NaNoWriMo: On The Language Of Losing

I’ve come around to digging what NaNoWriMo does for the penmonkey breed, particularly having seen so many writers who have officially or unofficially ended up with published work based on their efforts during this most scribbly of months.

That being said, and this is something I talked about a bit on Twitter today: National Novel Writing Month takes the art of storytelling and the craft of writing and ladles across it a heavy shellacking of gamification. Which can work, to be clear — folks have found a great deal of value in applying a kind of social game code with attendant rules and conditions to everything from running to cooking to beer drinking.

When it works, it works.

The problem is, writing is a very peculiar, personal, persnickety endeavor — we all have our ways to do it and we further sometimes bind our hearts and minds up so deeply in the briar-tangle of wordsmithy that it becomes difficult to unsnarl our emotions from the whole thing. Which doesn’t lend itself well to to the game language that pervades the whole thing.

And thus enters one of my sole remaining concerns with NaNoWriMo, which is reliance on language like “winning” and “losing” as regards the month long novel-writing adventure. This isn’t a game of Monopoly, after all. It’s not a race in which one competes.

It’s writing a book.

As we round the bend, I’m starting to see people talk about how they’re going to “lose” — and that’s absurdist horseshit. Keep writing. NaNoWriMo is what got you started doing this thing, but it doesn’t have to be — and maybe shouldn’t be — why you finish it.

And so, it’s worth remembering:

If you finish your book on December 1st, or January 3rd or May 15th, you still won. Because HOLY SHIT YOU FINISHED A NOVEL. So few manage this epic feat that it’s worth a freeze-frame fist-bump no matter when you manage to actually stick the landing. The goal is to write a book whether it takes you one month or one year — failing to complete 50,000 words in a month that contains Thanksgiving and the ramp up to Christmas should never be regarded as a loser move.

Don’t worry about winning or losing. If it’s hurting your mindset, reject the gamification aspect. Hell, I could write my name 25,000 times and “win” the event. Or I could write 45,987 words of amazing prose that will one day be part of a bestselling novel and I’d still “lose.”

So, hang tight.

The calendar is not your prison.

NaNoWriMo is good when it helps you.

And when it hurts you, it should be curb-stomped and left for dead.

Your words matter. Whether you wrote 10,000 or 50,000 or 115,000.

Keep writing.

Finish your shit.

Completo el Poopo.

69 comments

  • “I see so many people on the forums talking about how this is their sixth (or ninth, or whatever) NaNo, and they’ve “won” four years in a row, and isn’t that great…well, yeah, but have they actually finished any of these novels? Are people reading their stuff (and I’m not asking if they’re published, just if their work is out there being read by someone, anyone).”

    This was my tenth year, and although I haven’t yet finished either of the ones I’m still working on, I plan to. Counting from just my previous Nanos, I’ve finished 17 novels and haven’t finished 5 (one of which was never intended to be a novel anyway). I have released a few of the more fanfic-ish ones on my personal website, but most have either been discarded as not viable or redrafted for actual publication. I’ve got three that I’m going to focus on editing/redrafting if needed the next year (which I am desginating as Year O’ The Edit) and at least two I’m sure will need redrafting. I’ve also got two started drafts that I want to work on fixing so I can restart the draft. So here’s a bit of anecdotal data for you 🙂

    Though I will say that not everyone does Nano (or does writing) for the sake of editing/publishing/sharing with others.

  • Last year I didn’t “win” for the first time in my four NaNoWriMo years, but it was okay. I kept at it and am now at nearly 100K, and hopefully facing the end of the story soon. I’ve always enjoyed myself, quite surprisingly even when I was typing with my eyes closed because I was half asleep and still wanted to make my word count for the day, so while “winning” was definitely a gratifying feeling after all that work, it was only the whipped cream and sprinkles on top of a pint of Cherry Garcia.

    What I really need to face now is the challenge of truly finishing my work, since any novel I’ve tried to edit in the past has ended up looking somewhat like a heap of micro-shredded manuscript confetti which I have no hope of piecing together again.

  • I once downloaded an ebook about how to go from writing 2,000 words a day to 10,000. Not b/c I ever thought I could write 10k, but to find out how in f*&k’s sake someone could write 2,000 words a day! The first time I tried Nano, I realized I could write 250 words if I was lucky, before running out of things to say.

    Nano, and that ebook, were like my triathlete friends. I’m not winning Ironman and National Book Awards (yet, mind you, yet), but I’m not on the couch torturing paragraphs and contorting sentences before moving on to the next ones. I really want to wring all the possibilities out of this triathalon metaphor, but another time, perhaps….it could be an inspirational bumpersticker–I’m a TRY-athlete. Okay, nevermind…

    I wrote 5k in one day during Nano this year. Writing quickly has helped me let go. I no longer
    murder pages by bashing them over the head with a thesaurus. I no longer abandon my baby books, half-formed, at the book orphanage. THAT, to me, is winning.

  • I ended up finishing my novel but still “failing” nano. The novel turned out to be a novella and I didn’t want to pad just to “win”. Great post as always.

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