Last November, I won NaNoWriMo for the first time in years and years of trying. I walked into the month with just shy of 50k in Dragontouched, the novel I’ve been working on for way too long, and at the end of November, I wracked up another 50k to round that out to a solid 100k, nearly finishing my first draft.
Alongside those 50k, I also wracked up a massive mental breakdown.
November was the month that I realized that I was absolutely drained and exhausted from my career and couldn’t keep going. I had to quit. (Which I did! Just last week!)
It was all too much. Yet somehow, I still managed to write 50k, and I am incredibly proud of myself for that. I’m proud of my fortitude and determination at finally, finally striving for my dreams and letting absolutely nothing get in the way of them. It seems like every time I build up writing momentum, something stupid in life comes along to derail me, and I was bound and determined not to let that happen this time. And I didn’t. I made it to the end. And decidedly crashed thereafter.
Since November I’ve hardly been able to write. I wrote 50k in one month and barely 10k in the next two and a half months combined.
All I want is to finish this first draft and move on to the next step, but I just can’t seem to get my head back in the game. Now I’m left here wondering how the hell I managed to crank out 50k in the middle of having a mental breakdown?! And why can’t I get that momentum back?
I think I’ve been struggling to admit that NaNoWriMo completely burned me out.
My favorite thing from NaNo this last year–besides winning–was that Brandon Sanderson participated and posted his word count every day on his subreddit, encouraging others to do the same. It was an amazing feeling to write alongside my favorite professional writer and someone that I’ve been looking up to as a mentor and modeling my career after for the past two years. I even beat his word count a couple of days! And I broke 50k before he did, too. It felt amazing.
But that’s actually the problem. I kept up with Brandon Sanderson’s writing speed, and all he does is write. Sanderson doesn’t have a second (extremely stressful) career that he’s juggling at the same time as he’s writing. He was even on vacation in Hawaii for one of the weeks! Sure, he did have to juggle a book launch at the end, which is why I was able to beat him to 50k. Still… I was only able to beat him because he took a break. To deal with something stressful.
While I, on the other hand, took no break. I wrote through Thanksgiving. I wrote through work. I wrote through a mental breakdown.
Virtually writing alongside Sanderson, I thought that the biggest lesson I learned from him was that I actually have what it takes to keep up with the pros. Now, months out, I’m realizing that I missed the biggest lesson he taught me. And that’s to take a break.
Sanderson doesn’t write every single day. He takes rest days. He has work days where he focuses on meetings and the business side of a writing career. He took a break while he was launching a book because that was a huge task that required a lot of energy. And writing is also a huge task that requires a lot of energy.
Welding words together to create stories takes a lot of energy.
For heaven’s sake, I wrote an entire article about guarding your creative energy because writing takes a different level of energy than simpler tasks, like formatting or just reading a book. Yet, I was using up all of my golden spoons in November and borrowing some from the next month just to keep up.
Cue major burnout.
And then more life kept happening on top of that… I seriously decided to quit my job and made a plan to follow through on that. I decided to sell my house and move to a different city. I decided to change careers completely. And I also caught Covid… again.
I don’t regret November, nor would I change anything. Winning NaNoWriMo is my proudest accomplishment of 2021. Yet moving forward, I’m clinging to the lesson that’s just now sinking in–I need to take breaks and write sustainably. If I don’t take breaks, my body will burnout and force me to take one, which is what the last two and a half months have been for me.
I’m just now getting my creative energy and drive back, and that’s something that I want to nourish, not mine until there’s nothing left. Moving forward, that’s my goal–nurture and protect my creativity like seedling in the sun.