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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Drugs, dilemmas and other stories

So my little corner of the internet has been quiet for a while. I make no apologies for it – this is my space, after all. However, I would like to offer up an explanation, as well as looking forward to better times to come. The end of 2017 and the start of this new year have proved difficult for me, health wise. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I have a chronic pain condition which affects my mobility, and despite my efforts to follow doctor’s orders (most of the time) this has worsened significantly in the last few months. The new medication I now take to make it out of bed each day has proved hard to adjust to, and combined with a truly delightful kidney infection that landed a week before Christmas, I’ve found myself struggling to balance looking after my health with my university commitments, writing, and most importantly my children.

It’s come to a point now where I have to prioritise my health until I have my meds and pain under control, because if I don’t, I simply won’t be able to keep on top of anything else. But whilst things may be quiet on my end for a few more months yet, I have no intention of giving up writing. Not only is it hugely beneficial for my mental health, but I simply couldn’t imagine going without an outlet for all the stories that burst into being inside my head. I have inspiration aplenty – all I need is pain-free time and a chance to get them down on paper. I have (runs off to check The Grinder) 8 submissions out right now, with another I’m hoping to beat the deadline on next week, health permitting. Hopefully at least 1 or 2 of those will be picked up.

On a brighter note, I have stories out in two upcoming anthologies to look out for; Fluky Fiction’s The Muse and The Flame, and Crescendo of Darkness from Horror Addicts. Also published this month was all the sins, Issue 6, which featured my short story, ‘The Price of Blood’. Please check it out and let me know if you liked it!

What Was Lost

I really miss editing.

There. It’s said. My name is Cara, and I used to be an editor. Under a previous nom de plume, I was a freelance editor. I edited horror anthologies and novels, and I was deeply proud of what I achieved. Helping other authors make their writing be the best it possibly could be was just as much of a thrill as creating my own stories.

And then life threw a curveball into my path. My impossible baby came along. Much wanted, but unexpected nonetheless. I planned to take three months of maternity leave before easing back into my freelance work; I didn’t want to take too much time out of a fast-moving market that I loved being part of. But then towards the end of the third month, I found myself standing at the side of the road calmly weighing up the pros and cons of throwing myself in the path of the next bus to come along.

Postnatal depression had hit with a vengeance. Out of nowhere I could barely face waking up each morning, let alone returning to work as I had planned. I spent the next two years on a high dose of mirtazapine just to be able to find an equilibrium once more.

For the last six months I’ve been able to stop my medication, and one of the best parts of not taking anti-depressants any more is that the fugue has lifted. I couldn’t write whilst I was taking them; now the inspiration and drive has returned. I can use the pain as a spur to dig deep and take my writing to places it has never been before.

I thought long and hard about whether to take up the mantle of my previous name when I resumed writing, but eventually decided to mentally ‘wipe the slate clean’ and choose a new name for myself. That meant I’m now starting from scratch. I still see a handful of names I recognise now and again, but mostly the publishing world is full of new faces. That’s great – but it means I’m finding my feet all over again, establishing my reputation from the beginning.

That in itself wouldn’t inhibit me from starting up freelance editing again, but for now the chronic pain issues I have with my spine after my pregnancy are uncontrolled. I can’t commit to editing a client’s novel when I don’t know if I’ll be able to get out of bed tomorrow.

For now I just keep writing. There’s so many submission calls and brilliant new publishers around that I have more than enough stories floating around to keep me busy – but every now and again, I stop and wistfully remember the days when I had the privilege of reading an author’s story before anyone else. Being able to guide them in shaping it into the book they wanted people to read was an honour, and I hope that one day I’ll be in a position to do that again.

Until then, if anyone is looking for a beta reader, I’m all ears!