NaNoWriMo and Starting Fresh | Writer’s Life

2020 has been one of my most sporadic years for blogging and writing, despite the fact that I had some pretty big dreams when the year began. With my college graduation on the horizon, I was looking forward to having more time to dive into many of the projects I’d started over the years.

As you may have noticed, things didn’t quite go as planned.

I’ve talked before about breaking my own rules when it comes to blogging and the need to take a break from writing sometimes, so I won’t rehash it here. Long story short: deadlines and goals are good, but giving yourself grace is important too. (And who hasn’t needed some grace in 2020?)

I’ve gotten to the point where I can usually tell when I’m getting burned out – I get bored. Projects and hobbies that, at first, felt exciting and new to me lose their shininess. As I’ve said before, sometimes you have to push through – in other words, dig deep and rediscover what made you fall in love with that project or hobby in the first place. Sometimes you need to step away entirely until you can look at it with fresh eyes.

Other times, though, you need to find a middle ground.

I’ll use myself as an example: this year, my goal was to write the first draft of the first book for Project Quest, my fantasy novel trilogy. I blocked out the entire storyline last winter, and I was ready to give it another go in 2020.

Ignoring for a moment that I unintentionally managed to pick the worst year to write a novel, this just wasn’t a sustainable mindset. I dedicated nearly all of my writing time to Project Quest, and halfway through the year, I was tired of it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still near and dear to my heart, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

At first I tried the “don’t do anything at all and just play video games” approach. It worked… sort of. The problem was that I still had an itch to write, but every time I sat down to work on Project Quest, I was at a loss.

For writers, October is often the signal that says “HEY NATIONAL NOVEL WRITING MONTH IS COMING SOON, GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER.” I hadn’t been planning on participating in NaNoWriMo this year for various reasons. And then those issues started resolving themselves, and I started running out of excuses.

So I told myself I would participate. If nothing else, the challenge would give me the push I needed to start writing again.

Unfortunately, this led to a second dilemma: What on earth was I going to write?

The obvious answer was Project Quest, since that was what I’d said I would dedicate this year to. And I did consider that, but it wasn’t long before I started feeling the dread of working on that again.

And I don’t remember what got me thinking about it, but my thoughts returned to a different writing project I’ve been whittling at over the years. I’ve written about Project Summer and The Show Must Go On, two connected novellas, here before. Those have always been more passion projects.

The thing about those novellas is that the world they were set in was always much larger than the stories allowed me to show. I have dozens of short stories and scenes – some going back five years or more – featuring those characters, but I could never figure out what to do with them.

Until now.

I thought to myself, why should I focus on these single stories that don’t show the whole picture of a character’s arc?

Obviously characters (like people) will continue to change throughout their lives, so unless you plan on writing their autobiography, you have to pick your battles (or stories). But still, limiting myself to the novellas made things feel rushed and unfinished.

I decided to turn the project on its head. I picked out five main characters from the two projects and outlined story arcs for each of them. I picked a main problem for each of them, the “lesson” they had to learn, and used the Save The Cat method to sketch out some beat sheets. They don’t all start in the same place – one character’s story starts when they’re in middle school, while we don’t meet another until they begin college – but their stories intersect in different places and build on each other.

And that led me to Project SAGA: a collection of short stories following the lives of five friends over the course of several years. It combines elements of the two novellas, as well as many other scenes and stories I’ve written over time.

Will this become anything? I don’t know. It may just be a project I share with my “inner circle” for now. Or maybe I’ll just write it for myself.

And you know what? I think that’s what I need right now – to give myself a break from Project Quest and try something fresh in a different genre. To write something I love without the pressure of making it “good” for an “audience.” To simply enjoy watching my characters interact and live their own lives.

So here I go: I’m committing myself to NaNoWriMo 2020. And whether I win or not, I know I’ll be working on something that makes me happy.

Have you ever taken a break from one project to pursue another? What do you do when you’re feeling burned out? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Until next time!

2 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo and Starting Fresh | Writer’s Life

  1. Someday you’ll have to explain to me how to write a novel. I tried, years ago, but it was something I just couldn’t wrap my head around…


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