Reflections | NaNoWriMo

Coffee, Cup, Table, Drink, Beverage, Espresso, Tea, Mug

It’s officially the end of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and after my first attempt at participating in the challenge, I have some thoughts

Wait. Go back. Refresh my memory on NaNoWriMo?

Sure. NaNoWriMo is a nonprofit that hosts National Novel Writing Month every November, inspiring creatives to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

I’ve known about NaNoWriMo for some time, and this year, I wanted to give it a whirl. I set out to write the first five chapters of a book that I’ve had in my mind for years, and I knew from the start that I would not be able to meet 50K words in 30 days. Between work, pregnancy exhaustion, and other daily tasks, I wanted to be realistic so I wouldn’t be disappointed come November 30. Overall, my goal was just to write more creatively in November.

So. How did I do?

It depends on who you ask. But if you’re asking me, I did the best I could. The first week of November was a HUGE success. I was writing one hour a night and flew through the first three chapters of my book. I was feeling energized, creative, and inspired. I loved writing dialogue and creating a world of my own.

Then, I hit a wall. A big, ol’ pregnancy wall. After work (where I write 8-12 hours a day, mind you…), all I wanted to do was eat, watch a show, read a book, shower, and go to bed. Rinse. Repeat. November was a blur, my friends. I honestly haven’t touched my book since that first week in November.

Instead of writing, I did read 8 books and wrote 9 blog posts. So, while I was not writing for my book, I was still writing, which is what I wanted to do in the first place. I call that a success. I also completed every entry in my gratitude journal for November. Something I never did before!

While I am in high spirits, it’s still really hard to watch people meet their goals. I get a little envy, I do admit. I wonder what may be wrong with me that I can’t find the drive to write my own novel. It’s important that I continue to remind myself that I am not them. They are different people with different schedules and priorities. Could I have prioritized NaNoWriMo? Yes. Did I do things that brought me joy on the weeknights and weekends instead? Yes. I had a great month, so that’s all that matters.

I guess I wouldn’t say that I failed. I still wrote three chapters and got further in this book than ever before. And that’s a victory. I always said that this past month was about the journey, not the final product. I am happy to say that I participated in NaNoWriMo as best as I could, and look forward to trying again next year!

How about you? Did you participate in NaNoWriMo? Did you meet your goals? I want to hear all about it!

NaNoWriMo – Let’s begin

Writing, Write, Person, Paperwork, Paper, Notebook

It’s November, and that means it’s the start of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short).

I have always been captivated by NaNoWriMo. I’ve been following its social media pages for years, wanting to join in, but never feeling like I had the talent or the resources to start.

This year, I’ve decided to do it. I’ve decided that it’s time to start working on a book idea I’ve had for years — and I am so excited!

Wait. What is NaNoWriMo again?

NaNoWriMo is a nonprofit organization that aims to inspire the writing community, providing them with resources, community forums, workshops, seminars, and more. National Novel Writing Month started in 1999 with the challenge for writers to complete 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days.

Whew.

Scary, right?

It is. As someone who has never written a book before, I am very hesitant to get started. What if I don’t reach my goals? What if I can’t dedicate time to my book every day? What if it plain old sucks? How am I supposed to come out of this writing the next Water for Elephants or The Night Circus? Should I even do this?

The answer is yes. Yes, I should.

My goals

I realized that it’s not about what comes out my project, but what I make of it. I am closer to finishing this book than I’ve ever been before. I’ve drafted a storyline and characters. I’ve started sketching the first few chapters of the book, and hey, that’s something I am already proud of.

So, while I won’t realistically write 50,000 words by Dec. 1 (hey, anything can happen!), I do plan to write the first 5 chapters of the book by the end of the month. Between work, homeownership, pregnancy, and the holidays approaching, I am setting an achievable goal from the start.

I hope to write at least one hour a day, perhaps more on the weekends if my work schedule does not allow me to dedicate an hour on weeknights. I have a feeling I can achieve this goal, and, who knows? Maybe I’ll even surpass it!

I just want to write. I want to sit down and come up with a story. Even if it’s the worst story ever. Even if I sit there and go, “Ugh. What was I thinking?” That time will not be considered wasted. Writing creatively is something that I’ve missed doing, and to be able to create a story, craft dialogue, and sketch a world that I imagined is so rewarding.

Stories matter. I will do my best to remind myself that though it may not be perfect, I am flexing this creative muscle that I’ve wanted to exercise for years.

I am looking forward to this journey, and I plan to update my blog with milestones throughout the month. Maybe I’ll even share an excerpt or two?

Write on, creative nerds.

Anyone participating in NaNoWriMo? What project are you working on?

How to control the unknown: Journaling during the pandemic

Recently, I rediscovered my love for journaling. I currently have two journals: a bullet journal where I track my bookish creative needs, and another journal where I focus on mental check-ins before bed and other writing.

With the recent pandemic sweeping the globe, I noticed my journaling habits dwindling. I have been glued to my phone, scrolling through Twitter and Facebook to try to make sense of it all. I couldn’t believe what I read, but seeing that everyone was facing the same issues somehow made me feel less alone. The issue with this, of course, is that people don’t always post the most encouraging or factual things on social media, so those notions of connectivity also brought panic, uncertainty, and a lot of anxiety that I could not curb.

I decided to unplug — to only focus on the positive things — and pay more attention to books (more than I already do). I am working to exercise daily, eat healthily, and be mindful of what I can control. I slowly started journaling again, readying myself to write down what I was feeling. I realized that I was avoiding journaling because it was easier to harbor anxiety and fear rather than see it on paper. It’s been a few days now, and I am enjoying the process and act of journaling. It has helped to record my thoughts and activities during this time and work through them rather than avoid them.

I found myself this Sunday morning scribbling in my journal, feeling much like Jo March when she has a moment of inspiration and needs to get it down. I wrote six pages of free prose, mostly detailing what is happening, how I feel, and how my husband and I are coping during these troubling times. I wanted to share some of it with my readers, for I feel like this is how we might all feel. I also want to start sharing more of my writing with others, which takes a lot of courage.

Here are my favorite snippets:

As a homebody, this is certainly a lifestyle that I am used to, but I find myself gripping to my humanity more and more as we encounter outside individuals on our walks or in the grocery stores. As someone who is so introverted, I find myself craving extroversion. Technology is keeping “us” connected through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat…Google Hangout, FaceTime and Zoom and “we” are having virtual Happy Hours and game nights. Families are joining each other for dinner in their respective living rooms. Why haven’t we done this before? Last week, my friends and I got together for a virtual chat. We laughed and caught up. One friend said: “We should have been doing this all the time anyway!” It’s true. Why wouldn’t my friends and I schedule regular time to do this? When we can’t get together physically, why don’t “we” embrace technology and still be together socially?

I hope that we all appreciate the simplicities of greetings: a smile, a handshake, or a “hello, how are you?” as we pass each other on the street. Why did we lose that in the first place? Ian and I went for a walk the other day, and every person looked at us and said “hi,” as if they were also craving that social interaction. Before, we wouldn’t get a glance from half of the people we crossed paths with. Where did humanity go? Does it take us to all be locked in our homes to strive for politeness when someone passes by?

I hope we learn to appreciate each other more — that we continue to take better care of one another and of ourselves. What about our planet? What about appreciating those on the front lines all of the time? Or asking those “what about them?” questions when things go wrong? I hope we don’t lose sight of that — taking care of each other.

After this is over, I hope that we continue to pick up more books, appreciate the small things like getting an iced coffee or an ice cream cone. I hope more people browse bookstores or work to support small businesses. I hope that we call our friends more, FaceTime with our grandparents regularly. I hope that we exercise and crave to go outdoors and take care of it. These things were always options, but now it’s something that we want to do and share.

I hope that we rediscover hobbies during this time- our love of books, favorite movies, playing or creating music. I hope that we are creative – that we paint, write, draw. I hope we are OK if we do none of those things but take time to look within ourselves and know that we are resilient … that we are strong and we can regain control and maintain that control when the world seems to have lost it. I hope we can just “be” and know that if we do anything, it is good enough. Enough with comparing ourselves on social media, thinking that we are not good enough. Enough with the drive for money and the greed to be successful. Can we continue to check in with one another? Can celebrities and musicians continue to share their talents?

I hope we act silly; that we dance. That we come out of this stronger than ever.

I am so excited to see all the creative work that comes from this. I can’t wait to see all the art, read all of the prose, and listen to new music. I hope to create my own work, academic and personal, during this time. I hope to learn how to be OK with my work, breathe slowly and be patient with my craft — to continue being diligent as a writer. I want to be loud; I want to praise others for their talents and help others feel safe and not alone. It’s time to be there for each other.

‘Mastering’ the thesis: A student’s journey

For those who don’t know, I am currently earning my master’s in English—a very rewarding and fulfilling area of study for me. It’s been a whirlwind these past two years; working full time and switching jobs all while going to school full time can be stressful!

My project has many layers, but to simplify it, it focuses on the female heroine in fantasy literature. The fantastic as a genre offers readers the opportunity to explore the impossible, and because of this, authors of this genre are able to introduce readers to worlds beyond our imagination.

The genre itself also opens up doors for protagonists to do what might not be as easy to do in reality. A heroine establishing their autonomy and fighting solely to save the world they live in has unfortunately not been a storyline commonly produced by authors from other genres throughout the centuries. That’s what I ultimately argue; the genre and its elements allow these heroines to be who they truly are.

Since I was a child, I’ve been drawn to fantasy simply because of its availability of heroines. From Lucy and Susan Pevensie to Coraline alike, I have always admired them and been inspired by their valor. Growing up and entering academia, it’s easy to say that feminist theory has been the foundation of my research and a number of research papers at the end of each semester.

So, I spent the summer reading the fantastic (doesn’t that sound awful? ;)). Here’s what I read:

-Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (reread) – Lewis Caroll

-The Princess and the Goblin -George MacDonald

-The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis

-A Wrinkle in Time -Madeleine L’Engle

-His Dark Materials -Phillip Pullman

-The Hunger Games (reread) -Suzanne Collins

-The Harry Potter series (reread, focusing on the development of Hermione Granger) -J.K. Rowling

-Coraline (reread) -Neil Gaiman

After reading all of these books (and a billion pages of scholarly articles), I found something inspiring about the heroines depicted in these stories: they all control their narratives (except Meg from A Wrinkle in Time…did anyone like that series?).

I found, overall, that each heroine works to control their narrative in their story and rebel against forces working against them.

I immediately decided that this was my project, but I couldn’t write about every single heroine (at least not yet).

I decided to take a contemporary approach and focus on three beloved heroines: Lyra from His Dark Materials, Hermione from Harry Potter, and Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games.

After more research, I began to dive deeper. I soon discovered that these three heroines not only establish their autonomy in their stories, but they also bend their gender.

I then studied the topic of tomboys and concluded that each Lyra, Hermione, and Katniss display different tomboyish characteristics, therefore separating them from the regular heroine: Katniss, the hunter, and Lyra, the rascal, and Hermione, the bookish and unkempt.

Further, they all own their identities, and even if they sometimes represent femininity in their stories (Lyra being dressed up by her mother, Katniss being dressed up for the Games, or Hermione dressing up for the Yule Ball), they do it as a choice and perform femininity without losing their core, tomboyish essence. They remain in control throughout their stories.

The fantastic offers endless opportunity, and because of the genre, authors can bring these heroines to the forefront; these lovely, amazing, gender-bending, rebellious heroines that we all love so much.

I am now in the final stretch: writing my master’s thesis. This past month, I submitted my first chapter for review.

IMG_4620Right now, I am focusing on my Katniss chapter. I am very excited to write more about one of my favorite heroines (and arguably, one of society’s favorites). And, I’m even more excited to present my project on Katniss at a national conference in Boston this March.

I bet you’re wondering how a person working full time has the time to write a master’s thesis? She doesn’t, folks. She just doesn’t.

It’s been a really tough process. Lots of tears, lots of therapy sessions. It’s hard to leave work and keep that creative energy to last beyond after-work gym sessions or making dinner/spending time with my husband.

It’s hard to say no to plans, to move plans around, or cancel plans to write or research. Heck, it’s hard to sit down and write. But, I wanted to be honest with those who are wondering, and an ally to those who might be going through the same thing as me.

This is what I love to do, and I’m excited to share my love of writing and the topic and genre I love so much with the world.

Thanks for reading! Has anyone taken on a project this large? Any advice? Want to just rant about it to a safe, open space/person? Feel free to comment below!