chronic fatigue / chronic pain / Fibromyalgia / mental health / Spoonie Challenges / Writing journey

“Winning” NaNoWriMo as a Spoonie

So, yesterday I got this fancy thing:

NaNoWriMo certificate

This November I participated in my first-ever National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) adventure. Now, I’ll confess right away that I have not been a fan of the concept for years. The win-or-lose thing did not appeal to me (because writing 35,000 words in a month instead of 50,000 does not make one a loser), and I couldn’t imagine what I could accomplish of any sort of quality in that timeframe. On top of that, I am a spoonie with chronic neuropathy and muscular-skeletal issues. Writing every single day? Um, no, I don’t think I can. And why would I risk hurting myself?

However, 2017 has been a really challenging and outright trying year for me, health-wise. Too many scares all at once and an influx of appointments drove me to intense anxiety. (Thankfully, I’m so much better now, mentally, since I’ve found a good therapist.) But my health and its maintenance derailed me from completing my longer manuscripts. I sort of froze up. I could write short stories, but I really wanted to finish Life in Another ’Cosm, the sequel to Life in the ’Cosm. No matter how hard I tried to work on the book, I got stuck.

Then NaNoWriMo was around the corner and I thought, “Oh, why the heck not?” I planned to work on Life in Another ’Cosm, but instead I decided to pull out my prequel idea about warriors Xax and Viv, who were fan favourites in ’Cosm. Thinking it could be a shorter book, I decided The Stealth Lovers would be my project for NaNoWriMo 2017. But . . . I had two rules for myself:

  • Stop, if it gets too physically painful.
  • Stop, if I’m not having fun.

The other thing I was adamant about was redefining what winner and loser meant. In NaNoWriMo, if you hit 50,000 words by Nov 30, you’re declared a winner. Now, as a spoonie, if I’d written 10,000 words, I would have been thrilled, because it would have been 10,000 more than I’d been able to do the months before. So, my winning guidelines were this:

  • I win if I understand what a comfortable daily word count feels like.
  • I win if I rekindle my love for novel writing.

It took about a week in to “win” according to my own goals. Ignoring all the requests for word binges and sprints, I set out to write 1670 words every day. I think I just did about that the first day and realized it felt all right. Then every day after that, I went with how my pain registered. I used the hashtag #slowandsteady in my social media posts. A few days I was in a groove and wrote more. On a bad pain day, I barely wrote anything. Throughout the entire process, I was ready to quit at any moment. And at whatever spot in the process I would decide to stop, I’d make sure I still saw myself as a winner.

At just over two weeks into NaNoWriMo, I got dangerously close to the “not having fun” point. I felt trapped by the process and how unnatural it felt to write this way. Good friends and my husband unit let me vent and they agreed I didn’t have to keep going. I had decided to quit when I said to myself, “But I love Xax and Viv. I want to write about them.” So, I did. Except I did it for myself and not for NaNoWriMo. I sort of divorced from NaNoWriMo in my head and continued with the story.

Next thing I knew the ideas flowed. Everything I’d written I wanted to keep in the story. Sure, I know I need to beef and clean it up, because it’s extremely first drafty, but at least there’s nothing to throw away. On November 29, 2017, my manuscript hit over 50,000 words. Well, what do you know about that? I let myself be proud, but I know full well I’ll probably need about 50,000 more words to complete the story. I’m probably that type of space-opera writer. I either pen short stories, or 100K-word or more novels.

So, that was my experience of my one and only NaNoWriMo attempt. Oh yeah, I’m pretty confident I’ll not do it again. But I am grateful that the spark caught for writing my longer works again and I understand my physical limitations. I’m also thankful that I marched to the beat of my own drum kit, and did the process according to my own physical and mental groove.

For all the spoonies who also do NaNoWriMo, I salute you. We know we are not valued by our word counts, but as the badass warriors we are every day. However you choose to do your writing process, it’s the right way if it works for you and lets you keep some spoons at the end of the day. There is no one-size fits all way of doing things.

As for me, I’m glad I tried NaNoWriMo, but I’m also glad it’s over.

(You can follow my progress of The Stealth Lovers and all things Cait-like on my website and social media.)


Cait Gordon

Cait Gordon

Cait (pronounced like ‘cat’) Gordon is originally from Verdun, Québec, and has been living in the suburbs of Ottawa since 1998. She worked for over two decades as a technical writer, publishing user guides about everything from software applications to airplane simulators. Her joys include cosplaying, watching sci-fi or fantasy series that are character-driven, reading books from authors she’s met, and baking . . . so much baking. In the ’90s she doodled a comic about a green snouty man named Virj Ofreesin, his houseplant Sonny, and his pet Splot. She felt it was time to share these characters with the universe. Life in the ’Cosm is her first novel.

A bit of a social media junkie, Cait on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram. She also has an author website. Oh yeah, she’s the editor of this blog, too. If you need editing services, visit her biz website, Dynamic Canvas Inc.

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