by P. J. Kaiser (@pj_kaiser)
I used to thrive under pressure. I worked many years as a management consultant and I was all about deadlines, timelines, lines at airports and lines at Starbucks. When I first began writing, in spite of being the primary caregiver for my two young children, I kept the same go-get-‘em attitude.
If there was a challenge, I accepted it. If there was a deadline, I met it. When I first heard about NaNoWriMo last year, my first thought was “That sounds like fun, but I might not have time for that.” I should’ve trusted my first instinct. Somewhere along the way, in spite of myself, I signed up for NaNoWriMo and worked on my outline.
Allow me to rewind a bit and tell you that the reason I began writing in the first place is that I have a story to tell. It is fictional, but is roughly based on the life of a friend of mine. I saw NaNoWriMo as my chance to dive into the novel and begin the real work of becoming a writer. Never mind the fact that on a good day, I could only scrape together maybe an hour of writing time without staying up until the wee hours. Did I mention that I was also taking an intensive writing course at the same time with Stanford Continuing Education?
If you’re thinking, “This has disaster written all over it,” then you’d be right. Halfway into the month (after a boatload of some truly golden words), I started to get uber-stressed. I was staying up late and my daughter was frequently still waking up at night. But like a bulldog that wouldn’t think of letting go of his favorite bone, I just couldn’t back down. I figured I only had two more weeks, right? I won’t go into details, but let’s just say that I “won” the word-count but at great personal cost. My health suffered and my family life suffered.
I think if it had been any other project besides “the” novel, then I might have let it go. But when you’re waist-deep in a project that you’re that passionate about, it’s difficult to take a step back and say, “Pace yourself. Find a balance. Don’t burn out.”
Doing NaNoWriMo, for most people, requires sacrifice. Unless you’re already a regular writer, meaning that you already have a regular writing time scheduled into your day (I mean more than the fifteen minutes that you spend writing over your lunch hour), you need to sacrifice something. You choose to not watch Dancing With the Stars in order to write. Or you choose not to go shopping in order to stay at home to write, for example. These sound like pretty good trade-offs. If, however, you choose to stay home from work to write, there might be an issue. If you choose to write instead of eat or sleep, there might be an issue. If you choose to write instead of spending time with your spouse or children, there might be an issue. Sacrifices are necessary, but consider what they might be before embarking on NaNoWriMo. The types of sacrifices necessary and the level of acceptable sacrifice are, of course, different for every individual.
If at any point during the month it seems that the sacrifices are too great, then please have the sense (unlike me) to gracefully bow out. There is absolutely no penalty for trying and not finishing. In fact, many people who do not win indicate that they still feel an incredible sense of accomplishment for just having tried.
There are plenty of naysayers out there who would try to dissuade you from writing at all, let alone participating in NaNoWriMo. If you read this recent article on Salon by Laura Miller you might have felt very disheartened. Make sure, however, that you read Carolyn Kellogg’s rebuttal in this Los Angeles Times article.
NaNoWriMo can be an incredible source of camaraderie and inspiration. It might just give you the nudge necessary to begin a project that’s been lolling around in your brain or to embark on a shiny new project. If you decide to do it, then I am sending you all the writing pixies that will fit in a Fed Ex envelope – I hope they are enough to see you through to the end of November!
P.J. Kaiser stays at home with her two young children and finds time to write – generally in thirty-second increments. She writes mostly flash fiction and serial stories in a variety of genres. Her work has appeared at the “Soft Whispers” site and has been included in anthologies such as “12 Days 2009,” “Best of Friday Flash Volume 1,” the chapbook “Dog Days of Summer 2010 – Not From Here, Are You?” and, most recently, “50 Stories for Pakistan.” Earlier this year, she won the February writing challenge at “Write On Online” with her story “Waiting for Spring.” She can usually be found hanging around at her blog “Inspired by Real Life.” P.J. is also the co-moderator of “Tuesday Serial,” a weekly collection of links to the latest installments of some of the web’s best online serials. P.J. lives with her family in Hoboken, New Jersey.