I wanted to give up yesterday. I sat down at my computer around six, hoping to get a jump-start on the night’s writing so I could finish earlier than previous nights, and I didn’t even get started until nine. My moods are rather mercurial and yesterday had been particularly draining, so I wasn’t really surprised by my sudden lack of drive and ambition. Disheartened and frustrated, sure, but not surprised. I’ve been working with myself too long to be surprised by this. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately and I haven’t been getting enough sleep for a long time, so I’m not surprised I hit a wall. The fact that I was humming along on Tuesday, managing six thousand words over the course of the day, doesn’t mean much since I can keep working at full capacity right up to my moment of complete exhaustion. It’s probably why I tend to work by burnout cycles rather than in any kind of moderation.
If I took it easier, I’d maybe be in a better place, energy-wise. I don’t know that for sure, but I suspect and I’m usually pretty good at figuring this kind of thing out. Too bad I’m apparently only good at it after I’ve wiped myself out. The flip side is that I wouldn’t be able to avoid a night of low energy and exhaustion if I hadn’t pushed myself. I’d have needed to get even more words done that I did last night, and it wouldn’t have been a choice. I’d have forced myself to do them. Instead, I was tired and inclined to give up, but I was able to choose to keep working and then pack it in a bit earlier than usual. I didn’t get an amazing amount done, but I got enough done and that’s what was important to me. I did something.
Out of every year I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month, this year’s attempt has been the one I’ve wanted to quit the most. Since November fourth, the day I found out about my Grandfather’s failing health after being kept up all night by my neighbor, I have entertained daily thoughts of giving up and taking some time to rest and meditate. There have even been a few days where I half-decided to give up but wound up being able to make myself do it when it came time to write the “I gave up” post. I mean, I’m a few thousand words away from finishing the month and so close to my goal of having written one hundred thousand words this past month, but I still want to give up. It’s not even me feeling defeatist or incapable. It’s my bone-deep weariness. Just like my worst days of depression, it isn’t the feelings of failure or of ineptitude that get to me, it is the feeling that I am so tired I could just lay my head down to sleep and never get up again. The feeling that whatever it was that once pushed me forward has wound done. Gone out. Been destroyed. Decayed into nothingness. Any or all of the above. The rationalization hiding behind the worst intrusive thoughts coming from my OCD. They both come from the same place and they’re a mixture of depression and actual exhaustion.
Which is why I know exactly how to handle them. Which is why I managed to get some writing done last night despite wanting nothing more than to lie on my bed and be still until I fell asleep or ceased to exist. I know that this is just a feeling of legitimate tiredness being amplified by my depression that has latched on to a combination of my anxieties about whatever wore me out that day and my anxieties about how I’m going to manage my exhaustion. They get all bound up together and create a feedback loop that will eventually wear me down unless I manage to escape it somehow. I can meditate my way out most of the time, but that’s really close to the whole “lying down on my bed and not moving” thing that I’m trying to avoid so I prefer a more active solution. Like writing about it (which is why I wrote this bit about how I felt yesterday before doing my day’s writing and then came back to fill in the before and after parts to tie it to the rest of a daily blog post). It works. I wish I’d gotten more sleep, of course, but I needed to stay awake long enough to reframe “going to sleep” as something I chose to do rather than something my depression-based exhaustion made me do.
A lot of managing yourself, and by extension your mental health, is finding little tricks to convince yourself to do whatever it is you think you should be doing. That’s what most of my tips are this month, ways to trick yourself into focusing on work or into doing more work than you originally planned. That’s what the previous paragraph is, a way to trick myself into dealing with my mental health so I can write more before the day ends. Or write anything beyond a couple hundred words. Anything that gets the job done and doesn’t cause additional harm. I’ve got hundreds of little coping mechanisms I’ve developed over the years that can be adapted to fit almost any scenario and I bring a lot of them to bear during months like this one, where I’m constantly exhausted and stressed from working hard, all while trying to cope with the bad news I keep getting. Sure, taking a night off to sleep would be nice, but the guilt would be horrible. I’d feel like I’d abandoned my writing goals if I just took a nice off. So I found a way to get some writing down and get some extra sleep. A little bit of compromise can go a long way.
Anyway, I hope this made sense and I hope you got something useful out of it, even if it’s just an example of someone who is doing really well with their goals wanting to quit. We all have those moments and it’s usually better to deal with them out in the open than to try to hide them away or pretend they never happened. Denial gets you nothing, so learn to cope, learn to process, and know that you’re not alone in whatever you’re feeling. I hope your last two days of writing go well! Good luck! I believe in you!
As you look over your story and all the work you’ve done this month, you probably start to get an idea of what this story is really about. Sure, you planned it to be about one thing, but that really pans out. Too many changes get made during actual production for any plan to stay intact unless you’re entirely rewriting something that you’ve already finished or you’ve strangled your story in an attempt to get it to fit the narrative you initially chose. Now that you know, though, find the right place for this idea and work in a scene that solidifies it in the earlier part of the narrative. Maybe do a couple if it’s a complex one. Just make a few small adjustments so the story’s message says what you want it to say.
Last year, the writer who inspired me the most was John Green with his novel, “Turtles All The Way Down.” This year’s story is an updated and slightly adapted version of last year’s, so it bears mentioning that I was inspired by his candid way of writing about mental health. When the book was coming out and for a while after it came out, he also spoke more frequently and openly about his mental health and struggles with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. It means a lot to me that someone who struggles with OCD more than I do was able to openly discuss and still manage to make great art despite the struggles it often presents. While I can handle my OCD better than most, I’ve always kind of shied away from talking about it because I don’t really like admitting how constant and severe it is. Reading John Green write about his experiences, through the story of a teenage woman, inspired me to try to write about my own experiences since that’s a story I’ve never seen before. Hopefully I can get it finished and shared with the world. I feel like it’d be really helpful for people like me to read a story like that. I know my life would have been a lot easier from sixteen to twenty-five if I’d read something like this.
As we get to the end of the month, I just want to say that it isn’t a big deal if you failed this month. Failure is something you’re going to encounter frequently if you take risks and attempting to create something without taking any risks will get you nothing. No new lessons, no new skills, and quite possible no end result that you’re satisfied with or proud of. Last year, my entire department read a book about creativity and failure in an R&D department as my boss tried to foster a more adventurous and engaged attitude in his employees. The book suggests that failing early and failing often is the best way to approach any task. If you spend all of your time planning, you’re still going to come up with one or more failures later in the process but you’ll have less time to correct those failures than if you’d just dived right in and started failing immediately.
Writing is hard work. National Novel Writing Month is also a lot of hard work. I’ve failed it twice, once because I decided to give up at the beginning of the month and once because I told myself I didn’t need to register–that I didn’t need to be accountable to anyone but myself. The former was a good decision on my part, a choice to focus my time and energy on finding a new job to leave one that was slowly killing me (and already almost had). The latter is a decision I regret because it was made out of a desire to avoid the appearance of failure. The first one wasn’t really a failure because I learned and made a change that helped me succeed in the future. I dove right in and took risks by starting a new job. The second was one of my worst failures as a writer because I let the fear of an ultimately meaningless goal prevent me from doing my best. Better to try and fail rather than not try and fail anyway. You always get something out of it when you try, even if still fail. I’ve learned this lesson many times through life, but my first “attempt” at National Novel Writing Month is the one that has stuck with me the most.
I want you to know that, even if you know you won’t finish in time, don’t give up. Keep trying. Make your failure the best failure you can because the things you learned this month will all still be there whether you succeed or fail. Every attempt is a learning experience and the ones that teach us the most are almost always the failures. So try hard, dive in, and fail quickly. You’ll be surprised just how much you learn when you learn to not fear failure.