I launched into NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) guns ablazin’ on November 1st.  Even though I hadn’t fully cast my characters or outlined the plot, I took my commitment to the challenge seriously. I realized I knew the opening scene. I’d known it for months – “Heck, I can write that.” So a miracle occurred – something from nothing.  My book was begun.

I had no intention of working weekends, therefore, my plan was to write 2,500 words per weekday. On Friday November 1st, I figured out three things:

  • I write about 14 words per minute
  • I doubt for one minute per two minutes of writing – hence an average of 10 wpm.
  • Writing 2500 words per day would take me 4 hours.  I was already getting up at 5:30 am to give myself 2-1/2 hours.  I didn’t have 4 hours to give.

I also learned that doubt crept into time, not just while sitting at my computer, but as I considered whether or not I was ready to write this particular novel, and whether or not NaNoWriMo was ultimately a good challenge for me.

It was Alice Elliott Dark who first told me: Schedule Doubt.  She was an award winning writer published in The New Yorker and Harper’s and writing professor for schools ranging from Bard, to Barnard to Rutgers MFA program, and I was but a participant at a workshop, but I was pretty sure she was underestimating my native optimism. (See Alice’s blog here).

“Doubt – Schmout,” I thought.  I’m a very positive person.

You have to recognize your feelings, otherwise you can’t do anything about them. I didn’t think I “doubted.” Without realizing it, I “blended” with the doubt. Instead of seeing doubt (as a more experienced write like Alice Elliot Dark does) I believed my doubtful thoughts.  I fell into bouts of believing my writing was no good, and that the schedule was ridiculous, and why did I sign up for this?  And didn’t I have to do it now that I promised myself I would?  My inner bitch showed up to do some good ole shaming. I felt very small.  Days passed.  (Schedule doubt.)

What had felt fantastic for the first couple of days – 1,700 words a day, and beginning to have a novel and a cast of characters in my life again – suddenly was just not good enough. And if I can’t do it on the NaNoWriMo schedule, I doubt I can do it all. (P.S. this is my second novel. I know – in better moments – that I can do it.)

You need to schedule time for doubt, if you don’t want to schedule time for derailment too. When you pretend to yourself you won’t have doubt, it metastasizes, and becomes not just a nagging thought, but who you are for that moment. Whether you’re trying to write to the NaNoWriMo schedule, or just writing, take time for doubt. Recognize it. Examine its message. Is it a reasonable fear? The first doubt was reasonable.  I can’t take four hours a day to write right now. But since I didn’t examine that doubt the deeper more urgent fears took hold, and they were – well – caca. Turns out NaNoWriMo was too big a commitment for me right now, but I’m still writing every day. Now, for me, it’s NaNoStartMo, and that’s good enough. No doubt about it.