The tales of an unapologetic nerd
It's December 2nd, 2018. The dust has settled from this week's finale of NaNoWriMo, and I've avoided writing any thoughts on the experience until now. For starters, I didn't want to jinx myself. And, due to the nature of the whole event, I didn't want to WASTE PRECIOUS WORD COUNT MOMENTS ON THIS!
For those of you who don't know, NaNoWriMo stands for "National Novel Writing Month." It is an international phenomenon that takes place the whole month of November, where writers all over the world gather together online, and challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in only 30 days. There is no prize for finishing, or "winning," simply the satisfaction of knowing that you have accomplished something incredible. And, for most of us, that is enough.
I have attempted NaNoWriMo a dozen times in the past, and never actually finished. Once back in college I did enjoy a small victory by hitting my personal goals for the month, but I didn't actually hit that 50k marker. I have made no secret of the fact that I'm an incredibly slow writer, and over the years while constantly struggling to finish my own work, the daunting task of putting THAT much content out into the world became more and more terrifying. After all, I do not "draft" traditionally. I'll do an entire series at some point on how my personal writing style isn't conducive to "first drafts" and "rough drafts," but that's for another time. For now, suffice it to say that the whole concept of actually surviving NaNoWriMo and being proud of what I'd come out with at the end seemed impossible.
This year, finally, everything changed. With literally two minutes to go until the midnight deadline, on November 30th, I had officially added 50,000 words to my total word count for Inkspice, the second book in the Mapweaver Chronicles. And, more importantly (to me, in any case) it is READABLE. So, what changed between this year and all the many trials and failures of years before? I think I've figured out a small list of changes that helped me survive.
1) People were enjoying my work, and asking for more
A lifetime of being on stage has taught me one important thing about myself: I shamelessly thrive and flourish with praise. Yes, I am spurred on by people telling me I can't do things, but I'm also completely a real-life Tinkerbell -- I need applause to survive. Every time someone told me I was a good dancer as a kid, something inside me insisted that I keep getting better so I wouldn't let anyone down. Once, a director casually remarked that they were impressed by how quickly I memorized. And now, I'll be damned if I ever go on stage during a rehearsal with my book unless I absolutely have to.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that this has not always been the most emotionally healthy way to function. It's been a life-long battle trying to find my own self-worth without other people patting me on the head, but that's my struggle. And at least I'm finding ways to turn that compulsion for love and attention into something good, rather than wallowing in self pity whenever I feel like I'm not everyone's favorite (a constant state of being up until middle school). The upshot of it all is that positive reviews of Windswept made me want to give the people more. I want so badly to please every reader out there that I am more willing to push myself for them than I have ever been for myself.
2) My body is broken
If you're my friend on Facebook, you'll have seen that recently I was given some pretty devastating news by a doctor. He told me that it was time I start leaving puppetry behind, and look for another career. Puppets have been my life for so long now as a performer that I am genuinely heartbroken about this. It's the latest in a long list of health problems and injuries that are keeping me away from the stage and doing what I love. I have been extremely lucky in the past few years to not need a survival job. EVERY job I do, I do because I love it. And the idea of having to step down and sit in an office all day devastates me.
The terror of knowing that I may not be doing one thing I love for much longer suddenly made me realize how scared I am to lose THIS career as well. My life as a professional writer is just beginning, and if I disappear into the day-to-day of a cashier job or something that takes all of my time and saps all of my creativity, I will stall out. The next book might take more than ten years to produce, and that is unacceptable. My fear pushed me through every sleepless night in November, and I've never been more grateful that I am an anxious person. Sometimes, my anxiety monsters can be my very best allies.
3) I had a team
There's a wonderful phenomenon that has been born from social media's constant presence in our lives: if you don't have a support system, it is so easy now to find people on the internet who share your interests, and are willing to cheer on a total stranger. Fitness groups, fandoms, accountability partners ... all of these things remind us that we are not alone in our hopes, dreams, and goals. I did have an amazing support group in real life as well, with my team at Random Encounter Productions, my boyfriend, and all of my amazing friends who I do NOT deserve. But more than that, I was part of a group on Facebook filled with people I had never met, and all they did was check in on each other. It is ASTONISHING how far a simple "You can do it!" gif can go in helping you get through your day. Each time I looked at the page, I was encouraged. I watched other people going through everything I was, and felt at home. I wasn't writing alone. Other people were going along on this ridiculous adventure with me, and at the end, finished or not, we could look at each other and say, "We survived!"
4) I had already set an incredibly public deadline
This one VERY easily could have blown up in my face. As I've mentioned many times before (and will continue to mention again) I AM NOT FAST! I knew when I released Windswept that if I didn't pick a date for my next release and absolutely stick to it, I would lose all momentum. For an indie author, timelines are very important. So, every time someone bought my book and asked about the sequel, I would tell them with all confidence, "It'll be out by the end of the year!"
Dear Past Kaitlin,
WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT TO YOURSELF IT'S SO NOT COOL!! Now I'm stuck with this ridiculous and impossible deadline and I'm bullying myself into finishing word counts and making snap decisions and WHY?! We are in a fight, Past Me.
Sincerely, Current Kaitlin
Dear Current Kaitlin,
Sincerely, Past Kaitlin
The funny thing is, those deadlines did more for the creative part of my brain than I'd ever imagined they would have. There were nights when I was just speed-writing outlines and stream-of-consciousness notes to myself, just to get something on paper, and I would suddenly stumble over something I hadn't intended. Now, many of those moments have become integral plot points of my series. The breakneck pace that NaNoWriMo often demands can be really liberating. Sometimes, your creative brain knows what it needs. And sometimes, it just needs to take the wheel while you hang on for dear life. Apparently, Past Kaitlin knew that even when I didn't. I guess she's not so bad.
5) I started taking my own art seriously
This is the big one. Because NONE of the above list would have mattered if this one crucial thing hadn't changed. Praise, timelines, job changes ... nothing else compares to the joy of suddenly believing in your OWN art. There are moments in every creator's life when they experience exactly this. And it's happened to me before, which is why I recognized it now.
A few years ago, I had to make a choice between a role I really wanted that didn't pay, and continuing to support myself as a working performer. I had always thought that actors who refused to perform for free were just being divas, but that was the year I realized: I was talented enough to make those decisions for myself. It wasn't that we aren't WILLING to. It's that we get to decide what roles are worth "donating" our marketable and hard-won skills for. That role wasn't it for me, and I left the show. I have never regretted it, because that decision took me from feeling like "a girl who happens to get paid to act" and made me feel like an "actor." My career has vastly improved since that mindset shift, and my writing is going through the same changes now. I don't HAVE to write for free. I don't HAVE to donate my talent if I don't truly believe that I should. I deserve to feel like a professional, and I do. Finally.
I may never be a bestselling author, but the moment I decided that this was a career and not a hobby, I started acting like I could be. And for me, that meant cranking out the words, putting aside the time, and doing the hard work.
I've learned a lot about myself this month. I've learned that this is a job I actually take seriously, and I'm willing to sacrifice a lot for it. I've learned that I'm REALLY good at bullying and bribing myself into getting things done. And I've learned that I can make this writing pace WORK. 2019 is, I hope, going to be a year filled with magic, and writing, and fresh ideas, and brand new books. Because even if I hadn't won? I believed in myself enough to try. And that's the hardest step to take. After this month, nothing can slow me down.
No wait, that sounds like a challenge to the universe, and I REALLY can't afford to taunt it right now ... ok, let's try that again. *ahem*
After this month, I KNOW that I'll always pick myself back up again, no matter how busy I get. My dreams, and yours, are worth fighting for. So pick up your pen. Pick up your forgotten ideas and dust them off. Pick up whatever that hobby in the back of your mind is, the one you've always known you could do for a living, and remind yourself why it matters. Find your team, and set your challenge. You've got one month left in 2018 to figure out your passion. And then next year? We're all in. Let's do this.
Kaitlin Bellamy is a freelance actor, indie author, and all-around nerd. Welcome to her world, adventurer. It's gonna get weird.