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 realized that I wasn’t going to “win” nanowrimo during week 2. I hit 15.5k and realized that I didn’t want to force or make myself anxious to write just to ‘win’ and it has made things go a lot more smoothly for me.

  • I’m partaking in NaNoWriMo for the first time this year. The way I look at it if I get the 50k in 30 days I’ll have won NaNoWriMo. If I’m short words on November 30th I don’t expect to feel like I’ve lost anything. I’ll be a bit disappointed because I feel like I could have done it if I’d been a bit more organised going in but I’m on about thirty-eight thousand words right now. The longest thing I’d ever written before this was about four thousand and that was years ago. I’m pretty pleased either way. I think you can have the fun of winning without much fear of losing.

  • I write at my own pace regardless. I was sick for a week and am now swamped with work, but like last year I will most likely just finish a first draft and rework it into the second draft next month. Then I’ll spend a few more months cleaning it up and making sure all poop stains are gone. Currently at 28K words.

  • It’s like the American game of ranking everything. The best of this or that, our obsession. I’m thinking of writing up to 49,990 and stopping, I am so put off by the winning/losing language.

  • I think if I didn’t have a job, I might take the nanowrimo challenge, for the sport of it :) And with the understanding that my novel wouldn’t be very tidy at the end, of course.

  • Well it is also a game, Chuck. That’s kind of the point. It’s a cheerful, windmill-tilty game that can be as serious or as frivolous as you like. I’ve won 6, lost 4. Each loss produced content that I’ve since gone on to reuse in other stuff, either as actual stories or as worldbuilding for stories to come.

    • Right, and I recognize that. But read the post and I’m trying to suggest that writing a novel rarely feels like just a game, particularly by its conclusion– again, this ain’t Monopoly. Many, not all, authors can get way more tangled up in the whole affair and so the language of gaming could be a bit more troubling to some than others. This is doubly true given that writers above all others understand that words have power and carry connotations beyond their original definition. So “lose” and “loser” can mean something more than just, “Oh, hey, I didn’t hit my goal at the end of the month.”

      • You’re right about that. I guess my point is that concern over the game-based vocabulary is similar to concern over whether or not to use an outline: it’s an extremely important point for some and not important at all for others, and it’s based on how the person handles writing… which, as you say, is a very peculiar, personal, persnickety endeavour (great description by the way).

        NaNoWriMo was obviously thought up by people who weren’t bothered by the “game” convention, since that’s the convention they adopted. It’s caught on pretty much because of that same convention. If someone thought up OutLineOWriMo (God help me, I shudder merely at the thought of it) where the “rules” required creating a novel outline I wouldn’t be concerned that it didn’t cater to pantsers. I would just decide not to do that one. :)

        Although, now that I think about it, I guess the issue is that NaNoWriMo has grown far beyond it’s original madness: Even in 2003 (my first) it was larger than the originators expected it to be. At this point it’s pulling in vastly more people than the idea was originally targeting. Sort of like AOL did for the Internet in the 90s!

  • I’m in NaNoWriMo for the first time having bottled it for 2 years previously.
    This time I’m looking at it as a learning process for finding those extra bits of time when I actually CAN squeeze out a few words that I would have otherwise ignored as “not enough time”.

    As well, I’m trying to form a habit…
    So far I’m at just under 35k and I’m still going to try and “win”, coz…
    Just coz.

    But the far more important part is that I’ve found I can write an average of a thousand words a day and more (excluding the couple of 5k+ all-nighters), even with other jobs and LIFE.

    1000 words a day…

    That’s an average draft in about 3 months…

    I can handle that. :)

    THAT is the biggest win I’ll get out of NaNoWriMo whether or not I hit 50k in 30 days… :)

  • By mid-month I had reconciled myself to not “winning” NaNo this year, and that’s okay. I have a jump start on a story that’s unfolding with some cool stuff, and a trio of characters I’m getting to know and becoming quite fond of. I will finish this novel, with all my little sticky notes plastered all over it, set it aside, go back to polishing a NaNo I wrote two years ago and once that’s done, come back and rewrite, revise and fix this year’s.
    I’m good with all that. :)

  • Years ago, when I first heard about nano, I signed up and wrote 50K words. This was coming in cold, without any prep or plan. Then I went back and tried to see if I could shape that 50K words into something useful during edmo, but really the thing that I came up with is a thing, not a novel. It’s a collection of unconnected random stuff. On the upside, I made a good friend during edmo–we were editing buddies–she’s awesome and we still hang out from time to time!

    I have friends who consistently get a first draft of a novel from nano. These are the plotty writers who tend to create first drafts that are long and then trim them down. Plus, nano seems to be an especially good fit for writers who are working on the next book in a series.

    My first drafts tend to be spare and concise, more often short stories than not. Then I grow them by adding layers and subplots. So aiming for 50K in nano just derails me. I can either go sideways and pad to reach the word count by adding stuff that has to be untangled and removed later, or I can write my spare first drafts that are mainly dialog and action, and not worry about the pace of my work. I struggle with narrative arcs, so it’s better if I come up for air periodically and think about how to follow the conflicts in the story. I’m super productive on the nonfiction side, so I like to give myself a lot of latitude when writing fiction, since I’m already outside of my comfort zone.

    So what I’ve done for the past few years is to join nano because I think the forums are fun, and I like the spirit of the thing. And then I start on the first draft of a new fiction project. I typically write about 10K. Then, if I can figure out how to make it into something viable later, I do that. So that’s my happy place in the nano universe. This year I decided to start at the end of one of my short stories that was published a year or so ago. It’s been fun. It’s about 50% story and 50% story notes about stuff I want to research later. :)

  • Actually, the goal of NaNoWriMo IS to write a novel in 30 days, but not a finished novel. Many, MANY times have people told me that November isn’t for editing, it’s for writing. And they’re write. NaNoWriMo is to be used to get the brain vomit out so you can sift through it later (now isn’t that a lovely image? =P). At least that’s how I look at it. And actually, this has been more of a “write multiple novels in a month” experience for me. Not because I wrote more than 50K in a month (I did but just barely) but because I started at least 5 good stories. I have quite a few that are probably going to just be locked away in that little vault on my computer but the point (for me at least) is to WRITE. Get the ideas out of your head and finally on paper. They don’t always sound or look the same once they are out of your head. That’s the first sifting process to seeing what ideas could actually go somewhere, what ideas you have a real drive and passion to tell the world about. I agree that there shouldn’t really be “winning” and “losing” but it is a game =P

  • The thing is, I don’t think anything official out of Nano (or much at all, really) talks about “losing”. It’s either “winning” or “you still did awesome, and hey, you’ve got words you didn’t have before!”. I think it’s just that some people default to “lose” as the opposite of “win”, because we’re so conditioned to the win/lose binary that we have problems with a win/still win binary. (Part of the reason I have Adam Savage’s “Failure is always an option!” as part of my Nano signature.)

    You say this is a criticism of Nano, but I’m pretty sure the founder, the staff, and many of the regulars would agree with what you’re saying here. :) You win if you write. And although I don’t need it personally, I like having the “win” vocabulary present for those who do need the validation and do need something tangible to support them. People absolutely should celebrate their win if they finish Nano. They just should remember to celebrate if they try, as well.

    • Tia’s right. We actually strongly *discourage* the whole concept of losing. When people post in rules, asking about “losing”, we explain that the real prize is the manuscript itself… and no one is a loser if they have that. It’s just not possible.

      We want people to write, not flagellate themselves for not meeting our arbitrary challenge. It’s all about challenging yourself to do something amazing.

  • I agree with the whole post!

    Especially this part, though (as a person who has a couple unfinished NaNo first drafts banging around the hard drive):

    “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.”

  • During the camp Nano in April I managed to win, but the story refused to end there and I ended up finishing a 100k story in September… It’s the first thing I have ever written, so it’s really really bad. But I was so proud of myself. Filled with hope I started writing another novel this November. I planned on editing my finished novel when November had ended, after I’d gained some more experience. Everything was going well, until I got so busy everything I had to do ended at 10 pm and I barely had time to sleep. And then I got sick.
    Now I’m sulking in the corner with a thick blanket and a running nose, having already thrown in the towel.
    So thank you Chuck, because this is something I really needed to hear. Losing Nano isn’t the end. I don’t need to drown myself in the enormous ocean of deadlines and can take my time to write this story. Your advise really helps. :)

  • I’ve “won” 5 and “lost” 5 with this year looking like the tie breaker. The years I didn’t make it I just shrugged off because of circumstances. But at least I tried. The years I’ve “won” I made it to the 50k goal but never went on to finish the novels. So is that really “winning” in the end. Shrug.

    My first finished novel came earlier this year when I started a story on Feb. 1. Next thing I knew it was a novel that I finished on March 6. It was over 80k words long. 50k in a month is starting to become less of a challenge. For me this year it was about the social aspect. I started participating in my area’s write-ins and parties and I’ve made a bunch of friends and have had a ton of fun. It made the writing much more enjoyable. The question is, though, will I be burned out after November 30 and not want to finish what I’ve started. Only time will tell.

    But I agree, there is no room for defeatist attitudes in NaNo. You either finish or you don’t. No one loses because at least they tried and got words down. Hooray for all!

  • The best thing that has happened this month is that I have realized I can sit down and write, every day. I have to do it in the morning before I leave for work, but I do it every day (except for a couple when inlaws were visiting. and one hangover.). So far I have about 18,000 words, but it doesn’t matter. I am going to keep writing, every day, until this first draft is done. Then I will have a party. Then I will start editing. thanks for everything Chuck!

  • Having “lost” NaNoWriMo for coming on 12 years running (don’t judge me), I can say with some certainty that a good deal of the community actually gets mad at you for talking about losing. Even on years when the most I managed to churn out was 2,000 words before fizzling out like a bad party candle, people continuously rushed to assure me that I hadn’t lost because I was 2,000 words ahead of where I’d been at the beginning of the month, and wasn’t that wonderful!?

    The people who run NaNoWriMo themselves (Chris Baty is busy being crazy on other adventures), tend to take the whole losing idea with a grain of salt. Sure, you’ve lost at the contest…but think about what you’ve won! It’s so much more, and so much more important! And anyway, you can always try again next year.

    Most of the community has a tendency to be disgustingly cheerful and supportive. I find it can be more important to listen to what they have to say, than to pay attention to what the official terminology is. :)

    • Totally agree. And I met Chris at last year’s Crossroads and he’s awesome. I think for the most part people have their heads on straight about it, but like I said, I also see frustration and worry over “losing” in my social media feed — so, that concern remains real for some, and I thought I’d address it.

  • Bang on. I wrote about this last week on my own little blog. The first year I did NaNo (and the only year I’ve ‘won’) I got hung up on the notion that I had to not only write 50,000 words, but that I had to ‘finish’ it in the month, ie, fully-realized beginning, middle and end. The result was I blew out my brain writing 15,000+ words over the last three days, which wasn’t terrible, AND I totally shoehorned a bad ending onto my manuscript, instead of letting it develop more organically.

    Still, that experience was valuable to me and I’ve completed–really completed–two novels since then.

  • Also where does plot line, story line, character sketches, and all those preliminary but essential tools of writing come into this process? If you start with no forethought I don’t care how many words you write you don’t deserve to win. This is a discipline and it is called that because that is what is required and ther eis ground work to be done. Anything else is just masturbation. Which is fine in my universe but it isn’t writing.

    • Well, I don’t think it matters whether someone deserves to win (by winning, I assume you mean reaching 50K words). People of all different writing levels can give nano a stab. It can be a writing exercise, which is fine. Not everyone writes with the aim of publication. And some people might come up with a good start on a book even if they haven’t prepared. The first time I tried nano I read about it somewhere in early November. I didn’t have time for forethought because it had already started. I wasn’t expecting to create a publishable book. I was genuinely curious to see what the experience would be like for me. My nano wasn’t usable–it magnified all my weaknesses as a writer, but that’s okay.

    • I beg to differ. I planned my shit out before NaNo for a week or so (at the point I decided to participate). I knew the tone, type, setting, characters, and plot I wanted, despite having holes and other things.

      Guess what?

      I started actually writing and realized I hated what I planned. I wrote about 6 different openings before I had a brainstorm one day and realized what I actually wanted to write about. I’ve now been using my clearest thinking time (in and right after my morning shower) to plan the scene and twist and character development I want to write for that day. I’m not planning further out than that because it’s a waste of time for me.

      Just because people don’t write the way you think they should doesn’t mean it isn’t writing. I plan to go back when I feel my piece is done and THEN plot out any holes, write more, edit out, etc. And yes, I fully deserve to “win” the 50K race even with 6 disjointed openings and plot holes a plenty – because I sat and wrote it and put in the best effort I could.

  • Brilliant, brilliant post. I wrote 32,000 words of shit last year and spent about 3 months unscrambling it and getting my novel back on track. This year I took it slower. I may just hit 20,000, not sure, ON THE SAME BOOK AS LAST YEAR! AAAAARGH! But they will be good words and there are 200,000 others between the two Nano sections.

    Nano is brilliant as an incentive to write but when we end up beating ourselves up over it, we defeat the object.

    Cheers

    MTM

  • I love this post. I’ve got a few friends who haven’t made it past 20,000 words, but so what? They’re trying. I “won” on November 7. So what? I kept writing, finished the novel, and started another one… which is now eating my brain and soul in tiny little bites, but that’s beside the point. The point is, the only way you lose is if you give up.

  • November 25, 2013 at 7:49 PM // Reply

    I’ve said all along, grab what works for you from the NaNoVerse, and ditch the rest. For me, I don’t like “winning” any more than “losing” to describe what we do. And my 60,000 or whatever are less of an accomplishment than the 10 or 20 K written by someone writing their first novel while holding down a full-time job and raising six toddlers. I mean, shoot, I’m unemployed. My kids are teens. I have NO excuse why I should have the whole 80K+ by the end of the month.

    What I hauled away from NaNo is: I can write 2-3000 words a day, if I have a plan. Even when the plan evaporates into the mists of my fuzzy brain while I’m writing, like a fart in the wind. Because as someone says above, the more you write the easier it gets to write more.

  • I don’t do NaNo “right”. I use it as a tool. For a 30-day period I can tell people not to bug me and have a reason that won’t get me “yeah, but you’re always writing” as a reply. This year I considered not bothering, since I knew I was going to be working on my writing regardless. However, I did a bit of math and checked my outline, and it looked like my WIP had really close to 50k words left for the first draft. I shrugged and started a spreadsheet to track my daily count.

    I finished my WIP and hit my NaNo goal on the same day: last Friday. It’s anticlimactic finishing early, but it got me through maybe a couple days quicker than if I hadn’t been counting words. I haven’t been padding my word count, I’m already on my way back through, editing.

  • I have finished twice and not finished once. The unfinished one finally got finished early this year and it would have taken so long but having sold the first two already, I kind of got sidetracked by all the work surrounding bringing a book (or two) out. I encourage people to try to finish, rather than get to the end of November and just stop. Finishing, as you point out, is important. But it’s not really abhout winning or losing a game when there are no actual prizes.

  • NaNo is usually fun for me. This year I ruined the fun by making it work. I haven’t been writing for a while. I thought I’d lost it, you know, all that writerly angsty stuff when sickness knocks the wind out of your sails. So for me this year’s NaNo was a way to get writing again after a long stall. I tried a new voice, a new way of writing, and a slew of other new things. I beat the fuck out of myself through out the entire thing. I ended up hating the story and seriously wondering if I even wanted to write anymore. BUT I’m a finisher. Hell or high water. So I worked my ass off. The story blew off track. I had to regroup. I had to rewrite. I had to do a billion things that used to be fun and wayyy easier. I had also poisoned my mind with rules, publishing ideas, social media, you name it, it was stomping through my head and cramping my style. I had panic attacks for god’s sake. And I did all that to myself because I forgot the joy of writing, of creating, of playing with people and worlds and knowing that I am goddess and can eat those people and worlds whenever I want to.

    Once I regrouped the words started to come. I remembered the fun. The characters took on flesh and soul as they took up their places in the world. I finished the word count today. The story is a hot mess but considering I almost killed the whole thing to start a new one, I’m good with the hot mess. I learned a lot about myself and where my weaknesses and interests are as a writer. I learned what pleases me. I learned I can’t write to fill a market, I need to write what interests and turns me on or it won’t work. I learned I have a process that works and I should trust it.

    For me, all of that’s a win, whether or not I’d reached the word count or not. It was about the story, actually doing some writing, learning more about the craft and from others about the ways they handle their writing, figuring out my process, how to reach ‘the zone’, and finding out if I could still write or not. reaching some magic number was the last thing on my mind though, in the beginning, it was part of the driving force.

    And now, if you’ll pardon me, I’m going to go overdose on some tv show that I normally wouldn’t be caught dead watching.

  • I’ve pretty much reached this point myself – I’ve been sick all month and had day-job distractions on top of that, so I’ve had to resign myself to the fact that, unlike my previous “official” attempts (i.e. not counting years I was editing drafts and just playing along for fun), this is the first time I’m not going to make it to 50k in November. But that’s OK, because I know I can make at least 40k by next Saturday night, and that’s 40k of brain-vomit that I can use as the raw materials for a proper draft of a novel. Not a very efficient way to write, but it seems to be the only one that works for me right now…

    • November 26, 2013 at 12:28 AM // Reply

      Wait, Anne–are you saying there’s some other way of writing besides producing brain-vomit and then slowly and painfully beating it into a novel? That part seems to be the same for me whether I write 50,000 words in a month or 80 over five years. So I might as well do it quickly and get on with the real work, i.e., editing it until the vomit transmogrifies into readable prose.

  • Thanks Chuck. Love this post. Still feeling a bit looserish, though. It’s that frustration of not doing what I intended to do. I’m sure I’ll get over it when I start back up…

  • Wise words, Chuck – and well-needed to be heard. I’ve never partaken of NaNoWriMo myself and have no plans to; in NOVEMBER, with a school-age kid, are you kidding me? You know how much gubbins the average school has you running around doing for your little darlings in the two months running up to Christmas? And that’s without factoring in said Christmas, and Thanksgiving if you’re American and Bonfire Night if you’re a Brit… nah, don’t need that stress. Now if they moved it to one of those dead months, like March or something…

    Guys, if you wrote even ONE more word this month than you would normally have written if it wasn’t NaNoWriMo – YOU WON. If you’ve started a new story you wouldn’t otherwise have started because it was NaNoWriMo – YOU WON. Fifty thousand is just a number. Thirty days is just a span of time. Targets, yeah. But the important thing isn’t whether you hit them or not. The important thing is that you shot at them. Go you! Eat cake! Drink something that makes you giggle!

    • They actually do have a few that’s aren’t in November. They call them “Camp NaNoWriMo” and I know there’s one in March or April and then again in June or July. It’s the same thing just a different month =P I’ve never participated so excuse my lack of factual information but I’m sure you can find out when they are happening on the NaNoWriMo website.

      Side Note: On the Facebook NaNoWriMo group that I’m a part of (though it’s technically not an official NaNoWriMo run group) whenever I see someone posting that they are discouraged about not getting to the goal, I always a) cheer them on and b) tell them if they have more words than they did before then they are WINNING. That goal is arbitrary but I wanted to reach it this year because I wanted to get a fire under my butt to get into the habit of writing every day again. And that’s exactly what happened for me.

  • Yay Chuck. My thoughts exactly. Even the shittiest of shit counts in this month. I think the 50,000 is just a suggestion anyway. People take things too seriously. Just write what you can and to people who say otherwise, I say stop bothering me and write your own shitty shit.

  • I’m not going to reach my goal for this NaNoWriMo. It isn’t because I set the goal too high, I wrote a novel of the exact same word count goal last year for NaNo and I am doing final preps on it before a first round of querying to hopefully begin soon. That said, and knowing I’m not going to reach the goal, I’m not taking this as a loss. This NaNoWriMo has taught me a whole lot, but most importantly it taught me that I am not a pantser. I’ve suspected it for a long time, but this NaNo really hammered home that I just can’t pants a novel length story anymore. Even the stories I thought I had pantsed in the past aren’t really pantsers because I took so long between sections while I went over what had happened and thought about what happened next that it wasn’t really pantsing so much as it was episodic planning.

    Still, this year I got 45k words in before I realized that the novel I was writing was completely different than what I had started with. The themes became jumbled, the MC hopscotched around between being 3 very different people, and the plot had big events that led everyone to rush only for things to then slow down for days/weeks/months of in story time stuff. It is a mess, and honestly very likely unsalvageable right now except to gut it for parts and write the three different stories that are in it.

    I’m not a pantser. I need to plot things out. My current goal is to see what can be salvaged in this story, and I’m using what I’ve wrote and thought to help build a map and plan things out. I’m setting locations for tent pole moments, writing up character descriptions, figuring out what people are doing behind the scenes. It’s got me real excited for the story again. I figure I’ll be ready to start again on the salvage work in December. This time with a plan.

    Last year I had a plan going into NaNoWriMo and with that plan I was able to write 90k words in 25 days. This year I had no plan and progress was much slower. Lesson learned. Maps first for me from now on.

  • Not everyone writes teh same way, Wade. Some people like writing by the seat of their pants, and it works for them. Your reply is the antithesis in spirit of what Chuck was trying to say. It’s not about winning and losing, it’s about the effort, and the time constraint is completely artificial. Where is the value in pointing out people’s shortcomings?

  • This was a great post, and something I think a lot of NaNo participants don’t necessarily consider. It’s not just about “winning” or “losing”.

    November shouldn’t be the only month you’re writing, at least not if you want to be a professional author. Even if you do “win” NaNo, there’s still a lot of work to be done, and if you don’t, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

    I participated in NaNo last year. I finished the first draft of the (90k word) novel I started during NaNo 2012 this last Sunday. Clearly, I didn’t “win” NaNo last year. But I did “win” in the sense that I kept at it and finally got that draft done. Now I still have to edit and get it ready for people to read, but the point is, I finished that draft.

    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). Because while NaNo is a great launching point, there’s something even more to be learned from FINISHING an ENTIRE novel, including editing, until it’s the best it can be.

    I’ve been working on this thing for over a year, but I’m in a groove now. NaNo didn’t work for me in 2012 because I couldn’t keep the pace with a (then) 9 month old baby at home and the holidays fast approaching, including hosting Thanksgiving. It didn’t work for me. It just stressed me out. But it DID get me started writing again.

  • I never liked the term “winning” NaNo, either. Because of what you said, but also, it makes it seem to people not in the know that I was the sole winner against others. And they inevitably ask, “What did you win?” And I have to come up with something witty or blurt out, “A book!” “The sense of achievement!” I usually tell non-NaNoers that I hit the 50,000 word goal. Works better and saves me the strain of always being witty.

  • I thought there was a contest of some sort that you submitted 500 words and some one else took it and added 500 more words and you would get some one else’s story to do the same thing? I’m probably too late for it, but I was wondering if it will happen again.

  • I love NaNo, and I think I’m pretty good at playing the game — I take what’s useful, and I leave what’s not useful, and don’t have a lot of regrets.

    But my one big regret is that I always finish the story before I hit 50,000 words. This year, I crapped out at 39,310. The story is done. I’m going to write a little time-slippy-side-story that goes with the modern “coming of age” so I can up the wordage, but the story is done.

    And let’s face it, even 50,000 is a very, very short novel. And that 39,310 still includes all the swearing and plotting and fucking around on paper. I could easily get it down to 35,000, and if I made it scream, it could probably be cut to 25,000. Just the wrong size for anything. Which is too bad, because it’s a sweet story.

  • I hear the down side. I know a good number of writers that freeze completely when confronted with a writing challenge that says, write 1667 words per day for 30 days. The come undone. NaNoWriMo is not for them.

    On the positive side, there is me. I need something to get my butt in the chair and fingers on the keyboard. I need a deadline. I like the cheering from the sidelines. Sometimes it’s a little too Rah, Rah, but hey, those people are trying to be encouraging.

    There are missives each week that tell people this isn’t really a race. It’s a chance to put butt in chair and type, freely, without second guessing themselves. That is exactly the point that sucked me in. Don’t know what the hell I’m doing? No problem. Just write it out. Fix it in January. What freedom that offered. I cannot express it any other way. My very first writing was to the 2011 NaNo. Just write, I was told. Don’t worry about it. So I did. And I finished that book. Because I was given permission to go for it.

    Some people can’t let go of that inner editor. Every sentence has to be polished. I’ve read some of their snippets. Beautiful prose doesn’t begin to cover it. But they haven’t finished the book. They just keep rewriting the same stuff and never get to the end.

    I’m a project manager by trade. In training we’re counselled, don’t strive for perfect, you’ll never get there. Just get the job done. On time, on budget. Writing seems to be a similar endeavor. Keep writing, keep improving, but get it done.

    So I like NaNo. It’s an excuse to leap in, head first, and write, write, write.

  • “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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