Monthly Challenges, Gratitude and NaBloWriMo

01 Nov 2020

November is the National Novel Writing Month, a time when aspiring authors from all over the world get together to just write. The goal is 50,000 words by the end of the month, or just 1,666 words per day. It’s a daunting task, as I’ve found for several years. Many (myself included) lose steam, and crash out after a week or so. Life gets in the way, or the habit doesn’t stick, or you lose interest in the story you’re writing.

The UK is about to enter its second national lockdown, this time just for a month. And it seems like a silver lining to the black cloud that there will be hundreds upon thousands of people suddenly finding themselves with the time to write. The air feels alive with the crackle of creative potential energy, just waiting to explode down to the earth.

Meanwhile, I have recently been engaging in other month-long challenges: September was a month of sobriety, and October became a month of practising gratitude. December, January, February, and March have all been assigned a challenge of sorts, from going without sugar, to meditation, to photography. It’s an opportunity to focus a little energy into something different, and it helps to foster a sense of appreciation and, well, gratitude.

“All you need are these: certainty of judgment in the present moment; action for the common good in the present moment; and an attitude of gratitude in the present moment for anything that comes your way.”

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.6

My goal for October was to come up with 3-5 things each and every day that I was grateful for. My girlfriend and I then shared them with each other, either by text, over the phone, or in person. It was an exercise in finding something good that had happened every day, even on the bad ones, of which there were a few.

As the month progressed we found different ways of approaching the challenge. At first we would text each other a short, numbered list of the things we felt grateful for, but after a few days we soon discovered that talking in a little more length about them was more beneficial. Being able to elaborate on the why meant we could better articulate the moment in which we felt grateful.

I feel very happy with how the challenge turned out. Practising gratitude is oft-cited as a good tool in the arsenal of a healthy mind. People who practise gratitude have reported fewer symptoms of physical illness, more optimism, greater goal attainment, and decreased anxiety and depression. And I must say that I do feel a great deal better at the end of October than I did at the start. I entered October feeling quite stressed, a little angry, and a bit bleak. Local lockdowns had thwarted plan after plan for later in the year, and have thrown into doubt how I will spend Christmas this year. Incidentally, this song captures a lot of my feelings about why I love Christmas so much.

But as the month progressed, I did feel myself becoming more accepting of those things that I couldn’t control, and willing to take stock of what I have in the present moment. I never felt the need to pick something profound or grand for my list of gratitude, and in fact more often than not it was simple things like a conversation with a friend, or the sound of birds outside my window that made their way into my list. It felt oddly freeing at times to be able to just notice that there was a particularly nice smell in the air as food was cooking, and it helped to pepper my days with little moments of joy, and I hope to keep experiencing those moments in the weeks to come.

Perhaps the best thing about the challenge was the accountability aspect of it. Talking to my partner each day about those feelings kept me from shirking the task on a hard day, and it felt good to relive small things from the day when we spoke in the evenings. I would recommend to anyone to try this challenge for a month. I experienced what feels like a gain in my overall mood, and I am now equipped to maintain that better than before. And if you do try it, I would also suggest an accountabillibuddy, not only to keep you honest, but to experience those moments of joy with.

Which brings me to November. National Novel Writing Month, or Tildes Make Something Month for another portion of the Internet. I thought about attempting to write my 50,000 novel for this month, but felt that my next attempt at a novel should include a lot more planning than I did previously. And yet I feel compelled to write. So here we are: the National Blog Writing Month. My aim is to write a blog post every day for the next 30, though I can’t promise that you’ll get 1,666 words out of me. I have a few topics lined up that I’d like to write about, but there is much of the month as yet unfilled… Expect meandering, deranged, and rambling posts in those fallow weeks.

I would like to wish any fellow TiMaSoMo-ers (or Nano-ers, or any other creative working on something this month) reading this the best of luck, may the muses smile upon you.

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