I’ve never successfully finished a NaNo project–not a camp, not a full-fledged NaNoWriMo. I’m one of those people that habitually committed to the event at different points in the last six years or so, with every intention of participating in some way, only to stop halfway (or sooner) through. I’ve gone in with all the good intentions, with so much motivation and steam and yet every time, I found myself deciding that I just wasn’t going to do it anymore and my habits outside of NaNo didn’t do me any favors. It seemed evident that unfinished work would be my legacy: dozens of scribbled ideas never brought to fruition, projects and WIPs that I would start and never complete, the tens of Google Docs and One Drive files and half-used notebooks with plots that lay abandoned right beside my ability to see them through.
This pattern outside of non-NaNo projects bled into them, and one day I decided to not bother with doing NaNoWriMo at all. After all, if I couldn’t finish a month challenge where I was literally able to set my own goals, how would I ever be able to finish a real NaNoWriMo?
How would I be able to finish a whole project outside of the one month, 50,000 word goal when I hadn’t so far?
I blamed time, I blamed writer’s block, I blamed college and work, I blamed whatever was going on in my life at the time. I would start with an overflowing well of ideas and then any motivation I had would start to dry out until there wasn’t a drop of it left; life, it seemed, had every intention of draining the tap of any ability of getting done what I wanted. The cycle of wanting to create and having ideas to the point I had dozens of notebooks and scribbles and a collection of plot files, but not the ability to see them through led to a grotesque amount of self-blame because shouldn’t my want to create outweigh whatever was preventing me from doing so, mental or otherwise? Isn’t that was creatives did? Pursue through their blocks and write until their fingers bled, slumps be damned?
Before I’d even considered there was an actual explanation for the problem, I had written myself off as a failure. I think that’s where I did myself wrong.
Now it’s July 2018, and a new Camp NaNo has rolled around, hot and heavy on the heels of past NaNos and past writing fails. A week and some change into this Camp NaNo, I’m pleasantly surprised and somewhat proud of myself that I’ve not only done work for Camp NaNo almost every day since the beginning of the challenge, but I haven’t lost my drive–or rather, haven’t caved to the forces that would have me lose it.
This year, I’m taking 100 hours to research, plot, and roughly outline my work in progress novel, The Triangle. An errant idea I had one day that might have ended up shelved, that instead latched itself to my brain and refused to budge until I did something with it. Now, it’s sitting at about 20 hours of work and 75 pages of research, plot, and character notes. That’s more than I’ve ever done on all of my past NaNo pursuits combined. It’s relatively minimal given my overall goal and the amount of work I need to put into it for the rest of the month, but I’ve done it and I will continue to do it.
I feel the same slumps as I did in past years and even through creative pursuits from earlier this year. I feel blocks, I feel lack of motivation, but what I lacked in past years I have this year: I understand myself. And I could claim that this understanding just bloomed out of the ground one day, a flower ready to be picked, but it’s not as romantic as that.
I don’t remember the first time it really clicked. I think it was gradual, through one of the many slumps I had in college that wove itself intrinsically between my work, college, and creative lives. In a particularly bad slump where all three of these things were being drastically effected, I had a break where I asked myself seriously what was wrong. Why was I like this. It was something more than just not feeling like doing something, but the overwhelming notion that I could do nothing, and that I would never be able to get out of doing nothing. Life had stagnated in every sense of the word; I spent the better part of a month or two away from school, away from work, touching nothing but my laptop to watch Netflix while laying in a heap of unwashed everything on the heels of yet another story that I wanted so desperately to write but couldn’t because I couldn’t find the will to pick up a pen or look at my keyboard and do it.
It was around the same time that I started accumulating a number of online friends. People I didn’t have to interact with in the real world, people who could see what I wanted them to see of myself: an edited version of the shut-in that didn’t leave the room she had in her mother’s house with her piles of notebooks she’d proudly proclaim were all her ideas despite the fact she knew that she would never do anything with them.
At some point, that version of me slowly stopped being the version that I put out, and I started to learn more and more that what I was going through was the same thing that a lot of other creative people my age or older were going through, too. Realizing that it wasn’t just me, that there was a name for it and for what was wrong, that it wasn’t that I couldn’t create but that I had something going on in my brain, that depression wasn’t just something I could clinically learn about in school and not experience myself, was monumental. It was like I could breathe again after being caught under water, always just inches below the surface without ever being able to break through.
Learning how to work through it didn’t happen quickly. I still had several failed projects and failed life goals in general because of The Problem. Times where I couldn’t bring myself to do what I wanted because the only thing I could do or had the energy to do was the bare minimum to function and sometimes that didn’t include writing. Adapting to depression slumps, working through them, accepting that I have limits and I’m allowed to have them were all integral to getting me to this point where I can say that I have this issue but it won’t define my work. It’s hard some days. Some weeks. Some months.
I have no doubt that there will be days I don’t want to do something during this month’s Camp NaNo challenge, or days that I can’t. It happens. It would be foolish to say that understanding depression makes it go away–I wish it did. Sometimes you have to understand a beast to work with it, even if you’re never going to tame it.