Making NaNo Work Around My Disability in 2019

Image courtesy of NaNoWriMo.
Image courtesy of NaNoWriMo.

I normally spend the month of November talking about NaNoWriMo or (inter)National Novel Writing Month (NaNo for short), and I may write about it a little or a lot. This year, we’re in the final week–rather the final days–and I haven’t said a word about what I’m doing. If you follow my progress, you might recall how last year was the first time in 16 years that I did not make my 50,000 words. I’m locked in a creative struggle with trying to maintain progress (at any level) and recognizing the impact of my health issues is not something I can ignore. They won’t be going away.

This is very hard for me.

My personality has always been focused on “if I try hard enough, I can do it.” This is true whether it’s climb mountains despite a crippling fear of heights and untrustworthy joints, or work full time at home with two young kids without giving up my writing entirely. My attitude does not mesh well with physical or mental disabilities, but as long as I could burn my candles at both ends, and in the middle, thanks to hyperactivity, I managed to make it work. It’s all too easy to think about how I did it last year, or ten years ago, and expect to be better, not worse.

Not realistic, but easier.

NaNo is a good demonstration of this trend, both the disconnect between expectations and reality as well as the way my growing limitations change what I can reasonably do. Sure, it’s frustrating, but at the same time, understanding reality helps me figure out how to make things work even if it means adjusting how I do things.

My first NaNo, I finished on the 22nd day with over 116,000 words (after a ton of editing, this became book 1 of Seeds Among the Stars). Last year’s NaNo, after fighting all month, I reached the 30th with 22,730 words. Not even halfway.

Here’s my NaNo history:

YearFinal DayTitle(s)NaNo Length
200429The Key That Must97,982
200527The Demon Rules51,100
200630But a Pretty Bauble75,592
200730Sorcery and the Perfect Dress53,169
200830Coma Wedding50,281
200930Karth’s Story51,385
201030A Flash of Copper53,356
201430An Innocent Secret63,343
201530Steam and Shadows50,889
201628Isabella, and Traps and Treachery50,866
201730Traps and Treachery50,436
201830End of Traps and Treachery and beginning of Destiny’s Path Redux22,730

Last year is not the first year I struggled as you can see. The length of my NaNo novels has been steadily dropping while pure focus on a single project has gone out the window. I’ve been compensating by working on multiple projects to avoid the overwhelm and doing the easy parts or skimping on prep to preserve my energy.

The nightmare edit that is Apprentice results from this skimping. I would have given up a long time ago, but the story is sound. I’m still enjoying it, and I’ve been through this novel more times than I can count. That’s in between calling on beta readers who were critical to correcting my mistake in running ahead of my preparation.

Way back when, I was a pantser. I kept whole worlds, continuity, plots, characters, and stories in my head. I still do, but they’re much less accessible. That’s what the outlining is for. It pulls those pieces out onto the page where I can fine tune them, prevent concept or even scene duplication, and produce a clean first draft. Clean is a relative term as it still requires a good bit of editing, but the extent of editing is very different.

I have two (maybe three) more novels written with partial outlines waiting in the edit queue. I’m hoping to translate some of the things I learned from the Apprentice edit to get through them faster, but we’ll see.

What does this have to do with NaNo? Everything.

This year, after deciding I would try again, I looked at the underlying theme of NaNo. When it was easy for me, the goal of winning seemed like the purpose. Why else would I concentrate on writing in November when I can do it whenever I feel like it?

However, the real theme is trying. It’s giving people, who otherwise would never have undertaken to write a novel, a dynamic, encouraging environment to take a swing at something they’ve always wanted to do. Some people try for years before reaching the 50,000 finish. Others never do. But each year, they line up to give it a shot.

With my stack of completed novels, I’m not the typical participant. I never needed proof I could write a long work. My first completed “long work” at almost 10,000 was in junior high. I also have many “in progress” projects that are much longer from those early years (with shorter ones dating to six or seven years old). I needed help finishing things, though the 80,000 novel I completed for my college thesis moved me in the right direction, but NaNo doesn’t ask for a true first draft. Just a word count.

However, with the way things have been going, suddenly I need proof that I can still write. I need proof I can keep going on a project (or projects) despite my limitations. That means NaNo is more relevant for me than it has ever been. The loss last year breaks a chain, but it also creates an opportunity. I can now retool my relationship with the challenge and allow NaNo to help me in a way it never had to before.

That said, the last thing I need is one more messy edit to weigh me down. I didn’t want same old disaster. I hoped for something new.

So, I marked my type as NaNo Rebel and set off to complete not a novel but my version of an outline (something halfway between plot outline and very raw first draft). I got started thanks to a local write-in, but my focus point (as it’s been all year) was in the less than 1000-word range. Most of the month vanished in a blink and I realized I’d stopped working on that outline, but I’d continued to write on other small things here and there.

That’s when I realized my rebellion was much larger than I had imagined.

I’ve called my NaNo a Frankenstein before, but this is the most I’ve ever gone with the concept. The project for NaNo 2019 is seeing if I can manage to write the whole month. No matter how small, no matter how scattered as far as location, anything with a narrative (fiction and non-fiction) or a narrative purpose (outlining and world building) counts. They always counted, but I included them in square brackets within the main text rather than on their own. Now they have their own sections. Also, instead of one outline, I added the base structure for 40 different novels and have been randomly writing on whichever catches my eye. There are some scenes coming out, but most of it is outline, which means when I’m ready to start another long project, I’ll be that much further ahead on the prep.

The winner banner might still be out of reach, and the tracking will be wild when I can normally figure out what my NaNo projects were by title, but it’s a step forward in a year that’s had all too many stumbles. Progress, trying, and the comradery especially of my local NaNo group are what make NaNo one of my favorite challenges.

Guess I’m still in it for the long haul. Maybe someday I’ll figure out the magic combination of preparation and energy to reach that finish line with a novel project again. Until then? Well, I’m not calling quits until 11:59pm on the 30th, so we’ll see where I end up this year.

How about you? What are some of the ways NaNo helps you push toward a goal otherwise hard to see?

This entry was posted in Challenges, Goals, NaNoWriMo, News, Outlining, Writing Process and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Making NaNo Work Around My Disability in 2019

  1. Abridged Thinking says:

    Lots of food for thought here. I’ve been struggling with NaNo as well over the past few years. Even to the point of having lost interest completely. Due, I see this year, to lack of physical energy as disease takes it’s toll on my strength and my ability to focus, even on the short stories I used to love to write. Your comments give me pause to rethink whether I will throw in the towel completely or restructure my approach to writing. Thank you.

  2. Shani says:

    You just to figure a way to adapt. Which I know for a fact isn’t easy *disabled myself). But I know there are ways.There always are. You will get this figured out and barrel right past this hurdle. You can do it.

    • Margaret McGaffey Fisk says:

      Thanks. Each time I figure out a new adaptation, I discover a new thing I can’t do, but at least I’m no longer kidding myself and shoving the mess under the rug so I don’t have to deal with it :). Short-term thinking makes for long term crisis. Now to figure out what long-term thinking looks like before next year.

  3. Amy Keeley says:

    Wow. I’ve never actually done NaNo. Ever. Each November I think about it and each November forces me to focus on something else in my life other than writing a novel in a month.

    And then I look at all those years you’ve participated and how you’re adapting and dang it. You’ve inspired me to do better. Thank you.

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