The NaNoWriMo Epilogue: “Miles To Go Before You Sleep”

(Related: “25 Things You Should Know About Your Completed Novel.”)

Maybe you finished — er, excuse me, “won” — your NaNoWriMo novel.

That’s good. You should be beaming. Chest puffed out. Fists on cocked hips. Cheeks ruddy from neighbors and parents pinching them. Your pride is well-earned. Bask in it its triumphant musk.

On the other hand, maybe you didn’t finish — er, excuse me, “you lost” — NaNoWriMo this year.

That’s good, too. I see you there, blustery and stammering — “Buh-buh-buh but how is it good that I didn’t finish what I started? What’s happening? Why is my face numb? Who took my shirt off?”

My message to both of you is the same.

You’re not done.

I know. You want to be done. If you finished, you want to slam it down, freeze-frame high-five yourself, and then go have an egg cream. If you didn’t finish, you want to delete the file, close the drawer, and pretend that none of this shame spiral ever happened. To both of you: bzzt. Wrongo, word-nerds.

You’re not done.

Writing a book is a war. What you just did was experience only one of the many battles in fighting that war: muddy in the trenches, crawling through the ejected blood of your cohorts, the stink of burning ink slithering up your nose like so many grave-worms. Maybe you won this battle. Maybe you lost. But the war goes on, friend-o. The typewriter keeps chattering. The story keeps struggling to be born. The screams of forgotten characters echo (echo echo) across the battlefield.

If you finished, well — ahem, be advised that the definition of “finished” is as loose as a blown-out butthole. One draft doth not a novel make, my friend. You may have many drafts minor and major ahead of you, some featuring subtle tweaks, others offering full-bore double-barrel rewrites. You’ve got beta readers and editors and reading the book aloud and putting it through its cruel and measured paces.

If you didn’t finish, c’mon. C’mon. Did you really think that November was the only month you’re allowed to write a novel? Do you believe that come November, all us novelists are let out of our hermetically-sealed mountain cottages and we bound down the snowy expanse, our fingers eager to taste keyboards and Bic pens for the 30 days we’re allowed to tell proper stories? November is but one month out of 12, and if you’re a true-blue writer you’ll wish you had 13 of those motherfuckers in which to keep boot-stomping your novels into the clay. On December 1st, you know what you can do? Keep writing.

For the sweet sake of Saint Fuck, keep on writing.

NaNoWriMo? Just a costume. And now the costume has come off and it’s time to decide if this thing is real or if this thing was just a scarecrow with all his stuffing gone soft. If you didn’t get a taste for the bug, that’s okay. Hell, that’s actually a good thing — our lives are best lived when we take things into our corner and try them out to see if we like them. If you never tried spinach, goat cheese, snowboarding, ear-candling or bondage, how would you know if you liked it? If it was truly for you? You wouldn’t. So, you brought novel-writing into your world and maybe it didn’t pan out. No harm, no foul. High-five for trying.

But maybe the bug bit you. Maybe this isn’t just a costume at all, but rather, it’s your real flesh, your true face. That means it’s all up in you. You can’t rip the face off. You won’t find any vaccine.

You’re a writer now.

Which means you gotta keep on writing. You’re like the bus from Speed: you either write or you explode.

Now you’ve got a malformed lump of story in front of you. A novel, fully-formed or missing parts. It’s a beautiful thing, a weird little word-baby that needs your love. He’s squirming and squalling and if you don’t help him out he’ll wither away and disappear — and then all your work, your NaNoWriMo gestational period, will have gone to waste.

Keep writing. Start editing. Raise your word-baby until it’s a proper story.

And keep coming back to terribleminds as we talk about hammering your work on the anvil, forging your tale into a blade that will chop the audience’s boredom in twain.

So — I want to ask those of you who did NaNoWriMo this year:

How’d it go?

Finish? Not finish?

Will you keep on working on it?

How well did NaNo fit your writing style (or vice versa)?

Final thoughts on the National Novel Writing Month?


  • This was my first year. I discovered NaNo by an accident the day before it started because a casual friend was doing it. I was intrigued, jumped into it with both legs without really having a clear idea of where my novel was going, if I had enough words in me to finish it and so on. I finished yesterday after being behind every single day until the second to last. It was a pain, my manuscript is nowhere near at a place I would consider sending it to an editor or agent. But I still managed to plug out 50k words, I am proud of myself. I do agree with you though that everyone who participated is a winner. It is in the process of learning that we find ourselves as some wise old git once said and this year has been precisely that for me, a learning experience.

  • I didn’t ‘win’ but I did get the first draft entirely completed of my novel. At the moment it’s 40k, and I wasn’t going to write a load of rubbish to make it up to 50, just so I could win. The story doesn’t need it. Gonna let it rest now until new year to start the rounds of editing 🙂
    The write 1,660 words doesn’t fit well with me – I tend to write entire chapters in one go, and it certainly doesn’t fit into my university schedule, with essay deadlines being dumped in the middle of november and the end of december.
    Nonetheless, I’m proud of myself, and it’s made me become much more concise as a writer.

  • This is my 2nd NaNo and I hated it. No ‘win’ yet. I wanted to gouge its eyes out, stab it in the back multiple times, put it in a black plastic bag and dump it off a cliff.

    I started off with the idea that NaNo throw around- no plot no problem. Just write. I knew beforehand that this didn’t make sense. And so I ran into a lot poo and pretty much this poo remained. I realise no plot doesn’t equal no problem it equals big problems – MEGA FECKING problems. An idea of some sort wouldn’t go astray.

    NaNo did teach me something though, it taught me no amount of writing months can get me to write if I don’t write. Genius. NaNo has also furthered my hatred for November.

    At the end of it all I have 30,000 words. It has clown suicides, apartments developing brains, a dirty shower that has a filed a report over its owner’s lack of hygiene, one manic depressive duck, the world’s last alcoholic and a zombie who has had one too many meals. I will continue this, perhaps I will turn it into a series of short stories.

    I wrote before November and for the: ‘sake of Saint Fuck I’ll keep on writing.’

  • I’ve learned this lesson from deadlines before. For as long as you can, pretend that you’re still doing the same task. Yes, I finished the novel, yes it’s a gorgeous 73,000 words, but I’ve other stories to tell, short fiction, for now, some gaming material, some comic scripts, but as long as I treat it like NaNoWriMo, that is, as long as I keep going like a bear is chasing me, then I should be able to keep my momentum going.

  • This was my first try at NaNoWriMo, and I found it to be THE biggest learning experience I’ve ever had so far, on writing. In the space of one month it has answered many questions for me, and taught me things that I can even apply to my day job. Come hell or high water I was duty bound to finished within the time allowed and right there that taught me something valuable that, at my ripe age, I should already know. If you really, really decide something, the chances are much better it will actually happen.

    I also learned that when you hit a roadblock – or just don’t know where the hell to go with the story – the fact that you have so many words a day to write REALLY forces you to find a way out of the problem. Is it a good solution? Probably not, not in my case anyway (it will likely take me many month to attempt to carve the story I wrote into something that isn’t too horrendous) but the point is, the road block didn’t win. My goddam pigheadedness did. And gosh-darn it, I’m gonna see this thing through.

    In other words, yes I completed… erm…won the thing. And damn I’m proud! 🙂

  • I “lost” so hard. As hard as you can “lose”.


    This wasn’t even a thing, because exciting things are happening for the novel I’ve been slaving over for a year and some. So, whatever. Maybe next year I’ll be able to pound something out, but this year I’m happy I didn’t. 😀

  • I “won” this year, as I did last year also. Before I started last year I had done a plot and a full list of scenes from beginning to end. I did pretty well at sitting down every morning and writing for a couple of hours, and finished the story at about 51,000 words.
    Then I started reading all sorts of “how-to” books and blogs, all full of great information, but I did a lot more reading than re-writing. Last August I decided my second book would be a sequel – big push to tidy up the first one so that things would at least try to flow together. Once again i did a plot outline, and some scenes, but I had big gaps in my story – I figured I’d never get to 50,000. I wasn’t as excited about the story, and my head was full of all those rules for characters and settings and dialogue. It was very hard this time to just let go and write, 9-11 – every morning.
    So I’d write whenever – often 10-12 at night, with loud tunes and red wine. And as I got into the scenes, the characters and events seemed to take on a life of their own, filling in spaces, adding little meanderings. I hit 50,000 a couple of days early, and kept going – the story wasn’t done. I figure will be maybe 65,000 words when done this draft.
    I’m looking forward to editing this and the previous book, or at least re-reading them. It certainly was a good exercise in focusing – difficult when you’re retired.

  • I did it! My first year making more than a token attempt (last year barely counts) and I wrote a 71,000 word novel 🙂 And…like you said…it’s going to need some major attention in editing. I’ll be picking it back up in January to edit and for now I’m doing some fun writing exercises to keep my writing muscles limber and on Monday I plan to pick my original novel (started 4 years ago) back up and work on finally finishing that first draft!

  • I reached the ‘magic’ number and it still feels great. Had only managed three chapters of a story prior to NaNoWriMo, ‘cos I kept going back and rewriting them over and over and over and over and over and over and over…well you get the picture. The current story is about two-thirds of the way through and I’m still plugging away at it. That also feels great, given the aforementioned three chapter incident (ahem).

    NaNoWriMo was a breakthrough tool for me. On downtime from writing I’ve started preparing for the first rewrite by reading writers’ blogs about back story (for the author or the reader?) and description (too much, too little, when?) Yup, I’m hooked.

  • I didn’t finish, but I’m continuing to work on it. The NaNo timeline doesn’t work all that well for me, but there’s no reason I can’t keep writing. After all, you shouldn’t just write for one month a year, right? 😉

  • I didn’t finish. I’m still working on the story outline, and into the research stage. I”ve vowed to finish this novel or die.
    NaNoWriMo doesn’t work for me. I write almost every day, and when I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing.
    So I will finish this novel, and then put it away to marinate while I start the next one.
    As a wise man once said, it’s either write or explode.

  • I hit 50k with an hour to spare. This was my third attempt and my first “win”. The story itself is a good 30k from wrapping up, so I took a few days break, and am trying to put 1k words a day until this ‘shit draft’ is done.

    I like NaNoWriMo, because it pushed me to write more words and more often than I had been previously, but now I need to carry that on and make it a habit.

    As an aside, @Chuck, your posts have been fantastic to read. I found you through Go Into the Story, and have been checking back ever since.

    Thank you.

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