A few weeks back, I posted about completing National Novel Writing Month for the eighth year in a row, and the important takeaways I gained over November. As stressful and busy as NaNoWriMo always is, I always have a blast and feel totally accomplished at the end of the month, and this past November was no exception. Unfortunately—as just about anyone who hits 50,000 words but doesn’t finish their novel will tell you—November is the easy part. The rest of the year is harder.
Once the high of NaNoWriMo wears off (for me, this happens at 12:01am on December 1st, at which time I curl up and sleep for about eighteen hours), you end up in a kind of limbo of deciding what to do next with your story. Do you try to finish it? If so, what’s the goal? Getting to the end of the story? Having a polished draft? Submitting for publication?
Whatever your goal, one thing is certain: the whirlwind romance of writing is over. The decidedly less sexy part starts now.
NaNoWriMo is weirdly consuming in a lot of ways. For me, at least, any other writing projects I’m working on, however fun, end up getting tossed to the side in order for me to focus on my novel project. Once November ends, I find myself much less frantic when it comes to writing—all of a sudden, I have so much time! No more deadlines, no more word goals, just a bunch of fun things I can write whenever I feel like it!
Unsurprisingly, this is where all that great writing momentum I build up over November tends to crash and burn.
Writing is a skill just like any other, and you have to practice it daily if you want that skill to stay sharp (and marketable). The down side of that is that, just like going for a run or practicing the piano or doing whatever it is sports people do to stay sharp (I’m sorry, sports people, I do not understand your coordinated ways) sometimes you just don’t want to do it. You don’t feel inspired, you’re not feeling like you have a grand story to tell, you’d rather just stare at the Internet or watch another dog video. Or just stare at your own dog.
This is the hugely unsexy side of writing. It’s the to-do lists and the excessive utilization of apps to block your access to social media in order to keep your brain on task. It’s putting “writing time” on your schedule, just like a dentist appointment or that meeting with your supervisor you’ve been avoiding. It’s writing a few hundred words of nonsense just so that you can say you wrote something and give yourself a little pat on the back, even if it doesn’t move your plot forward, teach you much of anything about your characters, or give you any good insight into what’s happening next in your story. Maybe there’ll be a good line of comic relief. If you’re lucky.
But what ends up happening, as you keep putting writing onto your schedule and building it into your week, is that those writing muscles end up getting stronger and more flexible. Maybe they don’t need as much of a warm-up as they did before they became part of your regular routine. Maybe it’s a little easier to write that blog post, to figure out that next plot point, to see through the hazy plateau of act two of your novel up into the climax. And maybe you start to realize, bit by bit, that whatever goal you set for yourself at the end of NaNoWriMo, when you were still high on writing fifty thousand words (or more!) in a whirlwind thirty days, isn’t out of reach anymore.
It’s close enough that you can stretch out your hand, with fingers toned from hours of typing and calloused and strong from gripping a pen, and grab it.