Why I Won’t Be Doing NaNoWriMo Next Year

In which I discuss NaNoWriMo, chronic illness and mental health.

So I won NaNoWriMo this year; approximately 66000 words written during November. Sure, it’s an achievement, but proud though I am of the words I wrote and the stories I created, I’m paying the cost now. Under the pressure of trying to keep up with the word count, I used far too many of my spoons.

For those unaware of the metaphor, the spoon theory encapsulates the daily battle of weighing up tasks with the energy they cost and the pain they cause. When living with chronic illness (in my case, fibromyalgia), the spoons are limited and everything from getting out of bed to preparing food takes more of them away each day. The graphic to the left, courtesy of Dysautonomia International, breaks it down. As November went on and the word count went up, I realised that the number of spoons I started each day with was rapidly decreasing, but NaNoWriMo creates this strange kind of internalised pressure that means the fear of failure is too powerful to want to back down, especially when I knew that I’ve completed the challenge in numerous years with ease. Of course, back then I wasn’t living with fibro, but when my illness has taken so much from me, I was determined to prove (to myself, more than anyone else) that it couldn’t take this from me too.

I tried to break it down and take some of the pressure away by not creating a single, stand-alone novel from scratch. Instead, I gave myself the target of exceeding 50000 words by finishing the first draft of The Strange Case of Doctor Magorian, and then writing as many separate short stories as necessary to get over the finishing line.

I did it. A complete first draft is ready to be edited and I wrote four short stories too, one of which has already sold. At first glance, a success. Yet I haven’t been able to write since the end of November. I’m writing this now from my bed, curled up with my laptop whilst I wait for the codeine to kick in and bring relief for an hour or so. I have an appointment with my doctor on Thursday to discuss stronger painkillers, because the pain and exhaustion are so severe now that last night, my husband had to feed me. I couldn’t lift the spoon to my own lips.

No spoons left.

That’s why I won’t be doing NaNoWriMo next year. I’m burned out, both physically and mentally. This time of year isn’t particularly conducive to taking some time out, but I have no choice. Christmas preparations will have to wait, meet-ups and parties to catch up with patient, understanding friends one more hurdle that I can’t clear this year. I can’t cope with them, and I am well aware that my determination to push through my body’s warnings and finish NaNoWriMo is largely responsible for that. For now I’m just hoping that this flare-up settles in time for Christmas with my daughters. Next year, I’ll be cheering you all on from the sidelines and reading this post back to remind myself just why 50000 words aren’t always worth the cost.

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