Are You a NaNoWriMo Failure?

Are You a NaNoWriMo Failure?

It’s no secret that I’m not a NaNoWriMo fan. I see too many writers end up stuck, discouraged, pressurized, fear-ridden and disheartened to encourage anyone to participate in this month-long challenge.

So when Kyeli wrote a post about her struggles and experiences during NaNoWriMo, I sympathized – and then I asked her to write a guest post.

I feel the subject of NaNoWriMo is worthy of discussion. It has many pros – and many cons that leave me shaking my head each time I see yet another writer cries out in anguish and sense of failure. I find the topic so important that I even gave up my treasured Monday spot to Kyeli’s post. I’d love to hear your thoughts and views about NaNoWriMo in the comment section.

I am a proud NaNoWriMo failure.

In the middle of October, I decided to join the NaNo crowd and throw myself into thirty days of literary explosion. I had an idea for a novel, I had time, I had desire. I’m already a writer, so I have the skill. I thought I had everything I would need to make it through NaNoWriMo with aplomb and emerge victorious come December first.

Turns out, I had no idea what it takes.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I was in over my head. I floundered. I got behind. I panicked. I wept. I started beating up on myself. If I can’t do this, if I can’t write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, what kind of writer am I? There are thousands of people who succeed at this crazy mission every year – some of whom are no where near as good a writer as I. Why am I failing? Why can’t I write? Where did my muse go – why has she forsaken me?

It wasn’t that I wasn’t writing – I write every day. I write upwards of 1,000 words on a daily basis. But writing 1,667 words every day about the same person in the same situation for the same novel? Drove me batty in mere days.

I hung my head and cried.

I started examining the reasons behind writing like this. There’s this attitude in the NaNoWriMo community of write write write no matter what. I started questioning that attitude. I know I can write, but why would I push myself, beat myself, whip myself? What good can come of such?

Why is writing 50,000 words of crap a noble, worthy goal?

I didn’t find answers that helped much. I wound up feeling ashamed and beaten. I froze up and started having trouble with my daily practice. I started questioning myself as a writer – not just as someone who might not be able to accomplish a novel in a month, but maybe this showed that I’m not any good at writing at all. Maybe I needed to throw in the towel and stop writing completely – even though writing is my life’s work and my heart’s path.

Then I took a deep breath, and took my fear out on a date. I started to realize that the only one judging me for failing was… me.

I stopped pushing myself. In fact, I gave up on my novel altogether. I took a break from it. I decided that, if I’m going to write it, I’m going to write it in my own time, my own pace, and without the damn whip.

i realized that I don’t have to “win” at NaNoWriMo to be a writer. I’m a writer because I write. That’s all there is to it.

There are pros and cons to NaNoWriMo, as with anything. The pros are loudly lauded, and the cons seem to slip by, unnoticed as they slit the throat of hundreds of potential writers in the quiet stillness that the community doesn’t notice.

Yes, there is a large, abundant community for all the NaNoWriMo participants to join. And it’s an excellent, awesome, loving, supportive community – mostly. But I was in it, and I felt the push and the whip and the sense of frantic get it done no matter what.

And that’s dangerous.

If I can’t get it done, that’s what makes me feel like a failure. If I have trouble and then start down my own downward spiral of shame and fear and recrimination, I’m not likely to reach out to that community for help – and I’ll get lost in the noise. My novel will go unwritten – and I may give up on my dreams of being a writer altogether.

It also feels vaguely disrespectful to the writing process, to shove it all into a month. It’s been said, “November is for writing, December is for editing.” But even that leaves me feeling a little ruffled. I’ve co-authored a book with Pace, my partner – a damn good one, if I do say so myself – and it took her and I nearly three years start to finish. We worked on it daily. We poured our hearts and souls into it. We even co-opted NaNoWriMo as a jumping board to get us going at the beginning of the process!

But the general attitude of writing a bestselling novel in a single month seems disingenuous. It’s more likely you’ll get your book out, and then spend months – or even years – revising, editing, and making it fit for public consumption.

That said, it can also be one hell of a good time. The community hosts hundreds of events in hundreds of cities. There are write-ins and parties and all manner of fun and exciting ways to connect with fellow writers. There are dozens of companies giving discounts to NaNo participants on products designed to help writing be easier, funner, and simpler. And writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days can certainly make you feel like a rock star!

I think the best way to enjoy NaNoWriMo is to join with your sense of identity strongly intact. Make sure you’re already confident in yourself before you plunge into such a huge and daunting race. Have a support network of people you already know and love – people who can lift you up when you’re down, people who will encourage you in the way you need it most when you need it most. Don’t rely entirely on the NaNoWriMo community to get you through it, or you might find yourself lost and discouraged.

But most of all, give yourself permission to quit.

If you find yourself writing because you have to write or you will fail, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re writing because you have to finish NaNoWriMo, because you have to win, because quitting means you’re a loser – your attitude needs tweaking.

If you’re writing because you love writing, because writing fuels you, because writing is what you want to do – well, you’re already a success in my book.

If you’ll pardon the pun.

About the Author: Kyeli Smith is a storyteller, an edgewalker and co-leader of the Connection Revolution, teaching people to change the world through connection. She writes, blogs, and teaches workshops to foster understanding, tolerance, healing, authentic communication, and personal growth. She also sings in the shower and believes in faeries.

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  1. Absolutely love this post. All of it is so very true.

    My first novel was nearly 95k words at completion. I wrote the first 50k for NaNoWriMo last year. I spent several subsequent months writing, rewriting and editing before I realized the plot was beyond hope. I was too new at writing, and that novel lacked the structure and depth necessary. But I wrote a novel, and that gave me the courage to continue writing.

    I don’t think people go into NaNoWriMo expecting to write a bestselling novel from it. At least, I hope not. Kyeli is completely right. NaNoWriMo, and writing in general, should be enjoyable. If you’re not enjoying yourself, stop.

    Thank you for the post!

    • Thanks, Ishana!

      I think lots of people, sadly, do go into NaNo expecting to come out with a bestseller. I know there are things on the site that discourage that kind of thinking, but I think it still happens – and I think that’s where the biggest falls happen. Like me: when I realized I was “failing”, I questioned my ability to write in general.

      I do like the encouragement it gives people to write, though. Seems to me, if they ditch the “winning” and “losing” and “competition” aspects of it, NaNoWriMo would be altogether better. Less frantic, less whippy – but still thousands of writers working on something together, in community, at the same time. (:

    • Great post and thank you. I too am a nanowrimo failure. I never even got past the starting gate. I had an idea, sort of, sat down to write and completely froze to the point that I almost deleted every single thing I’ve ever written. EVER.

      I can be extreme when I get in a funk.

      I wanted to give nano a go because I’m a terrible finisher. I thought committing to something would force me into a chair to write. Then work got crazy and family stuff came up, I became resentful, angry and miserable, which cast me in exactly the opposite mood.

      Thank you to all of you who’ve agreed with Kyeli; I don’t feel quite so down on myself now that it’s over. I don’t want to wait for the muse to visit me because that’s sporadic too, but creativity isn’t a race. I guess I can finally let go of this notion.

  2. I decided to not do NaNoWriMo mainly because I am under a new resolution to not be mean to myself anymore – to be gentle – and to add writing a novel in a month on top of my life, I would burn myself out all over again.

    But I have another thought, about creativity. For me, being creative comes from my feminine energy, the connection to something eternal and larger than myself. This connection is not about time frames and limits and daily writing – it’s about space. Lots of space for something amazing to show up.

    When I put limits and time frames on my writing, it’s produced – it comes from my brain, it’s the 7 steps for some technical thing (which is fine, and sometimes I need to write that). When I give myself space, my writing is created – and it comes from my soul.

    And when I finally do sit down to write my novel, I sure as heck want it to come from my soul.

    ~ ElizabethPW

    • I had no idea that NaNo would inspire me to be mean to myself! I probably could’ve guessed, though – it’s been such a hard year, and I’ve only just gotten settled into my own daily practice… Yeah.

      I love love love what you say about coming from your soul. I felt that in spaces over the past month. The parts of my novel that I love are the parts that just flowed when I gave it space. The parts that I hate? Those are the ones that I wrote because I HAD TO MAKE MY DAILY WORD LIMIT! Putting time frames and limits and what-have-you on my writing kills it. It usually dries me up, and when I do manage to get words out anyway, they suck.

      Thanks for the insight, Elizabeth!

    • This post rocks! I don’t think it is ever a good idea to force yourself to do something and beat yourself up when you can’t. I also think it is wise advice to give yourself permission to quit if it feels like torture and there is no joy in in anymore.

      Elizabeth’s comment struck a cord with me ==>> “I am under a new resolution to not be mean to myself anymore – to be gentle “. Right on to this! How often do make ourselves do things that we are not resonating with, and then beat ourselves up for being unable to pull it off! It often can feel like we are failing, but as Kyeli says….The only one who is judging you as a failure is you.

      I also agree with the idea that you need space to create. This has been coming up a lot for me lately. I just went through a period of being really busy and trying to learn a bunch of new stuff while running my biz. I felt the pressure to perform and achieve! Everything was so tightly packed into my day there was no space for creativity to flow. I was totally blocked as far a writing went and I felt pressured to produce for my blog and my biz. Then I decided to create some space and let go of a bunch of things that I thought I had to do. I committed to having a bit more fun in my day everything shifted. There was plenty of room for the creativity to flow and it was easy.

      In my mind pressure totally block creativity!

  3. i LOVE this post! i’ll be linking to it on my blog this wednesday.

  4. I was a bit of an idiot about NaNoWriMo. I stumbled into it thinking it sounded like fun and, knowing how hopeless I am with big scary targets, I decided to up the anti and do it to raise £500 for the charity I founded. Money’s always a great motivator isn’t it? Not so for me apparently.

    I ended the first week thousands of words behind schedule, had a major family crisis the second week that saw me almost totally abandon the mac totally (and as a result I didn’t write a word.) Week three I was back with new excitement and a brand new story but then this last 10 days I got lured away by a young son who wanted to play in the sand and a husband who was off work sick and wanted me to play Florence.

    Like you Kyeli, I came to conclude that while I could churn out 50,000 words of any old crap and ‘win’, I would serve myself and the story better if I just told the tale in its own time. I wrote words to that effect to my email friends in Friday’s Happiness Report and ended the week breathing more easily and with a smile back on my face.

    About a week ago someone said that there’s always next year. That feels like asking a new mum whether she’d like another baby because right now I’m sticking my neck out and saying, eeek, no thank you. 😉

    • I don’t think you’re an idiot. That’s kind of the point of my post – the rushing turbulent feel of NaNo tends to encourage people to either beat themselves or feel like idiots if they “fail” for some reason. Gah.

      So, good for you for letting it go! And yeah, seems a little early to be thinking about that next baby yet. (:

      • I appreciate the sentiment but I was an idiot because I didn’t really read or plan or do too much about NaNo except decide to start. With hind sight it would have been a good idea to talk to my other half about all this first. It would have meant I’d have had more time in the day to write rather than leaving everything until he went to work and the kids were in bed. 😉

  5. Writing anything over 50k words can be mind blowing..even if its an novel. All I can say is good luck and keep pushing that rock up that steep will make it.

    “TrafficColeman “Signing Off”

    • I’ve written over 50k words since September – I started my daily writing practice and the words just keep coming. (: But pushing them all into a novel? In one month? Yeah. Not so much.

      Thanks for the encouragement!

  6. Honestly, I like the idea of a challenge. Challenges are always fun, fo rme. But there are feasible, realistic challenges and then there are ones that just don’t make sense with a normal lifestyle. And by normal, I mean:

    • Having one or more small children at home
    • Taking weekends off to rest and recharge
    • Sleeping eight hours a day
    • Cooking for the family and eating proper meals
    • Getting out and getting exercise every day
    • Spending time with children, family and friends
    • Putting in 4 to 7 work hours a day

    Add that up. That doesn’t leave much time for relaxed, creative writing that flows. To enjoy the process. It’s just racing, bulling through, head down and producing crap to hit some magical standard. And whether or not those standards exist, we still create them in our own heads.

    Let’s say 30,000 words a month. That’s 1,000 words a day. My *career* is writing and I don’t even do that. I’d burn out DAMNED fast. Unless I was completely, absolutely enjoying myself and didn’t feel any pressure.

    Does that exist in NaNoWriMo? I’m not convinced, by all the cries and distress I hear writers put out every November.

    • Yeah. And I’ve got a not-so-small kid that we unschool (which takes a surprising amount of time), a best friend I give lots of time to, relationships to nourish, things to say on Twitter, a business to run, products to create…

      It’s unrealistically demanding. I know lots of people succeed, but they give up a lot – a lot more than I’m willing to sacrifice.

      I’m a writer, too, and I can hit about 1k a day – but like Elizabeth said, if I force it, it’s not coming from the right place.

  7. Oh wow. Those bullet points look viciously like big, black, bold commands… that was not intentional. But in hindsight, fantastic. 🙂

  8. I “failed” at nano this year, but I consider it a bit of a success. I got don about 20K words that are pretty usable, and I even still like my story! That’s more words than I’ve gotten on anything before! The important thing for me was the initial push to get into gear and work on writing every day.

    I don’t like the attitude of dares, challenges and “words regardless of meaning” that some in nano have. I found a small group of writers who had a philosophy of “let’s use nanowrimo to get writing more.”

  9. As an addendum, I’ve been thinking about the winning/losing/competition aspect of NaNoWriMo.

    It’s interesting; I’ve written 50k words this month. They didn’t make up a novel – they largely comprise several blog posts and a bunch of work on one of our products. But I wrote 50k words! So, in a sense, I “won”.

    But that’s one of the things that gets me – and the one I never got a good answer to. By NaNo standards, as long as you hit 50k in November, you’re a winner. I can write 50k in a month, but if it’s not a novel, why does that still win? If it’s utter crap, why does that still “win”?

    Like I said to Ishana, if they ditch the competition part and made it about writing and community, I think that would improve the quality of the whole shebang. (:

  10. Last year, I was a NaNo cheerleader for some friends who were taking part in the exercise. This year, I joined them. I’ve wanted to write a novel for a very long time, but always seemed to have a distraction or three to keep me from getting focused.

    This year, I resolved that my distraction for a month (despite a 12-day vacation in Florida with my son, his wife, and our 6-year-old granddaughter) would be NaNoWriMo. Very early Thanksgiving morning, I completed my 51,000-word opus. I proved to myself, at least, that I could write (nearly) every day, and I could write a couple thousand words a day.

    To that end, NaNo was a fantastic experience, and, as an aspiring copyeditor, gave me tremendous insight into the creative process. But my victory is not one of writing a future best-seller; rather, I won NaNo through meeting a self-imposed challenge and exceeding my expectations.

    But the key, as Kyeli pointed out, is attitude. My attitude was, no matter how far I got, by simply starting, I’d already won.

    • Steve, sounds to me like you proved something quite different to yourself: that if you want to do something, you’ll make the time for it. No matter which month it occurs in.

      We prioritize our distractions, you see, and there’s usually a reason for them being prioritized higher than what we say we want to do.

      Sometimes there’s a lot of secondary gain in avoidance 😉

      Glad to hear you enjoyed writing, though (of course!)

    • Steve – I love this: “My attitude was, no matter how far I got, by simply starting, I’d already won.”

      Yes! Yes! That’s exactly what I meant. (:

  11. I’ve thought a lot on this topic since I read Kyeli’s original post, and did a little debate dance with James in those comments. There’s a lot to think about, and so very very much I want to say, but I’ll limit myself to this, for now:

    One of the best lessons NaNoWriMo has to teach is about how to give yourself permission to write freely, without judgement, without self-censoring and self-editing your thoughts to bits., how to give your words room to breath and grow.

    If you’re already a writer, a blogger, an ebook author? You probably already learned that lesson. I grokked it in the mid 90’s, in an fiction writers group, working through one of Natalie Goldberg’s books. It was further reinforced and applied to non-fiction when I started blogging with a Must-Post-Every-Day attitude. So yeah, writing crap-for-crap’s sake? Not such a relevant exercise for me — not in fiction, not in nonfiction. And once already know we can churn out words, good or bad, and that it can actually improve our overall writing? Just churning out unedited crap stops being a worthy, useful goal.

    But beyond that lesson, I’ve found many benefits to participating in NaNoWriMo – and very few of them have to do with reaching the goal of 50k words. I “won” the first year I tried. The next three years, including this one? “Winning” doesn’t seem to matter to me, but I’ve benefitted from every foray into the madness. It has also been the only time of the year I prioritize learning about and writing *fiction*, which makes it invaluable to me.

    It’s *extremely* unlikely that I’ll reach 50k words tomorrow.

    But I’m not a NaNoWriMo failure.
    I’m a NaNoWriMo success.

    (If proudly declaring your failure helps you? I’m all for that. But I certainly won’t think of you that way!)

    • I think we teach ourselves. Events and experiences are only situations that happen from which we learn. So I’d be more inclined to say, “During NaNo, I learned,” versus, “NaNo taught me.” (Either way, you’re a success – it’s all in what you believe, right?)

      I do feel there are benefits to participating in time- and goal-based challenges, for sure. I’m just not so sure that the benefits of NaNo outweight its cons.

      I’m very glad you’re here discussing, though!

      • Hmm…

        I understand the shift in wording you suggest, and how (among other things) it puts the credit on the participant for what they learned and accomplished. Yay, for the participant!

        But if we’re going to shift that *credit* to the participant., shouldn’t the *blame* be placed on the participant, too?

        If NaNoWriMo is just an event, and we take the lessons from it that we make, then it *can’t* teach the wrong lessons, and all of the angst and frustration belongs to the individual, not the event. If NaNo doesn’t get credit for teaching me things, it shouldn’t get blamed for my angst either 😉

        You talk about weighing the pros and cons of NaNo, but as someone who hasn’t participated and watches skeptically from the outside, you’re mostly hearing the wind-up excitement, followed by people who struggle, quit, and sometimes get very, very frustrated and down on themselves.

        You aren’t hearing all the positives. You aren’t hearing the success stories. You aren’t hearing the breakthroughs that often come after the struggles, or the discoveries made through the process. You aren’t seeing the floods of inspiration for different projects and ideas, or the people who set aside their November drafts and come back to it 2-3 years later for rewrites and edits. You aren’t hearing from the folks having pure *fun* with their novel writing, and you aren’t aware of the people too busy *writing* to Tweet and comment and blog about it.

        Without seeing all of that, I don’t see how you can assess the pros vs the cons.

        Is NaNoWriMo right for everyone? No. But judging NaNo’s overall value by the angst-levels that some of us pile on ourselves is like … hmm.. it’s like judging blogging by the number of abandoned blogs out there.

        • Those are very valid questions, but I have to correct the assumptions. I do indeed hear the success stories and the cheers. There are some staunch defenders who’ve shown up here that laud the benefits of NaNo, and I cheer with them.

          I cheer with *anyone* who accomplishes a goal they wanted to achieve.

          But I’m a critical thinker. I like to see *more* cheers than sighs. I like to see *more* success than “fails”. I like to see people say, “I learned from that,” versus, “I’m not a good writer.”

          I’m not seeing that. So either the cheers are quiet and isolate, or the sighs are more widespread.

          There will *always* be some people who love to kick themselves – the Eeyores out there bray loudly. And I always assume that something’s going to displease someone, so that’s taken into account.

          But when I’m seeing just as many disheartened people as I see cheering ones, I take a good hard look and think to myself that a 50% feeling of success isn’t enough.

          I want to see 80% of people love it. I want to see more cheers than sighs. I don’t like to hear quiet whispers from writers that NaNo did them more harm than good.

          If something is harming people or making situations worse – *even if it was created with positive intention and good meaning* – should it not come into question?

          It’s right and good of everyone to say, “You need to come into it with the right attitude,” and I agree. The problem is, I’d say a huge bulk of people don’t, won’t and *can’t* have that positive attitude required to take on the challenge.

          I wish things were otherwise. And so all I can do is say to these people that they can write their novel… and they don’t need to measure up to *anyone’s* standards of what makes a “win”.

          • “…all I can do is say to these people that they can write their novel… and they don’t need to measure up to *anyone’s* standards of what makes a “win”. <—That.

            THAT I can agree with, totally and whole heartedly : ) And I'll gladly shout from the rooftops with you that succeeding or failing at NaNoWriMo says *nothing* about anyone's potential as a successful, publishable writer of fiction or anything else.

            We could probably argue the failures vs successes till New Years, and never prove a thing (we clearly see different segments of the community).

            So rather than debating NaNo's worth, I'd love to talk about the specific pitfalls, and maybe toss around actual suggestions about how NaNoWriMo (and the larger the community) could better support aspiring writers. How can the harm you see be prevented, how can the successes I see be encouraged?

            What would make NaNo more productive for more participants? Would more stress on self-compassion help? Some sort of alternate "win", like one for writing every day, even if the 50k isn't met? An official NaNoWriMo exorcist? Is there a way to help those who aren't suited for NaNo realize it, and if they don't want to be left out, take on an alternate goal, like maybe spending November *outlining* a novel? Or encouraging them to join the NaNoRebels? (a lot of people don't seem to know they exist). Could alternate challenges/exercises take place in November? I've seen those popping up for art and a few other things.

            From what I've seen, the O.L.L is very open to suggestion, and they're genuinely interested in tweaking the process.

  12. Okay I’ll be a dissenter here (no shock there). While I agree with Kyeli on her point that your attitude has to be right, there’s nothing I see in NaNoWriMo that’s inherently wrong. Here I’m thinking of her ideas that “It also feels vaguely disrespectful to the writing process, to shove it all into a month.” and the notion that “lots of people, sadly, do go into NaNo expecting to come out with a bestseller”.

    Everyone’s writing process is different. For me NaNo has helped me to turn off my internal editor for 1st/Oth drafts and to prep before I even get to a draft stage which makes just writing a lot easier. So to imply that it’s overall disrespectful to “the” writing process just strikes me as odd. There is no one process for it to be disrespectful to.

    As far as the whole bestseller thing goes there are likewise people that spend years working on novels that never see the light of day. It’s not about spending a lot of time or a little bit of time and boom that’s the secret, it’s about figuring out what works for you as a writer and using that. There are people who write best sellers that crank them out and people that write best sellers that treat each one as a special snowflake.

    Finally, let me address the whole notion of writing 50K words worth of crap. Yes I know there are people that just write any old thing and add it to their word count. At the end of the month they’re left feeling they’ve accomplished something and they have. Bully for them. If they think they’ve accomplished something worth sending to publishers that’s not a fault in NaNo. The NaNo site and community encourage prepping for the month of writing with outlining and pre-writing. They want you to come out the other end (I think) with the beginning of something good. If you take those opportunities that’s possible. It won’t be a finished product in 99.99999% of cases, but it may be (as it was in two of my wins) a decent first draft, something I can spend some time on and make better.

    As you say, the NaNo site goes well out of the way to remove the notion that you’re going to nail it in November. If someone has a different idea then that’s their attitude getting in the way. As a publisher I routinely receive stories that look like someone hit “Save As” and sent it on in so this attitude goes well beyond things like NaNo.

    So, like I said, I think I see what you’re all saying. It’s not for everyone. I agree. If it didn’t work for you then that’s totally okay. But there are a number of people it has worked for (Including myself). I “lost” twice and each time I learned something about myself. I won three times (including this month) and again each time I learned something valuable. The frantic pace is part of the fun for me. It pushes me to new levels.

    Thanks for the thought provoking article!

    • Good to see you here, Scott.

      It’s very true that writing is subjective in general and that different people view it in different ways. That’s all cool. Many see it as an art (as I believe Kyeli does), which means that a crunchdown to just “get it done” is disrespectful. Others like the structure, format and measurable goals and feel it improves their process. Whatever works, I totally agree.

      I think in most cases, though, writing is a skill that involves a lot of emotion and psychology, and that can be very difficult to mash into a rigid structure – hence why I feel Kyeli’s message is important. It shouldn’t be that way, and I think she’s said it quite eloquently.

      • Always here, lurking. 😉

        Yup, if you view your writing as an art (and I respect that point of view) then by all means it needs to come from your soul and there should be more of a reflective quality about it. Then again, even great artists put a great deal of emphasis on learning the craft, the nuts and bolts of getting to that artistic place and I think that the notion that writing always having to come from that place (not that Kyeli said this) can be just as off putting or misguided.

        I think NaNo is more about “get it started” than it is about “get it done”. It’s the rough draft, the sketch or color study, the laying of the groundwork. If by “it shouldn’t be that way” you mean writing shouldn’t be about mashing something into a rigid structure, I’m not sure I agree one hundred percent. I think that perspiration is just as important (if not more so) than inspiration. Not saying that those that write differently than I do aren’t sweating, but are you saying that those of us who do work with a more rigid approach are somehow doing it wrong?

        • Scott, I don’t think anyone is doing it wrong – no matter how they’re doing it – unless they’re unhappy.

          If being rigid helps you get stuff done, and you’re happy with it, knock yourself out! More power to you!

          It’s the fear-based, unhappy, whippy rigidity that I’m against, in any process – not just writing. But in NaNo, there’s a lot of both: people who write within the framework and are happy, and people who cram themselves into it and fight themselves to stay in it and are miserable.

          It’s the latter I’m railing against, here.

  13. I applaud your honesty in this post and can very much relate. I contemplated signing up for NaNoWriMo, but decided I had too much “life” on my plate at the time.

    I certainly didn’t expect to create a great novel, but considered the challenge and the structure, as I have a tendency to start and not finish things related to my own writing. I already beat myself up about that. Can you imagine the slugfest I would have had with this challenge?

    I also have a real nasty aversion to being forced to do things (middle child of 7 syndrome). Yes, I know NaNoWriMo doesn’t involve force, but I have my Catholic guilt to hammer that home.

    Now I am very glad I am sitting here, sipping on my latte, enjoying another excellent post at Men With Pens. I actually put it down to comment. 🙂

    • Your comment made me grin, Cathy. You wrote, “I ahve a tendency to start and not finish things related to my own writing.”

      And that’s why I think NaNo might not be the best answer… because there’s clearly something stopping you (beyond “life”) and even if you participated in the month’s challenge, you wouldn’t really know what it was unless you looked into it, right?

    • Exactly, Cathy! Write because you love it, not because you’re forcing yourself to do it for some external reason.

  14. I am not a published writer / author. But oh, I aspire to be.

    With that said, I DON’T normally write every day. I write sometimes, I think probably weekly, but not consistently. NaNoWriMo is something that I look forward to every year, because it:
    1) Provides a framework to write every day.
    2) Provides a support system with tips, encouragement, and other writers.
    3) Gives me a defined time to focus on a specific project.
    4) Allows me to work with my family to carve our writing time during the month.

    The challenge is certainly hard, but I don’t think it is impossible for a month of focus. I “won” last year and am going to “win” this year – and it has been a real trek this year for several reasons, including a death in the family. My husband talked with me about halfway through the month, reminding me that I could quit this effort for this year and I wouldn’t be a quitter. But his support and giving me appropriate encouragement and time to write has been so helpful that I am actually going to exceed the 50K word goal before the end of the month.

    I can certainly agree that writing a book fast like this creates a lot of drek that needs SERIOUS editing. For me, I can’t look at the book for a few months, needing some distance. And editing is a hard piece of work – but I can see the core of the story in the two novels I have written with NaNo – and I think I can ultimately have a novel that makes sense and is fun to read – even if only for my grandkids.

    I also think that planning ahead of time rather than jumping in with no plan delivers a better end result. But regardless, I believe that a key ingredient in writing success is all about self-discipline – whether someone writes 10 words a day or 9,000. For me, NaNoWriMo is a tool that I have learned how to use to provide some of that disciplinary motivation.

    I use NaNoWriMo to get me focused and writing. I have learned that there is prep work for November that helps me, and that I can meet a goal with writing if I make time and focus. “Win” or “Lose,” NaNo is good for me.

    • Sounds like you had a great experience, Kimberly, and I’m very glad to hear that. The notion of writing for your grandkids to read is a pretty cool one as well!

  15. @Kyeli, are you familiar with Larry Brooks over at storyfix(dot)com? He recently did about 5 posts on NaNo, and his book Story Structure Demystified is most excellent. I believe if more people had at least known of what Larry professes, even if they decide to pantser their submission, NaNo would go smoother for them having Larry’s knowledge in their subconscious. (And James’ fiction book would help, too)

  16. If one walks into a McDonalds thinking one is going to be served a 4-star meal, one will be disappointed. You said, “I had an idea for a novel, I had time, I had desire. I’m already a writer, so I have the skill.” In fairness, you point out that you had no idea what it takes to write a novel but much of your argument is based upon the notion that you do.

    I wouldn’t even bother responding except that I hate it when people stand up straw men, knock them down and walk away smug. Without intending to defend NaNoWrimo in any way I will point out that you said

    “Why is writing 50,000 words of crap a noble, worthy goal?”

    Where is it written in anything from NaNoWrimo that the goal is to write 50k worth of crap?

    You completed your straw man with this little ditty:

    “But the general attitude of writing a bestselling novel in a single month seems disingenuous. It’s more likely you’ll get your book out, and then spend months – or even years – revising, editing, and making it fit for public consumption.”

    The NaNoWrimo website and a gazillion of blogs talking about it, make explicit that one DOESN’T write a ‘bestselling novel” in a month. In fact, they suggest strongly that much of the work will come in revision. This is consistent with any book on writing ever written.

    First drafts are just that, first drafts. Unlike a non-fiction blog post of a few hundred words, a novel is a story, with characters that interact across 60-100 different scenes. You don’t just ‘start with an idea’ and write a finished book. Rather, you write your story, lining up the scenes, developing the characters, and writing descriptions of your locations. THEN with the draft completed you revise it into a novel.

    I would contend that this is the basic tenet that NaNoWrimo tries to instill in its participants. I will admit that many seem to miss the point. Possibly you did. My 60k ‘first draft’ that resulted from NaNoWrimo is viewed, by me, as a very sophisticated outline of a novel. In writing it the process and result indicate:

    1) gaps that need filling
    2) which characters grow and which do not
    3) what parts of the story hold together and which need work
    4) how subplots fit (or not) into the major plotline
    5) a list of ‘things to look up’
    6) a basis upon which I can ensure that timelines are maintained

    … and a bunch of other stuff. Did your ‘idea for a novel’ provide you with these things? I think not as without a draft, these things are not evident. And yes, one could take months to write a first draft. Maybe it would be better than one written in a month. But I would argue that if you start NaNoWrimo with the proper goal, you can save yourself a great deal of time by writing the first draft quickly – leaving time available for revisions with full knowledge of how the story ends.

    Cheers — Larry Marshall

    • Thanks for your comment, Larry, though I’m still squinting around for that straw man you seem to claim might be there.

      Since Kyeli is a writer by career choice, I think she already knows that NaNo is about first drafts and not about final, polished novel. And it’s quite true that writing sites out there all state that writing a bestseller isn’t easily done, nor does it only take just a month.


      People will and do create hopes and dreams based on the challenge. People generally expect to accomplish more than they realistically can. People can and often bite off more than they can chew.

      And then people kick themselves about it.

      All of them? Of course not. But enough that even an outsider notices the comments and remarks that fly around this month – many aren’t positive or full of confidence. That’s sad.

      And that’s why I asked Kyeli if she’d be interested in posting to help spread the message that writers can write ANY time of year and do it at THEIR pace. I’m pretty sure you agree with that message, right?

      • …well let me help. If you want to attack something, a great way to do it is to say it is something that it is not and then explain why it is not accomplishing that thing. We see it in politics all the time. We see it in this post which presents the notion that NaNoWrimo is about writing a best-selling novel in a month.

        I think what’s missing from all of this is that writers, people who make money writing, don’t need NaNoWrimo and NaNoWrimo isn’t designed to serve them. It took me 18 days to reach 50k in my draft and another 2 to finish the barebones draft of my novel. But then I’ve been down the road of writing large documents more than a few times. I know something of the pre-planning I require to accomplish such tasks. I know that writing isn’t a magical thing. I know that staring off into space for an hour to come up with a name for the janitor cleaning the floor is not writing. AND, I know that writing a draft of anything is not about getting all the words right. It’s about getting the ideas on paper.

        But people who do benefit from NaNoWrimo structure are those who don’t know those things. Most wanna-be writers don’t know what it means to sit for extended periods of time, day-after-day, to accomplish a writing task. If this is the only thing they learn with NaNoWrimo, it is sufficient and NaNoWrimo has done its job.

        Can an experienced writer gain from this? Maybe, maybe not, as they certainly don’t need the simple constructs that NaNoWrimo is designed to provide. But even the original post announced that

        “Turns out, I had no idea what it takes.”

        This is one the lessons of NaNoWrimo…what does it take to write a novel. If there’s a problem with NaNoWrimo it is with the participants who become fixated on ‘winning.’ What does one ‘win’ afterall? And so when women in a NaNoWrimo forum talk about “how to increase my word count” and they’re talking about giving their characters three names, use a lot of adjectives, and have their characters sing songs…well, those people have missed the point.

        Cheers — Larry Marshall

        • Hey Larry,

          Thanks for your thoughts. I actually do know what a straw man is – I took critical thinking in university for two years and know all about arguments, attacks and deconstruction thereof.

          But again, I’m not seeing it here. Nowhere did Kyeli’s post “present the notion that NaNoWriMo is about writing a bestselling novel in a month.” What she DID write was: “The general attitude of writing a bestselling novel in a single month seems disingenuous.”

          She didn’t say NaNo had that attitude or that anyone specific had that attitude. She was making a statement at large, in general, that could apply (and does) to many people.

          All that said, I do respect your views and hear what you’re saying. I agree with some, I disagree wiht others, and we’re probably mostly on the same side at the end of the day.

  17. This is my fifth NaNo, and the first one that I’ve been consistently behind all month. I’m right now at about almost 42k, so doable to get to 50 today or tomorrow (I’m on vacation, that helps). It’s ironic because last year I did 102K for Nov.

    Personally, I write best in this short time frame, generally. I’ve done all first drafts of my novels in one month, and all but one in Nov. for NaNo. So far I’ve had one published, and another two that will probably come out next year.

    Point being, all writers are different in how they approach this. I can see how someone can approach NaNo in a “beat myself over the head if I don’t make it” way. The group I’m in is generally very supportive of even those who don’t make it. If all you get is 10K, that’s 10K on a novel you wouldn’t have without the challenge of NaNo. There is no fail in NaNo, really. The point of putting up a goal is to inspire people to write. Free them up and give themselves permission to just write. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But one won’t know until they try. But anyone should be happy that they wrote something, anything.

    Why write crap? Because for new writers, that’s pretty much what they will tend to write. As the learn the craft, and apply what they learned, the only way they can improve is to write. Like any skill, it takes practice, and a new writer should go into producing their first few novels as practice, not something they plan on publishing. If it turns out great and an editor likes it, then cool! But otherwise it is practice. And for those who do it, NaNo can be a good practice ground. One doesn’t go into it expecting to create something publishable unless you’re already good at it and that works with your writing style. But at a minimum, if all you produce is crap, you will have at least practiced and hopefully learned more about the creative and writing process.

    But yes, for anyone who goes into it with the idea “I’m going to be a failure if I don’t reach 50K” they are only setting themselves up for heartbreak. And NaNo groups that lose sight of that are fostering a self-defeating atmosphere. Our region which has good leadership and fosters a healthy perspective on it all, is generally in the top 10 word producers in the world. One year I think we were #3. And we don’t crack the whip. Everyone’s a winner.

    In the end, I think one should go into it with the attitude of trying it, seeing if you can meet the goal. If not, no skin off of anyone’s back. You gave it a go and for that you’re a winner. That is tons more than most people will ever do.

    But writers are all different and we all do this differently. If it isn’t for you, that’s no biggie. Write at your pace and way. If it works for you, as my tennis coach in high school said, don’t change a winning game.

    • Great comment, RL, and I think you’ve said it all. “We don’t crack the whip, and everyone’s a winner.”

      Yessir, boy, that’s the way!

    • Yup! I agree with you, R. L. Well said, thanks!

    • Susan H says:

      @R.L., I agree completely. Life is about what you make of it. Just because you go to college doesn’t mean that you will be successful, on the other hand plenty of folks don’t have degrees and they are doing very well.

      NaNoWriMo is the same. Some times you finish, some time you don’t…every once in awhile it brings you a great idea.

      For me it’s really is about playing against deadlines. I like deadlines. If you give me the rest of my life to write a book it will take the rest of my life. If you tell me to do it in 30 days. I’ll certainly push to get it done.

  18. Hi Kyeli,

    I had no idea people felt this way. I’ve never done NaNo, but I’ve devised a similar but different writing approach so I can understand the appeal. It is forcing you to do your writing every day. It gives you accountability and motivation, both of which many writers struggle with.

    However if it’s causing you too much stress, I agree, find something else that works for you. If not NaNo, how else can you find that motivation and accountability? Explore those – find whatever does work for you.

    Where I disagree though is where you say:

    “Why is writing 50,000 words of crap a noble, worthy goal?”

    I’ve struggled with this question too, and I came to the conclusion that although it may not be “noble goal”, it does have value. I’ve written hundreds of words of crap during the writing of my novel just to get my hour in. Sometimes it’s crap because I’ve drained the well for the day during my day job as a writer or I’m tired or the muses are off golfing… Whatever. But I keep going because (a) usually something good comes out of it and (b) I know I can go back and fix it later.

    So in other words, maybe it’s a noble pursuit if not an end goal. There will always be an excuse to not write. I think most of us need to find motivations to sit down and do it. If NaNo or writing 1,500 words per day or writing 1 hour per day does it, then perfect. It will produce some crap, yes. But it will also give you a place start.

    No matter what happens, it should get you writing. And that is the whole point, I think. Worry about things like quality later.



    • I’d definitely be curious to know why the motivation isn’t there to begin with. I know if I struggled with motivation, I’d be out of a career! Writing even though I wasn’t feeling up to it would drain me for sure.

      Which makes me curious… (a second time, I know)… what happens when you give yourself permission to stop writing? For, say, a few weeks?

      • Mordecai Richler once said something along the lines that if he waited for inspiration to strike, he wouldn’t get anything done. Many (most?) writers — that I know of or have read about anyway — have issues with sitting down and getting started. Even Stephen King, one of the most prolific novelists today, works to a set schedule to ensure a regular number of words every day.

        I think that’s the point of NaNo — to give a way to structure to the act of writing. NaNo also has accountability built in, so it’s not up to you to give yourself permission at all to take off a few weeks. In fact you can’t take off a few weeks since you only have 30 days as it is.

        Writing is a funny thing. Certainly the motivation is there to create, but as soon as you turn it into work (which, in at least some sense, you have to do to become successful), the muses have a way of opting out. It takes a while sometimes to work through that (it did for me) but it is possible.

        I guess all I’m saying is that if getting into that writing routine is what is holding you back, then something like NaNo can help you work on that. It can also help you overcome writer’s block, which is another common affliction. If you’re forced to put anything down to keep up to your daily word count, you’ll soon learn how to kick-start yourself when things get bogged down. And good writing — for now — be damned…


        • Graham,

          That’s an *excellent* answer! “Why write crap?” Because it helps you write the good stuff. Because it clears out space in your head for the good stuff. “Why stick with NaNo?” Because it can help with motivation, because it prevents excuses from preventing you from writing, because it can help build routine.

          I needed those answers 3.5 weeks ago! (: But I’m loving them now, anyway.

        • Susan H says:

          Beautifully said, Graham.

  19. Ahhh yes! I did NaNoWriMo in 2007 (and won), but it was totally detrimental to my relationship with my boyfriend and honestly did not produce amazing writing. It showed me that I could do anything if I was willing to be crazy enough. 😉 But I guess I already knew that since I was also traveling across Europe on the week-ends and working a full time job for a bank in their software department in England. Yeah, NaNo is the crazy!

    That’s why I haven’t repeated the experiment. This year I contemplated it, but I knew I wanted to focus on my business at this point, which requires plenty of writing on its own. Besides, I honestly believe that I’ll have a lot more juicy stuff to write about when I start writing novels in my 50s. Lots more life experiences to cull from. 🙂

    Yay Kyeli, failure or not, NaNo is an awesome experiment that teaches us so much. I’m so glad you shared your experience with us! 🙂

    • Ha, of course you can do anything! And that’s the thing I’d like writers (and everyone) to take away from this post. That you can do anything, and you don’t need a challenge to achieve it 🙂

      • Excellent point, James! You have reminded me of something I know but sometimes forget—external motivation seldom works for me. If I hope to follow through with something I start/commit to, the motivation has to be internal.

      • Susan H says:

        Oh James,
        You don’t need a marathon to run 10 miles. But that doesn’t stop thousands of runners from signing up to run one.

    • Aww, thanks, Nathalie!

      I haven’t given up on my NaNovel, but I’ll do it on my own terms now. 😀

  20. I signed up this year but did not finish NaNoWriMo, and I knew that would be the outcome by mid November. I do feel a “twinge” of failure, but not enough to be upset about. And I feel that the experience produced more positive than negative results.

    On the positive side:

    I found a community of writers/participants on Twitter and, thanks to one person, another group of people formed on Facebook. Writing is a solitary practice, and I have enjoyed connecting with others who shared the NaNo goal.

    I got serious about figuring out how to write a novel in 30 days, which will help me when I do decide to write book-length material again.

    I realized I need to be realistic about what I can/should commit to, AND I feel confident that I made the right decision when I stopped trying to reach the 50,000-word goal when I was still a long way from that goal.

    I know that if I’m going to put that kind of time and energy into something, it has to be for a better reason than just dumping 50,000 words into a Word document.

    I have a good story idea, and I spent time developing the structure of the story so I will be able to go back and do more work when/if doing so seems important.

    I realized that, for me, good writing requires that I take time to think.

    On the negative side:

    For about 10 days, I let the NaNoWriMo goal overshadow other commitments that I have made.

    Would I do it again? No. But I will take what I learned about myself and the writing process and become a better, more organized, successful writer. So the time I did feel committed to finishing was well spent.

    • That’s a good pros and cons list, and I think it’s really good you took the time to think about that and write it out. That’ll serve you well in life!

    • Yeah, Sharon, that’s a danger I didn’t even touch on – abandoning everything else in life to get the novel done in 30 days. I’m glad you saw that happening in time to pull back.

      Like James said, that’s an excellent list! Thank you.

  21. Thanks for this great post. I was really feeling like a failure because I quit after writing 11,000 words. I felt like I was forcing my story, and I really thought it needed more time to be fully developed. I was calling myself a NaNo failure all month. But after reading this, I don’t think I am anymore. While I might not have written a 50,000-word novel, I did write more than 50,000 words this month between my blog posts, my NaNo attempt, other freelance assignments and an eBook I’m working on. I don’t think anyone would consider that a failure. 🙂

    • Me neither. And what’s even better is that you’ve learned that you CAN write a novel and that you WANT to do a great job at it. Stick with it and take it at your pace, scheduling it in a little each week – and you’ll get to where you want to be, with a great novel from it.

    • Awesome, Jennifer! I wound up doing the same thing – I wrote 50k words, but not in a novel. I count that as a “win”, for sure!

  22. Great post, Kyeli! And I love the discussion here.

    This November was my first NaNoWriMo. I’ve been a writer my whole life and have had a few false starts with novels in the past. I thought that the pressurized container of NaNoWriMo, the collective energy, and the public-ness of the accountability channels {the NaNo site itself, participating friends on Twitter, plus the #NaNoLove hashtag community I co-created on Twitter with @EleanorWragg} would be MORE than enough to carry me through. I also knew that I was participating in three intensive business coaching programs this month and making significant changes to my own business. Oh, and doing client work. But, as so many times before, I thought I was superhuman and that I could do it all, and well.

    I got 10.5K words in and haven’t touched the thing since Week 2.

    What I left out of my I-can-do-this equation was my creative process. I thought that simply making the commitment and doing the kind of pre-planning and pre-plotting I haven’t done since my undergrad days as a Creative Writing major would be enough. I thought the Muse would show up with regularity, 2000 words at a time, just because I’d set up the framework.

    But that formulaic-ness goes against how I work best. I should’ve seen that going in. I work in fits and starts. I work best when I feel like working.

    My good friend {a non-NaNoWriMo participant} recently asked me if I’d be embarrassed to announce to the #NaNoLove community that I didn’t finish, that I in fact haven’t written a word since the end of Week 2. My answer to that: a resounding NO! I started and I made some headway. I’ve started creating a world on the page that didn’t previously exist for me. I’m glad I did it. I’m glad I tried novel-writing under the auspices of NaNoWriMo. Not sure if I’ll ever do it again, but I’m glad I got a taste of what it’s like. Most importantly, I learned so much about my creative process.

    • I learned a huge lot about my creative process, too, Abby. And I made some awesome new friends (yourself included) that I would’ve otherwise missed!

      I’m glad you’re not embarrassed to share your process. It’s a beautiful thing to put yourself out there, no matter what the results were. *hugs*

  23. A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post called “NaNoWriMo? No Way!” about why I didn’t believe in Nano and really kind of thought it to be silly. Most disagreed and many called me named and said they’d never come back to my blog for being such a hater. Unfortunately the post and ensuing comments were lost after I switched servers a couple of years back, but I’d love to summon that post back up for you.

    Kyeli, I’m a writer like you. Well not exactly like you, but you know what I mean. I write every day. Sometimes I wrote 100 words and sometimes I write 1500 words. The point is, I don’t need a national month to motivate me. I wrote my post because many of my writing friends were stressing out or feeling as if they failed for not completing their novels in 30 days. Others did complete their goal but thought what they hastily put together was crap, one of those writers told me she couldn’t even look at her novel anymore, she despised it so.

    I guess my point is that we’re supposed to love writing and as writers we have enough deadlines to deal with. Imposing an almost impossible deadline doesn’t help. Moreover, it just adds more stress to an already stressful season.

    We’re all under enough pressure whether to pay the bills or to reach work related deadlines. I don’t know that we need to add something like this to the mix.

    • Right on, Deb. There’s enough stress, whippy fear-based motivation, and self-incrimination going around in the world as it is.

      Love what you do and do what you love – if that includes NaNo, more power to you. If not, move along! (:

  24. G’Day Kyeli,

    I’m just a simple blogger. What on earth is NaNoWriMo? As I’ve never heard of it, am I seriously disadvantaged or just plain lucky?

    Y’know, I think that blogging would be far more reputable if bloggers spent lass time talking to each other and more time talking to their audience.

    I’ve believed for a long time that the main purpose of writing is to convey meaning. But I’m merely a consultant…….

    Make sure you have fun



    • Hi, Leon,
      You are neither disadvantaged nor just plain lucky to have not heard about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It’s a contest that takes place in November. Check it out for yourself at The objective is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, and like me, most of those who posted a reply to Kylie’s post are not “winners.” To be “winner,” one must finish and submit 50,000 words by midnight on Nov 30.

      I doubt that spending less time talking to other bloggers will improve blogger’s reputations. We’re not unlike any other type of writer (although some of us also write fiction) in that regard. But writing on a blog does include the ability to interact with readers and other bloggers, to build community, and to learn from others. Gotta love that!

      Have a great day, Leon,

    • Sharon answered better than I could, Leon. (: You’ve got it right – make sure you have fun. For sure!

  25. I heard vaguely of this na no thing and it sounds like just another method of motivating writers.
    I would liken it to a dress.
    You would not expect one size to fit everyone and yet certain people will look pretty fly.
    Use it if it helps you. Don’t use it if it doesn’t.
    Find another method. Simple.

    However, it’s good that you publicly voiced your difficulties with this program so others know they are not the only one’s feeling the same way. Nice one.

    • It’s what I do – I learn things the hard way, and share my process with others so they know they’re not alone. I appreciate your appreciation; it’s not easy to do. Thank you!

  26. I’ve just taken part in Nano and for me, as someone who doesn’t write every day and hasn’t written a novel, it wasa great motivation to get the space to write and for me to create that space in a busy schedule. this won’t work for everyone but then neither will any method. I think for a lot of people will take part and learn a few things abouit their writing (style, ability etc) adn that’s got to be a good thing….

  27. Nanowrimo promotes MS padding which we can surprisingly and disgustingly find among bestsellers.

  28. Ouch, 50,000 word novel in 30 days seems pretty steep, and probably not the best writing. Maybe a good exercise, but probably won’t produce a literary masterpiece.

  29. Hi Kyeli, I have never heard of the NaNoWriMo (ashamed to be so out of the loop, I really am) but I love the post and I love your attitude on writing. It resonates with mine. It is in exact sync and describes how I love to write and ache to write and feel so satisfied to have written. It is really a borderline obsession if not a disease but at least I have the right attitude going for me ;)!

  30. Thank you so much for this post! Not because I also “failed” NaNo, but because of It’s more likely you’ll get your book out, and then spend months – or even years – revising, editing, and making it fit for public consumption.

    That’s exactly how I felt when pushed by friends to “just keep writing”. Why? Why write page after page of rubbish that I’d just have to cut out afterwards? What does that achieve, other than some spiffy graphics at the end of the month?

    I’ve had to put my NaNovel to one side, but I’ll get back to it.

  31. I didn’t even bother this year, but last year, I managed to pump out the words like it was going out of style for about the first seven days. Then I took a night off, then another, and so forth. I realized that if I tried to push the way I wanted to write, I was going to end up with 50,000 words and something I didn’t even want to bother reading.

    So I congratulated myself on the 11,000 or so words I had accumulated and put the novel to the side, revisiting it over the last year when I really wanted to. I know I’ll have the ability to finish that novel at some point in time, and I won’t be under any kind of stressful deadline.

    The purpose of Nano is to teach you the importance of “if you really want to do this you’re going to have to make time for it” but it gets lost in the shuffle of word counts and watching other people who are MUCH closer to the finish line. I say way to go to all the other NaNo failures.

    • That’s similar to what happened to me – I churned out a great amount in the first week. But then a friend visited from out of town, then I was too sleep-dep’ed to write, then this, then that… and then I was 20k words behind and insanely overwhelmed.

      I agree with you on the purpose of NaNo, and I’d love it if they found a way to make it more obvious or something, so maybe it wouldn’t get so lost. Less competition, I think, would help. Make it about *writing*, not about *winning*.

  32. I’ve thought since the beginning that NaNoWriMo is a silly idea. As Truman Capote famously said of Jack Kerouac, “That isn’t writing; it’s typing.”


  33. I have a similar “failure” story @NaNoWriMo which didn’t prevent me from publishing the novella that came out of that NaNoWriMo failure. You can read what happened here (in French):

  34. Love that people are going public with their non-nano positions.
    I actually love the concept of Nanowrimo and did my first one last year. It was an excellent exercise for a perfectionist like me to put her butt in the chair and write crap with no sense of guilt or repercussion.

    But, this year, I opted out. I wrote a post about why here:

    The bottom line is you’ve got to do what works for you – and what works for you changes all the time.
    Don’t be dogmatic about any routine. Be present and aware and do what makes sense for the moment at hand.

    Oh, and write. 🙂

  35. I have very mixed feelings about NaNo. This was my first year, and I did hit the 50k mark, but I wouldn’t call the whole experiment a success. I did learn a lot and I appreciate the experience, but it’s something I think I can do without in the future. I think it’s great for people who aren’t in the habit of writing everyday or who just want to try something fun and be part of the community. For those people who already have an established writing routine and process that works for them, I wouldn’t suggest disrupting that to take part in NaNo.

    I go in more detail about my experience on my blog:

  36. I think everything has probably been said, but just to chime in anyway:
    I participated in NaNo for the first time this year, and there were moments when I hated it, and moments when I loved it.
    In the end, I’m glad I did wrote those 50,000 words, even if I know the last 10,000 were written in a mad dash kind of way. I had an outline at the beginning, some character files prepped, and I followed most of that most of the time. I feel successful, and I know I don’t have a publishable novel on my hands at this point.
    That’s ok. I’ve spent three years writing unsaleable rough drafts before this. If I can get the rough draft stage mostly done in a month, that’s ok with me. I’m going to write anyway. I’m going to revise anyway, why not participate in something fun that keeps me focused on one project for a month.
    Yes, there were days when I couldn’t sit down and write anything because my life was way too packed full with family, home-schooling, teaching, and friendships. But then, there were days when I made writing the main event, and my family, friends, and our home-school schedule spurred me on, and kept going ok anyway.

    • We homeschool, too (unschool, actually, but close enough), and I actually accidentally pressured my kid to try NaNo with me – they have NaNo for kids. I knew if I could get him involved, I’d have a better chance at finding the time to write – but all I wound up doing was upsetting him. So we talked it out for a long time, and I realized I was unintentionally pushing him, and I backed off.

      We made a schedule wherein I had time to write and he had time to pursue the creative project of his own liking, and we were both happy. (:

      If NaNo works for you, that’s awesome! I was mainly concerned with those it doesn’t work for – but who try to force it, anyway. That’s never any good.

  37. I’ve lurked on this blog for a long time, reading both for my own benefit, and for the benefit of work (I’m a copywriter for a small business), but this is my first comment 🙂

    Let me start off by saying that I love NaNo.

    When I first heard about NaNo I immediately wanted to try. Deadlines always help me, and I thought that maybe having one would force me to actually give it a real go. I first tried NaNo in 2008, and got to maybe 15k. The next year, somewhere around 24k. November is a busy month for me, and I never really cared that I didn’t finish…the fact that my total increased each year was enough for me to feel like I’d accomplished something. And that’s what I really get out of NaNo. Not really “winning” anything, and I certainly don’t feel like I’d get a bestseller out of it, but I accomplished something.

    This year, I thought about what I wanted to do…and thought back about what I had done before. I realized I went into those last two NaNos trying to write something “great.” This year, as I combed through my idea files, I threw that idea out the window and picked something that I would want to read. And then I went at it and had an amazing ride. Day to day, I write about wire and cable…literally, the metal wires that plug into your computers, TVs, etc. Not very exciting, and it leaves me mentally exhausted and unwilling to write more when I get home. During this year’s Nano, I had fun writing for the first time in many many years. Even if I didn’t make the 50k goal, I would still felt like a winner, just because I’d had fun writing again. It felt like I was reminded why I loved to write in the first place!

    Do I think NaNo is for everyone? No, just like many others have said. But I think you get out of it what you put into it, and it all depends on why you started. I started NaNo to prove to myself that I could stick to something, that I could finish something.

    I grew up wanting to be the first “Writer/Nurse to Paint the Earth from Space.” My brain was always going in every direction, story ideas clog my drawers, iPod notes and computer, but I lacked the ability to sit myself down and do it. I had teachers plainly tell me to my face “do I think you know more about this topic than this other student? No…you just write better.” But I still lacked the discipline. For whatever reason, I wouldn’t take the initiative to sit down and do it. NaNo changed that for me.

    I ended November 30th at 82k. And the story is not done…yet.

  38. I love this post, and all the comments that go with it. NaNoWriMo is a roller coaster, dare-devil of a ride. No, the purpose is not to come out of it with a bestseller. I think everyone finds their own purpose for doing it.
    I have participated for the last three years and for me it has helped me. It did not help me become a better writer. It did not help me sell a novel. To date I still have not broken my 30K word count at the end of 30 days. What NaNoWriMo does for me is connects me with other writers with the same fears, anxiety, and struggles I face. It taught me to make time for writing. It helped bring me out of my obsessive diligence of character creation, plot maps, outlines, etc and made me just sit down and write.
    When we feel failure during NaNoWriMo, it is self inflected. This group is about encouragement, joy, writing, connecting, but most of all to help us realize that regardless you must write, and write every day you can to get better.
    I felt bad the first year I missed the word count. But since then I use it as a writing vacation, a whirlwind ride of coffee induced euphoria. Then, at the end of the 30-days, I get back to the business of writing. But that’s just me.

  39. As a NaNoWriMo “winner” this year, I loved this post.

    My interest in the challenge stemmed from an inclination to write a reasonably long story, and a good story. I wanted to use good craft, and carefully plan and whittle my narrative. My problem was I would get stuck because I had little practice, and I would end up with work both unfinished and unsatisfactory. As I consider the habit of unfinished work a killer to creativity and motivation, I felt I needed to get beyond this and create something complete. NaNoWriMo was a good motivator for this.

    The question I posed myself is whether writing 50,000 clumsy words is as valuable a learning experience as learning to craft the smaller components first. I would say yes for me. Now I can feel the shape of a long narrative. I can use it as a tool for research, and identify why it’s wrong. And it doesn’t bother me that it’s full of flaws – I wrote it in 30 days as a rapid prototype.

    What I “won” from NaNoWriMo was a sense of scale and the discovery that I could sit down and regularly write – and enjoy it. The next step is to practice writing well. And not to rush it of course!

  40. Okay, late to the party, but I have to comment.

    Brief backstory: I’ve done NaNo almost ever year since 2006. This year, I was one of two Municipal Liaisons for the Tulsa region. (MLs are the people who set up the in-person events for each region.) Yes, I love it. Yes, I will continue doing it as long as the plot bunnies keep giving me ideas. 🙂

    And if there is one thing I have learned over the past four years, it is this:

    There is no such thing as a NaNoWriMo failure.

    If you write one word during November because of NaNo, that is one word that you would not have written otherwise. It doesn’t matter if you hit 50,000 words, 5,000 words, or just 5 words. The point is that you gave it a go, and that’s more than a lot of people ever do. I had WriMos who finished the month with less than 1,000 words, and I cheered for them just as much as I did the ones who hit 50,000 in the first two weeks.

    If NaNoWriMo is not for you, I understand that completely. It isn’t for everyone. But please, please know that you are NOT a failure just because you didn’t hit 50k. And nobody would ever call you one.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lisa Barone, James Chartrand, Pamela P., Angie Nikoleychuk, Malcolm McLeod and others. Malcolm McLeod said: RT @MenwithPens: Are you a NaNoWriMo failure? I like how that's a good thing. […]

  2. […] December 1st: “Hey, I just finished the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo, will you represent me?) Professional writers have come out, if not exactly against, slightly antagonistic toward NaNoWriMo. And I’ve seen […]

  3. […] also come away agreeing with Kyeli Smith, that I just might be doing it wrong. If you find yourself writing because you have to write or you will fail, you’re doing it wrong. […]

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Stephan and SP Sipal, Kate Arms-Roberts. Kate Arms-Roberts said: #Writers and #NaNoWriMo: An excellent reflection on why not winning is just fine. […]

  5. […] this year, and the NaNo definition of fail being that they didn’t reach the 50k.  Over on Men with Pens, there is a great post on it.  The author started, but then got stressed and started beating […]

  6. […] However, NaNoWriMo becomes a murder weapon when the word count goal towers over the quivering writer. When the writer caves to the stress of writing 1,667 words every day and panics at the thought of being 10,000 words behind, NaNoWriMo turns into NaNoWriMonster. Kyeli Smith wrote a fantastic guest post on Men With Pens that demonstrates this type of “NaNoWriMo failure.” […]

  7. […] friend Kyeli wrote a great post about her own experience with NaNoWriMo, complete with pros and cons. She brings up great points […]

  8. […] “If you find yourself writing because you have to write or you will fail, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re writing because you have to finish NaNoWriMo, because you have to win, because quitting means you’re a loser – your attitude needs tweaking. If you’re writing because you love writing, because writing fuels you, because writing is what you want to do – well, you’re already a success in my book. If you’ll pardon the pun.” – excerpt from “Are You a NaNoWriMo Failure?” on […]

  9. […] word count and that you should just use NaNo as an adaptable tool. I also came across this post: which made me feel better. I think NaNoWriMo is great for a lot of people, and maybe sometime it […]

  10. […] shouldn’t give you a winner’s medal or a loser’s shame – it should give you vital information about yourself that helps you achieve your dream of being […]

  11. […] here, pondering? Check out Hannah’s pros and cons here, and Men With Pens fun article, Are you a NoNoWriMo Failure? If you’re wondering whether you should even stick your nose under that tent, here are my […]

  12. […] here, pondering? Check out Hannah’s pros and cons here, and Men With Pens fun article, Are you a NoNoWriMo Failure? If you’re wondering whether you should even stick your nose under that tent, here are my […]

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