It’s funny how having a goal makes challenging yourself that much easier. At least that’s true for me. Pushing myself with something I can measure makes a huge difference in how hard I’ll work. I reached 50,000 words for my third NaNoWriMo on the 24th. That’s the earliest I’ve finished it. There was more time to dedicate this year with no annual trip to Montreal, no visiting friends or family, or going out to movies and live music. It seems like a no brainer for finishing fast, but it felt harder.
Mentally it was difficult to focus. I struggled more than I was able to articulate. When I look back over this year, I’m proud of how much I’ve been able to get done. It just feels like everything is taking so much effort. NaNo included. Not because the challenge felt daunting. In fact, I love a big challenge. I’m struggling with the sameness and monotony of the pandemic. It gets to me. But it’s funny how putting a goal in front of myself helps me push past that stagnation.
Until last spring, unless my doctors removed me from the pool because I was too ill, I participated in a 50- or 100-mile swim challenge alongside my fellow mermaids and mermen. The tradition started long ago as a way to counter the late winter blahs. It gave us swimmers a reason to keep showing up on the dark, freezing cold mornings. It used only to be 50 miles, but they added the option of 100 because I kept swimming well past 50.
I’m not a sprinter. I’m a distance swimmer. This means lots of people can swim one or two laps way faster than me, but I can maintain a decent pace over time and don’t typically need a break. The pool I swim in is open from 6 – 7:30, four mornings a week. I can swim 2.25 – 2.5 miles in that time. Sometimes I had to cut it short for work or ran late getting to the pool. Sometimes I missed it altogether. So I often swam twice a day by going to open swim in the evenings.
This activity leaves you hungry and exhausted and can get boring wicked fast. You must plan for food, sleep, and ways to keep yourself focused. I own a waterproof iPod, so I can listen to music as I swim. I have systems to track my laps as I swim. I like to pace myself against certain people. My fellow swimmers and I cheer each other on no matter our goal (it didn’t have to be 50 or 100 miles, it could be 10). And track our laps on a board after each swim. It’s not all that different from tackling NaNoWriMo.
I use the Noisily app for white noise as I write (I’m using a setting right now that sounds like bubbles underwater). I use Word to keep track of my word count. I have writing buddies. I do yoga in the morning and walk after work in the afternoon. I can sit and write for two hours sessions as long as I’m getting that exercise in. When I do NaNoWriMo, I make sure to enter my numbers every day. I don’t save them up. I had a day of only 500 words, and I entered them. They were 500 hard-earned words since I didn’t want to write anything. My approach to achieving these two goals is similar, and both leave me feeling the same way in the end.
The first year I took on 100-miles, I had 47 days to do it, I finished it in 40. I still had time to swim that morning, and my swim buddy, a.k.a. Pool Nemesis, was in the lane next to me and pushing me to swim hard. As I moved through the final lap, instead of turning to continue swimming, my hands shot up and grabbed the wall. PN pulled up next to me and asked if I was ok. I told him I’d finished my 100th mile, and he asked how I felt. I answered, “Broken.”
It’s funny reaching the end of any challenge. When you have your eyes on the prize, it seems simple. You keep pushing towards the goal, but once you’ve completed it, and even if it’s something you’re going to keep doing, you still feel a little broken. I finished NaNoWriMo on Tuesday before Thanksgiving. I wrote on Wednesday. Then I took Thanksgiving off to be with my hubby. Then I took Friday off to be with my hubby. We don’t get regular days off together, so I wanted to hike with him and cook with him and watch stupid movies with him. Today I promised myself I’d sit down after taking those two days off and get myself focused. I did Yoga for Writers with Adriene this morning, I hiked a gorgeous nature preserve, and ate leftovers while snuggling with my kitties. Then I talked myself into sitting down at my keyboard. My feeling of being broken carried over into thinking I had nothing to say. But the act of getting my body moving then sitting myself down at my keyboard has allowed the thoughts to flow.
50,000 words are just the start of a longer project. There’s so much more work ahead of me, and I’m excited about that. I just can’t let meeting that goal impede my reaching the larger one.