There’s always a little hangover involved in finishing National Novel Writing Month. Perhaps writing 50,000 words in 30 days doesn’t sound intimidating to you at all, but it does involve concerted effort and perseverance to keep slogging when you’re tired or when the story simply isn’t coming together. 50k works out to a mere 1,667 words per day, which is reasonable, even with a full-time job and family.

And yet it’s not. Sometimes you’re inspired, sometimes you’re tired. Last year, I sailed happily through my novel. I hit both 65k and a satisfyingly wicked cliff-hanger ending. This year was an uphill challenge and I found myself updating my word count every 100 to 200 words, taking solace in the slow upward creep of my statistics for the day, looking eagerly for any discernible height increase in the day’s bar over the previous day’s bar in the cumulative word count bar chart. Some nights, I could only bear putting in 100 words before folding for the night.

I survived only by bearing down on the weekends, pounding out 2.5k or so per day. On Sundays, I went to a coffee shop at its 8am opening (by myself, which was a weird experience; coffee is typically a social event for me) and wouldn’t allow myself to leave until I’d hit my 1,667 for the day. Then I would continue to cram in the most I could for the remainder of the day. Weekends were not always easy: as a working mother with 2 kids, there are always plenty of other things to be done (even with the benefit of a super supportive and helpful husband), but the weekends were my saving grace this year.

The other thing that I couldn’t have done without were the Monday night write-ins that I hosted. As host, I did little more than declare a time and place, bring a power strip and extension cable, try to find seating for everyone, and run the sprints. A sprint is a 20-25 minute timespan where everyone in the group stops talking and writes as hard and as fast as they can. Calling sprints was actually more delicate than one would think: I had to search for lulls in conversations, keep track of people ordering at the counter, and wait for people who had disappeared to use the facilities. The write-in nights (again, aided and abetted by a husband who kept the household running perfectly well without me) were as productive as weekends, yielding roughly another 2.5k.

The best thing about the write-ins was that a core group of 6-8 of us really clicked and came to enjoy each others’ company enough that we’re extending the group year round. I have always been secretive and humble about my identity as a “hobby novelist.” I found that the write-in was a turning point for me and a safe place to declare my avocation as a writer among other writers. I’m not ashamed that I have no ambition for publishing beyond writing a $.99 trilogy to post on Amazon for my family & friends to read and the people in my group don’t look down on that like some groups might (I’ve heard rumors and seen posts on the forum from more “ambitious” groups).

When we started bandying around the idea of going year round, I moved things forward by posting a “baseline proposal” to the regional forum. I proposed a loose association with no agenda and no rules and no requirements (no forced beta-reading and critiquing homework) other than caring about writing and being in the company of other writers. I proposed we continue our day and hours and asked for feedback and counter-proposals. No one had anything to say except “that sounds good!”

We did, several days later, have a post from a woman who lamented that her work schedule had kept her from attending the write-in and she regretted that she would now miss the year round group. So we’re adapting (adaptability was part of my baseline proposal) and trying a Tuesday, with the intent of alternating Mondays and Tuesdays. We had her pick a Tuesday date to meet and greet and even with the holidays impinging on everyone’s schedule, it looks like most of us will make it, so she can decide if she “likes” us and wants to keep coming. I read her profile and she seems like a nice, interesting person. Her avatar shows her holding a cat. Seems like a good fit and the more the merrier—I believe that critical mass is the key to a vivacious and sustainable group and was the secret ingredient to our successful write-ins.

Having the promise of a year round group helps ameliorate the post-NaNo blues a bit but not as much as I would like. I don’t like deadlines as a rule, especially when the work is unpredictable. But NaNo is very different: the goal is clear and simple, with no last-minute surprises. It’s a race between your imagination and the clock and it’s highly motivating, especially when you’ve spread the news around about what you’re trying to accomplish. When it’s over and the pressure’s off, I feel adrift for a while, uncertain to do with my new-found free time, even though I’m a year round novelist and have at least three “after hours” projects I need to work on, but I can’t muster the motivation for a while: there’s a little bit of NaNo burnout.

I’m looking forward to when the blues and the burnout are behind me and I can again turn my mind toward mentally-demanding projects (outside of work) once again. For now, I can’t even read or watch simple action movies. Luckily the holidays are rapidly approaching and will occupy my mind and by the time January comes around again, I should be ready to be swept up in New Year’s optimism (which is mostly relief that the holidays are over) and get back to my beloved “life of the mind.”