I thought I’d write about life after NaNo (National Novel Writing Month), even though I feel a bit of a fraud as I didn’t even attempt it this year.
But I have - *pauses to push back up the halo* - been doing a version of my own.
It started back in August. I was doing a talk at the Feva Arts Festival in Knaresborough, Yorkshire, where I was asked about my writing routine. I’ve been asked this many times before and I’ve talked about it many times before when teaching.
There’s the writing practice of my dreams, I find myself saying, and then there’s the reality.
To set the context, I think it’s fair to say that I’m not great at ‘doing nothing’, even though I try really hard sometimes. In fact, one of my life time ambitions is to watch TV and films all day and all night, just once, when I’m not ill. I suspect the reality is that I'd hate it though, slope off to the PC or the washing machine and never come back. Indeed, last summer when I was supposed to be recuperating from a stomach op, my hubbie, ever supportive of my efforts to be a total sloth, revamped a Victorian railway trolley into a sun lounger for me, providing the perfect base from which to carry out the blissful couple of months of reading I'd envisaged. Two months! Can you imagine! And in May/June 2016, even the sun obliged. Suffice it to say, rarely used for its original purpose, the lounger didn’t go to waste; it simply evolved into more of a chair so that one of us could work at the outside table, or a bench to seat a few of us as we sipped a glass of something chilled in the garden at the end of the day. I guess my comfort zone is ‘busy’.
But boy, can I procrastinate!
Mum's taxi, the day job, washing, pairing socks… they're all hugely important stuff, of course, but even I can recognise that it doesn’t all need to be done before I do my own writing. It certainly doesn’t need to all be done before I do one single, solitary hour of writing. Because you know, an hour a day can be all you need to be fairly prolific. Even if you’re a more ponderous first draft writer or you’re in a tricky re-writing phase, you’ll still rack up the words quickly if you write a hundred or so of the fine things every day. In fact, write 250 words a day for a year and you’d have an 80,000 word first draft before the twelfth month was out. I know this. I quote this. I even have a funky little slide I made for my students to remind us all of this.
If you’ve ever even attempted NaNo, you certainly know this.
And yet, I tell the audience at the Feva Festival, I no longer practise what I preach. Writing has lost its place at the top of my priority ladder. I’ve allowed myself to shove it to the bottom of the list. And I never finish my list. So days and days go by with no words of fiction written and the first draft of my second novel only inches forward. They didn’t know it, but I silently vowed to myself there and then, on that stage, that this had to change.
The first task was to ask why I’d allowed my writing habit to slip, and the answer was that I’d allowed myself to sink not swim when I found myself in the Danger Zone.
And this is where NaNo writers come in.
The Danger Zone is generally the result of circumstance or curve balls. It's when an unexpected piece of work, a visitor, technological malfunction, children’s cry for help or illness takes a swipe at the time you’d allotted to write. These things happen. You’re disappointed when it happens, but one day with no writing won’t hurt, will it? You’ll write twice as much tomorrow. But when the same happens the next day, and the next, then the words not written don’t hurt quite so much. You're entering the Danger Zone. It has you in its grasp. It's engulfed you, enveloped you with temptations and it's going to take a gargantuan effort to find a way out.
The period after NaNo is Danger Zone for committed November scribblers. You’ve lived and breathed your novel. It’s only for a month, after all, so you can absolutely prioritise your writing. It’s so liberating not to worry about the other stuff, because your single focus which you’ve officially signed up to this year, is to write your first draft of a novel in a month. Brilliant. The concept is brilliant because even if you don’t find the words, 'The End', appearing on November 30th, you’ve discovered, or rekindled, the daily writing habit and that has the potential to change your writing world forever.
The trouble with NaNo being in November, however, is that it’s followed by December. And nobody needs me to remind them of the monumental thief of our time which is the month of December, with the decorating, cooking and cleaning on top of the present buying which didn’t get done in November because, well, you were writing your novel. Where will we find the time to respond to the December Time Thief? From our daily writing habit, if we’re not careful, that’s where.
I succumbed to the Danger Zone four years ago when ill health called time on my 5am writing habit. As far as I was concerned, a lifetime of chancing it on the sleep front had laid low my defence system when I really needed it and I wasn’t prepared to risk it anymore. Thus I’ve been setting my alarm for two hours later ever since. I have to admit, I immediately felt much better for it. But my writing habit took a battering and before August, I'd never managed to find a replacement slot. Teaching, editing and all the other stuff had crept to a seven day a week discipline, with plenty of evenings thrown in, and my own writing was paying the price. I took action, deciding to take a six month teaching sabbatical. But even that wasn’t too effective. Yes, I wrote more, but still I had days with no fiction because I still prioritised everything else over my fiction writing. Until that day in August, the day I remembered the tweets from Prolifiko, and decided that this was my best chance of kick-starting a sustainable writing habit.
Now, Prolifiko is a new website and there will be other sites doing a similar job, I’m sure. But Prolifiko worked for me because of the nature of its challenge: the personal challenge. It didn’t matter what you signed up to, whether it was four hours of writing a day, or fifty words, just as long as you committed to a daily writing habit for one five day stretch. My commitment was to write for one hour a day. Simple. I had to check-in and say I’d done it. Anyone out there who’s managed NaNo - and I salute you - is laughing into their Redbull now. An hour a day, you cry. You’ve done two hours before I can even say I’ll grab a coffee first. But the principle is this: Prolifiko will badger you to create a manageable daily habit that could become a sustainable daily habit. And that's exactly what I needed.
Prolifiko worked for me on so many levels. It reminded me that if I devoted just one small hour to my fiction, I still got all the other stuff done - the essential stuff, anyway. And it reminded me back in August that if I had even the smidgeon of a chance of completing the first draft of novel two by Christmas, I had to keep going.
I’ve continued my commitment to those good people at Prolifiko. I've tweaked my goal, now I have to write 1,000 words per day, five days per week. Because I’m on the first draft, I can write 1,000 words fairly quickly. At the subsequent draft stage, I’ll change the commitment. The key is that it’s a manageable, daily habit - like cleaning my teeth. To make it happen, I write it in my diary as an appointment.
I stick to it, because I daren’t not stick to it. Because if I don’t stick to it, I’ll enter the Danger Zone and I just don’t trust myself to find my way out of the Danger Zone every time. Prolifiko rules me by fear, and I love it because it works. I have a couple of pages left to write of my first draft with a few days to go before Christmas. Back in August, those words were the stuff of dreams. It’s a load of drivel, of course, with the odd nugget of potential, I hope, but we all know that you can't edit an empty page.
So, my advice, as an annoying, reformed-ish writing procrastinator, to anyone who successfully, or even unsuccessfully navigated NaNo (but can it ever be classed as 'unsuccessful' if you wrote anything at all?), is to acknowledge that few of us have the luxury of being able to keep up the NaNo style ferocious scribbling of November once the month is out, so give yourself a break. Don't even try to find a few hours every day to write if that wasn’t something you did before embarking on NaNo. Instead, set a realistic goal which equates to a personal daily writing habit that is sustainable. Don't beat yourself up if you find the Christmas to-do's are squeezing your day, but do give yourself an oar to safely paddle through the Danger Zone. You can do it, because even when you're busy, you still brush your teeth, right? In a year's time, you'll be so happy you did.
Picture yourself in December 2018 when you look back on your year: you won't remember the bathrooms you cleaned, or even much about the box sets you watched, but you will remember the words you wrote.
Happy writing, and good luck!
Foot note: Alas, I am not being paid any commission by Prolifiko but if this post has piqued your interest, you can find out more, here: https://prolifiko.com/.
Jackie Buxton is a writer, editor and teacher of creative writing, living in Yorkshire with her husband and two teenage daughters. Author of self-help memoir, Tea & Chemo (Urbane Publications, November 2015), Jackie's first novel, Glass Houses, was published in July 2016. It's about two women, their terrible mistakes, the repercussions and the silver linings. Jackie's short stories can also be found in three anthologies, as well as in Chase Magazine and on-line.
When not writing or reading, involved in domesticity or teenage taxi driving, Jackie can often be found running, cycling or tripping up though the beautiful Yorkshire countryside. Jackie's ambitions range from drinking more coffee with friends, to film deals and the big one: beating secondary breast cancer.
Find out more about Jackie and her books with these links!
Tea & Chemo on Amazon
Glass Houses on Amazon
YORKSHIRE AUTHOR AND CANCER SURVIVOR WINS BEST BOOK PRIZE AT CANCER AWARDS
An author from Harrogate, Yorkshire has won first prize for her cancer self-help book at an inaugural cancer awards.
A new award celebrating remarkable people doing incredible things in the cancer community has announced its winners, and blogger and author Jackie Buxton is one of them.
Buxton, from Harrogate, has been awarded the Best Cancer Book prize for her 2015 book, Tea & Chemo: Fighting Cancer, Living Life, at the inaugural Spotlight Awards by Live Better With.
Tea & Chemo is full of laughter, tears, honesty and hope, and offers inspirational words to everyone facing the life challenges that cancer inevitably brings.
At the age of 45, wife and mother Buxton was diagnosed with breast cancer. Determined to learn as much as possible about her condition, Buxton devoured patient information leaflets and online articles. But what she really wanted to read was the account of an ordinary person being treated for cancer who, crucially, emerged on the other side still smiling.
“I felt there was brilliant information from Macmillan and the hospital I needed on everything I needed to know factually,” said Buxton. “So I had no complaints finding that sort of information. But I wanted to find positive stories straight from the horse’s mouth. And they probably were on there online, but I was really scared of looking online because I didn’t want to find anything I didn’t want to read.”
Unable to find anything, the mother-of-two decided to do what she does best: write. Detailing her experiences in a blog, she soon found that people began to write to her saying that her blog had helped them in their own struggle with cancer. Delighted to be having an impact on others, Jackie realised that she had much more to say.
“People kept saying ‘you should get it published, you should make it into a book,’ but I thought people could read it online so there would be no need for a book,” explained Buxton.
“I suppose with the blog, the posts were very much in the moment, it was really a bird’s eye view of how it felt to be going through treatment and all the emotions attached to the treatment and the side effects. A few months on, after the active treatment, I felt like I had a lot more to add, almost a hindsight view. And because I had met a lot of other people along the way, and heard their views and opinions, I could use that to add a bit more depth.” And so Tea & Chemo was born.
The award-winning blogger was treated at Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust’s very own Sir Robert Ogden Macmillan Centre, and to give something back to the team who supported her so well, a third of the book's profits are donated to the centre.
On the book’s success, Buxton said: “Two years later, I’m still getting feedback from people which is lovely. Getting the feedback, that’s the best thing. For people to take the time and try and find me online and message me to say ‘thank you, this book really helped’, that’s what I dared to hope, but I didn’t assume it at all. I just dared to hope it would help and be useful, and it seems that it has been, and continues to do so.”
The first of its kind, the Spotlight Awards shine a light on the achievements of truly remarkable people, products, and services in the cancer community. Nominated by the public, and voted by a panel of expert judges, the winners are from all walks of life, of all ages, and from across the world.
The Spotlight Awards have been organised by Live Better With, an award-winning online platform where cancer patients and their loved ones can find products and information to help with the symptoms and side effects of living with cancer.
Live Better With Spotlight Award - Full winners list
BEST BLOGGER Beth Semikin of Tumour Has It
BEST BOOK Tea & Chemo by Jackie Buxton
BEST SUPPORT GROUP Younger Breast Cancer Network (YBCN)
BEST SERVICE Together Against Cancer (TAC)
BEST SKINCARE PRODUCT Defiant Beauty
BEST HAIR LOSS PRODUCT Chemo Headwear
BEST COMBATING NAUSEA PRODUCT Sea-Bands
BEST BEING COMFORTABLE PRODUCT Care + Wear PICC Line Cover
BEST MIND & BRAIN PRODUCT The Cancer Comfort Gift Hamper by CancerCareParcel
BEST EATING WELL PRODUCT The Royal Marsden Cancer Cookbook by Dr Clare Shaw
BEST MASTECTOMY PRODUCT Knitted Knockers
REMARKABLE PERSON (Five winners)
Charlotte Wood, founder of Drain Dollies
Sarah Jane Thomson, Specialist nurse at Beatson Cancer Centre in Glasgow
Sophie Trew, Vlogger and founder of Trew Fields Festival
Becki McGuinness, Blogger and cancer and fertility campaigner
Diane Redington, Founder of the GCS Project
For more information:
Contact: Rykesha Hudson, Rykesha@livebetterwith.com
More about Live Better With: Read about us in The Huffington Post
Phone: 0800 118 2705