On Krakens, and NaNoWriMo

I woke up yesterday morning with a NaNoWriMo-shaped hole in my life.

It is such a strange feeling, after committing to writing (at least) 1,667 words every single day, to wake up and not have to write. Of course, really, I know I never had to write. No one was forcing me. NaNoWriMo doesn’t even come with a prize like a big cash injection or publication: what you get, at the end of thirty days of pure insanity, is a manuscript. You get to pat yourself on the back, say “I did it!” and then carry on with your life unchanged. NaNo takes over your life, until you get to the point where you plan your day around squeezing in those words. “Okay, I can’t go to bed yet, because my sheets are in the dryer. May as well crank out a few hundred more words while I wait.” “Right, smallchild is napping. She’ll probably be down for about two hours. I’ll write my 1,667 then; and then after she’s gone to bed tonight I can write more, so I will be ahead tomorrow.” “I need to pee… But I will finish this paragraph first.” One weekend that I didn’t have Lillian, I lived off ramen noodles and 5 Hour Energy, because ramen noodles cook in three minutes and who has time to boil the kettle for tea, anyway? I had writing to do.

Now that it is over, I don’t really know what to do with myself.

In thirty days, I wrote 50,542 words. I have slain the Kraken.

The Kraken is a voice that says “aaaw, come on, sleep in. You’re tired. You need to rest more than you need to write.”
The Kraken is a voice that says “no one expects you to do this. You can quit, it’s okay.”
The Kraken is a voice that says “but… But… You don’t know what to write, right now. So go read Cracked.com, or look at gifs of cats on Buzzfeed, or- hey, don’t you have a physics paper to write? Why don’t you go and re-read all of your old history coursework? I’m sure that will help, somehow.”
The Kraken is a voice that says “just give up now. You’re going to fail.”

I will tell you the beautiful secret of NaNoWriMo: it’s impossible to fail. Sure, if you technically only ‘win’ by writing 50,000 words in thirty days, I suppose you technically ‘lose’ if you don’t write that many. But even if you only add a hundred words to your novel, you have not lost. It is easy to do something when you know you cannot lose.

I’ll tell you another secret: NaNo sets you free. It sounds like punishment, doesn’t it, when I talk of entire weekends of writing and eating nothing but ramen noodles? But NaNo doesn’t care about quality, NaNo cares about quantity. If you want to keep on track, you have to write. There is no time to sit and wonder if this scene is good enough: you just have to write it; get the words down; and maybe come back and change it later if it is terrible. During NaNo, you’re excused from writing beautiful literature. In this scene, are the characters well-developed? Is this scene just ‘filler’? Who cares? It is a scene, and now you can move on to the scenes that you really want to write. Doing this, in 2011’s NaNo, I came up with a whole backstory to my novel that wasn’t there before. Doing stupid things like sending your characters to a mall just to bump up your word count, you don’t just learn more about them. You learn something about yourself: that what matters to you, ultimately, is that you get to write something. The process itself has become more important to you than the end product. When writing becomes more important to you than sleep or food or even tea, you have found your passion.

I’m going to keep writing. But I’m going to miss NaNo. I’m going to miss that freedom.

I’ll tell you one final secret: you can slay your Kraken, too.

3 thoughts on “On Krakens, and NaNoWriMo

  1. Jeannie says:

    I love the comraderie that comes with Nano! We’re all crazy together: in person, on the internet, and sometimes maybe only in our heads! It was nice to be able to work with you this year Alice. Best luck writing and being a single mother too.

    • alicechayes says:

      It was lovely to work with you, too! That Facebook group was an absolute godsend for me this year. The NaNo community is such a friendly bunch.

      All the best to you in your writing adventures!

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