What I Learned From Failing NaNoWriMo (Twice)

It’s November again, and many writers know what that means: NaNoWriMo.

If you’re not a writer, or if you simply haven’t heard (I didn’t know about this until 2014), NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, which is a challenge every November in which writers strive to write 50,000 words in 30 days (the length of a short novel) to “win.” It’s an intense challenge, and once you start following hashtags and other writers, you may be inundated with Preptober (October NaNo preparations) and NaNo information everywhere.

Since I learned about NaNo, I have participated in (and won!) several Camp NaNoWriMos (which happen twice per year in April and July where writers set their own goals) and in two full NaNoWriMos. And I’m participating again this year to finish my fantasy work in progress. But you know what?

I’ve never won November NaNo.

But I have learned quite a bit. Here are the biggest things I’ve learned from my two failures at NaNoWriMo.

  1. It’s not for everyone. While this kind of program can be the kick in the pants a lot of writers find useful, it doesn’t work for every writer. The more we write, the more we find the style that works best for us. It may not be an intense NaNo format, and that’s okay.
  2. It’s a great way to build a habit. One of the hardest parts of writing is discipline, and NaNo can be really helpful to get your butt in the chair and work… which develops a regular habit that will help you for months or years down the line. It can establish a precedent that will help you treat your writing like a job, something that is necessary should you want to eventually make it your job (but that’s a topic for another day… in the meantime, check out this video by Meg LaTorre).
  3. Writing regularly builds excitement. Creating this regular writing habit, like through this event, is a great way to build momentum and excitement for your story. The more you write, the more you may find you enjoy it and want to dive back in.
  4. Writing quickly helps keep your story consistent. Another advantage is that by writing quickly, you reduce the possibility of adding inconsistencies in the story that may otherwise build up over a long writing period (say, years to finish a novel). When the process is drawn out, remembering small details, even as simple as an eye color, can become difficult, and small errors in consistency may build up and create extra work for you during edits.
  5. It’s easy to beat yourself up. Let me tell you, missing even one day can overwhelm you. Writing 1,667 words every day is hard, and it piles up fast if you don’t keep up. Because of this, it can be really easy to despair if you fall behind and to simply give up. For me, this tends to happen once Thanksgiving hits and family events start up… I lose writing time, and when it’s so close to the end, it feels impossible to catch back up. It’s hard to keep going. But when this happens, it’s important to remember the last point.
  6. You never actually “fail” as long as you write. Even one word written is something you didn’t have before. And that’s progress toward your goals.

In my first couple of attempts, I put so much pressure on myself to meet the goals that when I failed it was hard not to feel down on myself about it. But at this point in my life, I’ve decided it’s better to use NaNo as an ideal goal and not as a marker of success. As I said in my last point, every word added is a triumph, so you can’t truly fail as long as you try. Already this year, I’ve written thousands of words I might not have gotten to yet without NaNo to give me a push. And I am excited to finish my manuscript.

So you know what? This year, NaNo is going to be my kick in the pants, a goal to get me to finish the draft of this novel. But it is not going to be full of the pressure I used to put on myself. If I don’t finish what I set out to do, at least I have pushed myself that much closer. And that is enough success for me.

Fellow NaNos, please remember to cut yourselves some slack this month. NaNo is stressful, and a lot of it is from pressure we put on ourselves. So if you meet your goals, congratulations, and that’s a huge accomplishment! But if you don’t, remember that you still succeeded by adding to your manuscript. Either way, you have something to be proud of!

Good luck, and happy writing!


Are you participating in NaNo this year? How “successful” have you been in previous years? Tell me your tips and tricks below!

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