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The Struggle Is Real

23 Nov 2022
An open and honest insight into how a fun challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in a month has become an emotional rollercoaster - and how real life impacts your creativity.

Courtney Rose Brown is trying to break out her creative funk by taking the 'write a novel in November' challenge. She's documenting her successes and struggles as she goes, as well as working her full time job and dealing with major personal life events along the way.


She went through her reasons and week one trials and tribulations previously - and here takes us through the next two weeks of writing and the emotion that brings out.


I think about quitting every day, almost as much as I think about eating. Which for the record, is a lot. 


I live in an apartment building in the middle of town and for some reason, on Sunday people were out acting like it was a Friday. I didn’t get to sleep until well past midnight and then woke up at 6am from the beautiful serenade of construction. I had many thoughts of quitting, well, most things really-  and sulkily went about my day.


One thing I was looking forward to was relistening to Fearless (Taylor’s Version) which came out in 2008, the year my novel is set in.


I had a lot of fun recreating images like I would for my school books, as a way to remember what it was like when I was back in high school. The image is pictured below.


Late in the night, I finally sat down and started writing. I made a few lists with the headers:


- 2008 life

- Teenage humiliation

- Dating at 16 - the influence of romcoms and Taylor Swift versus realities

- Friendships at 16

- Religion

- Daydreams and fantasies

- Mental health and body image - “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”, “harden up”, “don’t turn the waterworks on”

- Family dynamics


Each has about ten things that I want to explore - especially as I’ve decided to base at least some of my world in the early 2000s when I was in high school.



I had thought I’d go through about four of my points each writing session, but I have found because there’s no true and strong plan, that I’m not hitting any of those points and am jumping down rabbit holes.


After writing over 10K words in one week, it’s tiring to begin a new week knowing that you’ll have to put in the same amount of effort. As I’ve been writing, I’ve been thinking that I probably won’t show my work to anyone, making it incredibly hard to carry on.


I’ve been working hard to get an endometriosis diagnosis for about the last five years, and November is when the ball has really started rolling. I had been hitting my word count every day and then on Thursday I had a colposcopy to check out my cervix, and after my ultrasound last week, they suspect I have adenomyosis. Which is definitely as fun as it sounds.


Like most things to do with the uterus, there’s not much research, no clear way to diagnose, and not much that helps with the pain. So finding stuff out like you can try meditation or get a hysterectomy make quite the Debby downers of a week.


This really bought my mood down and I decided to pack the end of my week with fun social events. But because in Week One of writing my novel, I had quite a slim socialising schedule, packing lots of things in made me realise I hadn’t put aside time to write.


I only did about 200 words on Friday, and 200 on Saturday. This actually really bummed me out in a way I didn’t realise it would. Not hitting a target - and not being able to colour in my little square for the day - was almost like a punch in the stomach.


After a friend’s birthday celebration - and a long night of karaoke - I worked hard to scrub the glitter off my face and pretend that I wasn’t hungover. Instead of a 1667-word target for Sunday, I was sitting at 5001.


I had a bright idea of booking a room to work in every Sunday in November, starting at 9 am. So I could get all my writing, and brainstorming out of the way first thing in the morning. There’s also the incentive of paying the relatively steep hourly rate, for a large room that just one person is using. So the pressure of the idea of wasting money is always a good mode of influence. 


On Sunday, I was a bit awake, and a lot tired. In just over two hours, I hit both Friday’s and Saturday’s word counts which meant I just had Sunday’s to deal with.


Discipline is an interesting thing. Sometimes it can make you achieve great things, and other times it can just make you strung out, tired and cry.


But it did feel great to push through it, and after trying to give up coffee in September, I was two coffees in to get into the realm of focus and to get the words flowing.


It’s hard to know if you’re being too hard on yourself, or not hard enough at all. I guess it’ll always be a bit of a tricky balance that we need to navigate. 


I haven’t perfectly hit my word count this week and that’s okay. I’ve passed 20k words, the current read time is one hour 16 minutes and 52 seconds, and if this was a printed book it’d be about 68 pages. So I’m going to cut myself some slack because that is quite the achievement!



Because I had two coffees on Sunday, I start the week feeling unbearingly anxious. I take the day off work because I know that’s only going to make my anxiety a lot worse.


I don’t actually do much extra writing to make up for last week's deficit, instead, I do a lot of tidying around the house and try to calm myself down. When I’m doing the week’s grocery shop I remember seeing all these posters around town advertising a brain drink called Āpera. As much as we all like to think we’re immune to advertising we’re absolutely not.


So in the New World Metro, I grab a few of the overpriced drinks and decide that I’m going to conduct an experiment of drinking one a day for the week to see how it makes me feel. Not to harp on about this too much, which I’m not getting paid to do (but if they’d like for me to be an influencer for them I’d be more than happy) is that it really calmed me and helped me to focus in a way that coffee just cannot. Coffee makes me feel sick and makes my heart beat too fast, but when you have nightmares every night and wake up every day tired, that’s sometimes what you need to do.


Another benefit I’ve found is I haven’t had any nightmares this week, which could be linked to the drink or not, but it’s nice to wake up and not be more exhausted than you were before you went to sleep.


On Tuesday morning, I have a consult with a gynaecologist. After at least five years of severe pain, I’m finally referred to getting surgery for endo. My appointment is in two weeks and I can’t believe my good luck. I oscillate between crying because I’m so happy that it’s finally happening, and then stressing out worrying that they won’t find anything and that I’ve been making it up the whole time.


These sorts of doubts that creep into my mind, also make me desperately want to stop working towards my writing a novel in November challenge. But because of these doubts, I know that I need to keep writing because it’s a YA novel, based on the life of a 16-year-old girl, loosely based on real-life events - AKA my life - only because I didn’t do any planning.


It’s quite a strange experience writing that’s close to my lived experience because whenever I’ve written for theatre, the idea of being vulnerable and putting my own perspective on stage is always something I’ve avoided. Often I’ll pull experiences or ideas of the people around me - it’s always fictional and nothing really ties into my everyday life.


So writing about sort of my teenage childhood years is very odd. I’m remembering things that I haven’t thought about in a long time, and the pressures we had as young girls growing up in the early 2000s about body image “a moment on the lips forever on the hips”, “you have to shave your legs but not your thighs because only whores do that”.


It’s been great for self-reflection, and processing growing up in a time with huge homophobia, mental health stigma and the pressure to fit in. I’d like to think it’s healing my inner child a bit, but I guess we’ll see how it goes.


Putting myself back into a 16-year-old mindset is a huge reminder of how often young female experiences are shat all over - and not even seen as having value or substance. Think about how Taylor Swift was tackled by the media and the public when she first started making music, Rupi Kaur’s poems were treated in a similar way, discarded and looked down on even though teenage girls are finally feeling seen, their experiences validated.


I’m still not sure that I’ll share this novel with anyone because currently it feels like a fanfiction loosely based on my life. But the desire to make something that makes young girls feel empowered is a huge drive. And I’m thankful for how much Olivia Rodrigo blew up a few years ago and how much love she got because a teenage girl was sharing her feelings and experiences, and other people were able to connect to them and grow through their pain with her.


Hitting the halfway point a day late was more upsetting than I thought it would be.


I think slipping behind on a goal makes it a lot harder to get back onto the horse. And realising you’re only halfway is tiring.


But once I was able to sulk a bit, I was able to reframe my thoughts and celebrate that I was halfway through. It also doesn’t really take that long to hit the word count - you just have to try and not think about being clever or good. It’s just a first draft, it may not be revisited but just get the words out on the page.


This week I hit 30K words, a two-hour reading time to get through what I’ve written and if it was published it would be sitting around 111 pages.


I have been able to write more on Sunday to catch up on my lost word count, and have gone over to give myself some more breathing space throughout the week.


I’m writing this novel to prove that I can.


It’s probably similar to those who train to do a half marathon - not to come first, but to prove to yourself that you can set a goal, stick to it and get it done. 


I’m hoping that through my writing, I’ll be struck with inspiration to write a novel that I have time to plan, to properly think out and take my time to write it.


I’m also writing these weekly updates as transparently as I can. Mainly because when you see someone working towards a goal, it’s easy to think things are easy for others but hard for you. 


Personally, I just think most things are hard to do. We all have shit going on in our lives, and it’s easy and perfectly normal to just want to curl up and watch TikToks or TV when you get home from work to want to escape a bit. 


I’ve always been in love with reading even since I was a little kid, and the idea of writing a novel has been a lifelong dream. I’m grateful that an organisation supports this initiative as it would have been very easy this year to be like all the other years where I haven’t written a novel. 


So I hope that these inspire those reading to attempt something that they’ve always wanted to do, to not give up on goals they’ve set, and to be kind to themselves if they’ve strayed away a bit.