Monday, November 28, 2016

A Day in the Life of NaNoWriMo

Note: A little while ago, Cait @ Paper Fury suggested I write a “day in the life of NaNo” post. This is my attempt to provide a completely factual, not at all embellished account. Ahem. (It’s written in second person, because at this point in the month, I am insane and don’t know what I’m doing anymore. Not that I ever know what I’m doing.) 

The sound of your alarm clock bursts through your dreams like an unwanted character in a story that was going so well for you until this moment. For several seconds, you deny the existence of this alarm, until you realize this is no way to live. The protagonist in your novel would never be so lazy. You need to be more like her, or you else will turn into a potato. And that is also no way to live. 

Eventually, you come to terms with the fact that it’s morning (see also, the final stage of grief), and pull yourself out of bed. You hear a sound in the other room, a sort of muted screaming, and remember two things: a) it’s NaNoWriMo, and b) the muse fairies don’t like it when you put off feeding them. You leap out of bed, adrenaline rushing through your veins like caffeine, and zombie-shuffle as quickly as you can to the stash of chocolate-covered coffee beans on the counter. As the muse fairies strain against their cage, you jam your hands into the un-yielding leather of your third set of gloves this month. The chewed remains of the other two pairs lie abandoned in the far corner of the room, a testament to the dangers you are willing to endure, all in the name of NaNoWriMo. 

After you finish feeding your muse fairies, you rush to the shower to wash yourself. This is a good place for you. You don’t have to hear the crunching of the coffee beans, like breaking bones. You don’t have to hear the shrieks as the fairies fight each other for more than their fair share. The shower is quiet. The shower is peaceful. The shower is safe. You can brainstorm here, under the rushing water. You can think or not think, as you so please. No one will judge you or try to chew off your toes. 

But eventually, you have to step out of the warm shower into the cold air, and it is like crossing that painful bridge between sleeping and wakefulness all over again. Then it’s time for you to eat. You toast your bagel and scoot to the far end of the counter, away from the muse fairies, all slouched against the bars, holding their distended little stomaches and wiping what looks like blood off their mouths. You notice with a sinking sensation that the number has fallen again this morning. One is missing. You were warned that this would happen, that muse fairies were not exactly….nice beings. But still, actually seeing the evidence of this for yourself has turned out to be more jarring than you had expected. And considering the number you have lost already and the remaining days in November, you are starting to worry you will run out of fairies too soon. 

At least, you tell yourself, at least the number is not dwindling because they are escaping again. Your toes ache just thinking about it. 

With this in mind, you pull out your laptop and begin typing away at your story, watching the fairies out of the corner of your eye. After you’ve written a few words, to give your mind something to think about, you brew your pot of coffee and don those stiff gloves once more. It’s time to harvest the muse fairy eggs. They look so tiny, so innocent in the palm of your hand, like drops of metallic paint. You don’t want to think about what’s inside. 

Steeling yourself, you slip them into the pot of coffee and watch them dissolve as you wonder with a sinking feeling if the pursuit of success has turned you cold to the harsh realities of the world. Shaking your head, you refuse to allow yourself to dwell on this. Instead, you grab your favorite mug, pour yourself a cup, add the creamer, and sit down to breathe in the scent of nostalgia and words. And you write. Because this is what makes you feel alive. This is what helps you forget the things you regret and the people who want to kill you. 

(You have a passing thought that maybe you are getting a little too into this story. But you stow that thought away in your mind closet with all the other thoughts you do not have time for this November.) 

After an hour or so of concentrated writing, your fingers clicking to the beat of whatever song happens to be playing in your ears, you rise to stretch your legs and get the blood flowing. As you wander about the kitchen, studiously avoiding looking at the fairies, you notice the floor should be swept. The dishes have piled up. The cat waits at the door, her eyes big with the need for attention. All these things cluster at your consciousness, nibbling away at your prospective word count, threatening you with heaps of guilt should you choose to ignore them. So you break and ply the broom, load the washer, pet the tiny animal, and dispose of the disemboweled mouse it has gifted you, again. 

While you perform these mindless tasks, you tell yourself you could be thinking about your story. Instead you find yourself thinking about anything but. You find yourself thinking about movies you want to watch, the responsibilities you have let slide, the books you own but have not read. You get the sudden urge to walk the dog, to admire the foliage, to breathe the fresh air, and most of all, to avoid, avoid avoid the weight of putting worlds on paper. Because it hurts someplace deep to take the kitchen knife of your mind and slice open the skin of your consciousness so you can explain yourself in metaphors and melodrama. Already you can read the reviews—too trite, too sappy, too shallow, too vague, too not-what-I-wanted, too never-enough. And the quitter hiding in your heart is telling you it only wants to spare you future pain by calling it a day now, once and for all. 

Instead, you drag yourself back to your chair, pull your coffee cup close, breathe in the steam, and write. Word after word. Line after line. Building on each other, towering, toppling, tracing the outermost reaches of your imagination and finding there are no limits. Somehow you convince yourself to forget, for this moment, this day, this month, that the stories you are crafting are ugly, wasteful creatures, worth printing only to shred. Somehow you write another thousand words, and another thousand, and another, intertwined with stolen moments on Facebook, on Twitter, on the NaNo forums, on the places that handle your mind with novocaine fingers. 

At some point along the way, your eyelids begin to droop worse than ever. Lunch has passed. A long lapse in the day, a long lapse in judgement, an hour, sometimes two, of nothing but you and the screen, you and the show you are watching, you and the story you bury yourself in to escape the story you must bury yourself in. The coffee never works to make you feel awake, but now it feels like it’s having a negative effect, as though every drop of caffeine sucks the life out of you and gifts it to some other creature. And the muse fairies haven’t laid more eggs today. They are odd little creatures like that. Sometimes they don’t lay eggs for days. Sometimes they lay a new batch every hour. No matter how often you let them gorge themselves on those chocolate covered coffee beans, they decide the flow of inspiration. 

You slide out of your chair and pace around the apartment, knowing you could read on the porch swing and get some fresh air, a chance to bond with the cat while refocusing your mind. But you are so tired. All your body wants is to shamble around mindlessly until the guilt once more builds strong enough to drive you back to your chair and your life. You tell yourself tomorrow will be kinder, because tomorrow you will be going into town with your sister. You will work your job while she works hers in the safety of the church that has become an extension of your ingrown comfort zone. You find focus there, friendship, fewer distractions. 

Eventually your sister gets home from work, and you sit together, eat together, watch shows together. Write together. She doesn’t help you feed the muse fairies because she doesn’t like creatures with sharp teeth. She has her own menagerie of muse butterflies in her office, but you don’t ask about those. Every writer is different. Every writer has their own private source of inspiration. During November, it helps not to compare. You and your sister will not share the same discouragements, but you remind yourself that you also won’t share the same encouragements. That is okay. 

When you finally can find no more words to pull from your brain, no more thoughts to scribble out with your fingertips on keys, you go to bed, drained but content, eager for another day, another autumn moment to paste on the scrapbook of your hard drive. And you drift off to sleep, listening to the scritch of muse fairy teeth on metal. 

Well, that’s it for today, little coffee beans. What about you? How does a typical NaNo day look for you? What do you do for inspiration/procrastination?


  1. SO BASICALLY YOU HAVE NO BLOOD BUT YOU HAVE COFFEE RUNNING THROUGH YOUR VEINS. I knew it. xD Also those little muse faeries sound very vicious. I'm so proud of you for surviving. :')
    (This was such a great post!)

  2. I love this! Every bit of it! It made me laugh. And so much of it is so true, of writing in general, but especially NaNo. XD

    1. PS I hope you don't mind, but sometimes I recommend posts on my blog, and I want to put this one up there. If you're okay with that?

  3. This was so creative and brilliant of you, Liz! A nice way of retelling your day.

  4. Oh my gosh. I don't even know what to say about this. XD I was smirking the whole time reading it. XD

  5. Wow, this is 100% not what I expected when I read the title of this post, but with you, I should've expected it, lol. Totally brilliant and entertaining! You are amazing for surviving those muse fairies. ;)