Wow, here we go. It's Day 7 of Camp Nanowrimo 2023, and I'm actually writing. Not only that, but I've broken through the slump of the last few years. The writer's block I spent the first few weeks of this project discussing over and over has lifted at last, or fallen down, or whatever it is that writer's block does when it's relieved.
I don't know if this is forever. Who knows? I could easily find it reappears in the future, but I seem to have found a way around it, at least for now.
So what's brought this on?
Well, the last few weeks I've been writing on 4theWords. I've also been doing a lot of work in therapy, and for the first time I've specifically geared the therapy toward writing and why I developed such an anxious reaction when I thought about doing any kind of fiction (or, if I'm honest, any kind of writing).
It's tempting to claim that because the new thing is 4theWords, that this must be the reason why I'm suddenly able to write again. I'll admit, though, when I first signed up at the beginning of March, I was worried that the thrill would wear off, or the guilt at not being able to write would be too much.
For years, I've been signing up to Nanowrimo and Camp Nanowrimo in the hope that this would magically get me to write. And nothing. Nada. My Scrivener files are a wasteland of half-completed projects. Even when I wrote, as I did in 2020, it was agony. I hated it.
Guilt and shame are terrible motivators for anything, but especially writing. I'd start out all right, but then the resentment would pile up and I'd do pretty much anything to avoid sitting down to write. I became the master of The Good Excuse.
When I signed up for 4theWords, I was concerned I'd set myself up for the same fall. But it hasn't worked out like that. Instead, after a few days of journaling on the site, I decided to just start writing the scenes I had all jumbled up in my head. Could I start?
I'd thought I should have a complete plan with every scene laid out in detail before I could even begin. I told myself to keep on planning. But on 4theWords, the temptation, the pull of wanting to move the in-game story forward, defeat cute monsters, and make progress, overwhelmed all my resistance.
It's a clever strategy, if the site itself appeals to you on a game level. I've come across so many tools in the past that try to compel writing out of you via different means. Either they have a "focus" mode, which I don't think would ever work for me. Or they attempt to provide some other reward system.
That's what Nanowrimo is all about, after all. Each day you update, you inch closer to getting another badge. But I was too resistant for a badge every few days. What works for me on 4theWords—and this is a very personal take—is the combination of the RPG fantasy story which effectively gets in the way of the resistance, combined with being able to choose a lot of very tiny goals and feel a lot of instant payoffs.
The monsters broadly sit in two main categories: endurance-based goals and word-based goals. The latter does have a time element, in that you have to achieve the word count in a set amount of time, but the endurance goals are intended to drive you to keep putting words down, even if you can't face thinking about reaching a target.
Time goals range from absurdly short (3 minutes), up to a full standard pomodoro (25 minutes). The word-based goals are much more wide-ranging, which makes it easier to find a goal that fits what you feel capable of. Nanowrimo's standard 1667 words per day could be broken up into any number of much smaller goals, each one with the little dopamine hit of defeating a monster and adding to a quest line.
This is given me another reason to keep planning and strategising about writing, even when I feel rough about writing itself. I might realise I've written a thoroughly shitty section, and have a dip when I look over it. But, wait! I have this monster, or this set of monsters to defeat to meet this challenge! I'll just keep going and see what comes up next.
Technically speaking, this is a 52 weeks of editing challenge. Except that it's not, because I was always going to have to re-write the whole first book. I'm not sure how I would do editing in 4theWords. But I'm not worrying about that now. For now, for Nanowrimo, and at least for the next few months, I'm going to concentrate on writing out a new first draft.
That does mean the draft currently sitting on my dresser is draft zero. That's fine. I won't ever get rid of it, either, since it's just for me and it's a reminder that even if it's not publishable, it's a part of my life and I don't have to throw it out.
I set a goal of 30k words for this Camp Nanowrimo. I've done just over 15k in the first seven days. Right now, I feel pretty good, but I know how easily my mood could shift, so I'm being cautious about extending that. It's better to set a smaller goal and then beat it than a big goal and have it all fall apart.
If I can keep up this level consistently, I could set a stretch goal of getting to halfway through the new draft by the end of this Camp Nanowrimo. The original draft is an eye-watering 183,000 words. I'm aiming at the moment for 120,000 words. I'm allowing myself to overwrite, with the idea that if I can get all the scenes in, I can cut them down.
The only other thing I've been doing is something of a follow-up to last week's post, where I mentioned the idea of working on the sentence level. This, I think, is the last stage of any process. The biggest changes need to be made first, and it's only when you've got all the plot, scenes, and chapters organised that you can work at the sentence level. However, I am still working through writing exercises and trying to improve. So all in all, this is the first camp I've actually ever enjoyed.