out a schedule for myself that incorporates everything that I need to/like to do in the span of a single day. I am someone who has OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and is on the Autism spectrum, and, thus, require some semblance of rigidity in order to function contentedly. Friday morning, I put my plan into motion, and it did wonders for me! I ended up clocking out my total word count for that day at approximately four thousand! The last time that I had written so many words for a creative project was in June of last year (2019). So, having a cemented routine that clearly dedicates a few hours to writing and nothing else definitely helped me with formulating a beautifully functioning balance between my personal life, work life, and authoring life.

While I have been struggling with meeting that daily goal, as I mentioned above, I feel that it is justifiable given the chaotic nature of this past week. Going into the second week, I hope to stay more diligent and devoted to working through any emotional and mental obstacles that may arise, as I feel if I ever get professionally published, this will be necessary skill to have, especially where strict deadlines are concerned. This does not mean that I shall sacrifice my psychological well-being. More than anything else, I will need to ensure that self-care is a part of my daily routine so that when I do have extremely exhausting or tough writing sessions, I can recover without burning myself out.

My goals for week two are more like pieces of advice to myself: take it one word at a time when things starts to feel rough, and do not be afraid of writing an alternate chapter to experiment with the flow of the overarching narrative! Also, do not delete anything until the revision process!

How has writing been for you lately? Have you discovered any neat tricks or tips to help keep you motivated and inspired? How do you deal with anxiety while writing?

NaNoWriMo Diaries #1: First Time Participating + Writing Goals

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has arrived! During the month of November, thousands upon thousands of people come together to motivate and support one another  as they work on the rather uncomplicated yet somewhat daunting task of writing a 50,000-word novel in the span of thirty days. NaNoWriMo is also a non-profit organisation that started this event as a means for raising awareness and support for programmes that nurture fluency, literacy, and education. It is a fantastic  way to support important causes while honing one’s skills in the pursuit of professional authorship. (Please visit their website here for more information.)

My aspiration for becoming a published author has been a lifelong one and, honestly speaking, my insecurities and inadequacy issues in terms of “being good enough” within the industry tend to prevent me from giving my one-hundred-and-fifty percent to this immensely vital goal. With that being said, I do not want to remain captive to my own doubts and fears, which is why I decided to join the NaNoWriMo event this year.

At the end of 2019, I began researching and outlining a story that has been keeping residence in my mind for the better part of five years. One of my friends, and someone whom I admire greatly, published her debut novel last year and it was the motivation that I needed to finally start working on this project vehemently. Then in February, my health took a devastating turn for the worse, followed by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in March—all of the chaos that stemmed henceforth from these events caused my ability to focus on that work-in-progress (WIP) to utterly dissipate. This  left me feeling horribly discouraged and hopeless.

Recently, I received a fresh new lease on life, as the cliché goes, and it really forced me into a corner of self-contemplation. I no longer wanted to be a victim to my fears and insecurities because they prevented me from living a life that could have brought me a marvellous amount of joy, or at the very least, gratification for pursuing passions that set my heart and soul on fire, regardless of whether they succeeded or not. By joining NaNoWriMo this year, I am taking a big first step in confronting the negativity that has weighed me down for the better part of seven months.

As I sat down to outline a writing schedule for the month, I thought it would be fun to keep a diary of sorts that tracks my progress, as well as the positives and negatives, of trying to write an entire book within a span of four to five weeks. Since I know there are other writers out there who may be feeling as intimidated as I have by NaNoWriMo—this is why I have not joined any previous events—I wanted to share that diary here on my blog, The Djinn Reader. Maybe my experiences can be inspiring to other folx that are looking to start crafting a book of their very own, whether they do it via a community-based event like this one or decide to go at it in a more gradual and solo manner.

A few things you can expect from these diary entries is full and complete honesty with how I am actually doing on meeting (or falling behind on) my writing goals, dealing with creative ruts or blocks, some of my processes with crafting characters or scenes, etc., and other general issues that tend to arise when tackling a project of this calibre. I shall also be open to answering any questions that may arise during this event if I am able to do so.

With that out of the way, here are my main eight goals for NaNoWriMo this year as I begin work on an adult fantasy novel:

  • Write for at least 2-hours every day with short breaks every half-hour
  • Write approximately 11,000 words per week (7-day period), or 1,666 words per day
  • Experiment with different outlining methods, even if they are completely outside of your comfort zone
  • Finish the novel or finish most of it (this is in case if the story surpasses 50,000 words) by midnight on November 30th.
  • Do not erase what has been written until the first proofreading session, once the novel is completed
  • Do not get discouraged by comparing your progress/successes to others!
  • Stay hydrated
  • Have fun

This list is a good combination of both my strengths and weaknesses. For example, it is fairly easy for me to write for multiple hours per day with a finished word count that supersedes one to two thousand words. However, I am terrible with taking creative risks during my outlining process due to my OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), even if I feel like those risks would be greatly beneficial to structuring the current project or manuscript that I am working on. I am also quite terrible at not comparing myself to others, which is something that I think everyone struggles with to various degrees, and staying hydrated.

As I mentioned above, my book is an adult fantasy novel that is inspired heavily by both my Indian and iTaukei (native Fijian) ethnicities and cultures, particularly where world-building is concerned, and features a cast of LGBTQIA+ characters, including a Nonbinary main character (#OwnVoices), a pansexual main character, and a lesbian main character.

While I am feeling a bit anxious and quite nervous about the prospect of trying to write an entire novel during a single month, I am also feeling wonderfully excited and optimistic. Even if I am not able to complete the manuscript, I feel as though this will become a supremely educational lesson for me in terms of content creating, and I am looking forward to those insights with great joy.

Please feel free to add me on NaNoWriMo if you would like. I may not update my progress every single day, but I will try to do it at least a few times throughout the week. [Shāfiya’s NaNoWriMo Profile] For other writing updates, feel free to visit my Twitter page.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Have you partaken in previous years? How do you feel about this writing event?