A Writer Walked Into a Camp…

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Alex and I celebrating Easter with his family, in sunny FL

April was an interesting month for me, in part because I really focused on my writing more than I had the rest of the year, by participating in Camp NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, and happens every November – participants try to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. I participated my senior year of high school and won (in only 19 days!), but November has been a pretty sh*t month every year thereafter given that I’ve been a college/grad student and things get pretty heated for school right around November.

Camp NaNo, then, happens in the spring and summer and is a lot more relaxed – you set your own goals for word count/hours of writing/pages, etc, and get sorted into cabins with other participants to chat and motivate one another. I started out April’s camp with a far too ambitious goal of 50,000 words (thinking my writing skills were more in practice than they are) and quickly lowered it to 35,000 words. But the end of April really took me by surprise, with research, classwork, friend and family obligations, and so I only ended up at around 20,000 words – still a remarkable number of words for a grad student to tackle in just one month, I think.

I have mixed feelings about how April’s camp went – on the one hand, I am 20,000 words deeper into a story than I was before and that is an amazing amount of progress for just one month while also taking classes and working on several research projects. What I’m less happy about, is how much else in my life fell to a standstill – namely, every household chore, my emotional health, and several friendships were under-served in this time “balance”. It feels like something is constantly being sacrificed – my health, my research, my coursework, my sanity, my house, my friendships, or my writing.

It’s this feeling of sacrifice, and the immense amount of weight of all the constantly undone things in my life, that seems to be dragging me down most of late. I no longer feel like an ‘impostor’ – I’m really hitting a stride in my research and have tons of ideas flowing. I love (and am annoyed by) how my story is flowing, and had fun working on it. But it’s all the papers unread, the brains unmeasured, the photos not taken, the emails unanswered, the homework undone, the laundry unfolded and dishes not cleaned, the games not made, the words not written, the calls not made, and the gifts not purchased that are paralyzing me. And each time I begin to feel really good about one or even two things, the other areas of my life start to pop up and burden me heavily with the weight of my neglect.

And paralyzing is an accurate word, I think. I come home at night and do nothing, in part because I am tired and in part because I cannot decide fully which problem most deserves my attention and suddenly nothing happens and it is time for bed. My typical strategies for dealing with stress and being overwhelmed no longer seem to work and I still can’t quite figure out if that’s because I’ve changed, or my life has changed, or both. Camp was, in many ways, lovely and encouraging (exciting and relieving to boot!) but in several senses it highlighted just how hard it can be to juggle my two big life goals at the same time and still maintain a creative, energetic flow in my life. And it certainly makes me appreciate how hard my favorite writers work to maintain their ‘day’ and writing careers at the same time.

Do you have any tricks for managing a difficult workload or schedule with several long-term projects? How do you adjust your mindset?

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