Never Giving Up Noveling
This week, I’ve begun a challenge that takes up nearly all of my free time in the month of November for the past nine years – National Novel Writing Month!
As part of National Novel Writing Month (usually abbreviated to NaNoWriMo), participants write a novel containing a minimum of 50,000 words solely during the month of November. You’re allowed to do as much planning as you want ahead of time, but you can’t actually start writing – or counting your words – until midnight on November 1.
I discovered the challenge in high school, and quickly latched on. I started November with a vague science fiction idea about a disease spread by mushrooms. Mushrooms and disease make for a typical Ellie OCD idea, but I had no idea how much the challenge would shake up my typical routine.
I’ve always felt most comfortable as a creature of habit. I know when I wake up, how my mornings go, my routine for my school – and later, work – day, evenings, and bedtime. I, thankfully, don’t have any obsessive thoughts about following this routine (especially bedtime, which tends to fall by the wayside if I get engrossed in a video game, book, or conversation with a friend), but I always feel best when I know what’s happening next.
Changes to my routine can make my anxiety skyrocket, so planning for something like NaNoWriMo can involve a lot more than just brainstorming ideas for my new novel.
The basic plan for completing NaNoWriMo on time is writing 1,667 words every day, but in practice, it rarely happens that way. I always try to go ahead, planning for fewer words around Thanksgiving if I have plans with family and keeping a buffer of at least one day in case something happens. It stresses me out a lot if I fall behind, because I’ve never lost.
No matter what’s been going on in my life, I take the commitment to write a novel in November very seriously. I think about the timing and the schedules ahead of time and if I sign up on the website, I don’t quit for any reason. I didn’t even quit last year, when I had just moved to Chicago a few days before November started, had just started working at my new job, and was just informed that my dog had cancer (thankfully, he beat it, and is doing very well!). It took a lot of frustration, tears, and long walks in the cold, but I didn’t give up.
NaNoWriMo, for me, is a path to the dream I’ve known as long as I’ve had OCD – to be a published author. I’d love to walk into a bookstore and find my own book there, perhaps even find someone buying or reading it, and feel like my ideas are changing the world. It’s what inspires me to write every day in November, even if it’s cold, I’m tired, I’m busy at work, or any other excuse.
Most of all, I’d love to use some content I create during NaNoWriMo to help people. I originally started this blog to help reduce the stigma of mental illness by sharing my everyday experiences, and through conversations with my friends and family who read my blog every week, I feel like I’m helping to change perspectives.
I don’t always write mental health-related content on purpose during NaNoWriMo. Sometimes, I’ve written stories to help me deal with things – it’s my favorite way to release anxiety from trauma – and other times, it creeps into my narratives no matter what I’m writing. After all, it’d be great to see more characters with mental illness in fantasy, science fiction, and other genres where representation is rare.
Over the years, I’ve written novel-length stories about a medieval woman suspected to be a witch living with PTSD, a knight with paranoid delusions, a milkmaid-turned-revolutionary who learns how to overcome her anxiety, and more. In all these stories, I also tell mine – the story of someone whose mind is made for obsessions but also for stories, and who uses both of those to create something positive.
Thanks to my OCD and a healthy dose of competitiveness, I’ve written six 50,000-word novels in past Novembers and had another two years with over 100,000 words in the month. The sense of accomplishment is well worth changing my routine, no matter how much overthinking I do before November starts – and by this time in the month, I’m settled in a different routine where I can do what needs to get done every day while working on my long-term goals.
This year, as I write the tale of an exiled priestess learning her way around the world, I hope to add a ninth notch to my belt as well as stick to my philosophy about living with OCD: never give up!
Ellie, a writer new to the Chicago area, was diagnosed with OCD at age 3. She hopes to educate others about her condition and end the stigma against mental illness.