reflections on NaNoWriMo

On WritingNaNoWriMo has been over for more than a week, and in its wake I’ve had plenty of time to think about the experience. I completed more than 50K words, making me a NaNoWriMo winner, and I learned a good bit about fiction writing in the process. The only real way to complete so much in so little time is to write with abandon, refraining from self-editing along the way. The natural result is that some of what you write will be too wild and unruly. It’ll have to be tamed in the second draft.

But something else will happen, too–some of what you write, things that you might have shied away from otherwise, will end up being delightfully (and surprisingly) valuable. It’s a fun experience, seeing that happen.

In the few days immediately following December 1, I saw several friends on Facebook and Twitter make comments about their NaNoWriMo efforts. More than once, someone commented that they had not completed the 50,000 word goal, but that they felt they’d made some good progress. (That’s a good attitude, I think.) However, several went one step further, using the same turn of phrase. They said they counted the experience “a win for me” even though they hadn’t succeeded in finishing.

I have a couple of thoughts about that. First, 50K words is a lot and I agree completely that doing something is better than doing nothing. Any number of words is an accomplishment. However, “win” in conjunction with NaNoWriMo means something specific: completing the goal. Calling anything less than that a “win” is short-changing two parties.

One, it shortchanges the other NaNoWriMo participants who met the goal. I have one friend who finished only minutes before midnight on November 30, writing right up to the deadline in order to get done. She’s a rockstar in my eyes. That’s dedication. That’s impressive. And while it’s good (and admirable) to have written 30K or 20K or even 10K words, that’s not winning. That’s not completing the task at hand.

Yeah, I know–life gets in the way and some of us are crazy busy and it sounds like I’m being a hard-ass about this whole winning thing, but I’m really not trying to be. I just feel that it somehow waters down the accomplishments of folks who pushed all the way through to call anything less than that a completion of the challenge. If you didn’t complete it, that doesn’t make you a loser. That just means you didn’t make it all the way this time. Take the experience (and the completed words), learn from it, and give it a go again next year.

You don’t have to succeed in every goal you set. In fact, I can guarantee you won’t. If you don’t, cop to it and learn from it. Don’t deny it.

Two, I think a person shortchanges themselves when they call less than 50K a win “for me”. What, you need a reduced target in order to win? You’re really comfortable grading yourself on a curve that implies you can’t compete at the same level as everyone else?

Hold yourself in higher esteem. Understand that you can complete the goal. You just didn’t this time. Again, no biggie. Just accept it and acknowledge it. There’s strength in that. Don’t lower the bar for yourself.

Listen, I’ve been saying I was going to write a book for years. Years, people. This year, I’ve completed two (not yet ready for publication, though) and am (thanks to NaNoWriMo) well on my way to completing a third. But I’ve failed to meet my own goals for a long, long time.

And I’m okay with that. My worth is not tied to my success or failure. I’d rather deal with my shortcomings and grow than tell myself that there’s no lesson to be learned.

One last time: if you didn’t complete NaNoWriMo, that’s okay. You don’t suck. Just face the fact that you set a goal you didn’t hold to. Analyze where you went offtrack and use that information the next time you set a goal.

And to those who completed NaNoWriMo, as well as everyone who participated, well done. Be proud of what you accomplished, however far you made it, and keep on writing.


About Ash Martin
Ash Martin writes dark fantasy and horror, has a thing for classic monster legends, Nordic mythology, coffee, and sarcasm, and is currently working on multiple books.

5 Responses to reflections on NaNoWriMo

  1. I agree with what you say. I know people like to practice the feel good approach and that’s a great thing, but NaNoWriMo has a specific word count goal and if you didn’t hit it, you didn’t win NaNo…but perhaps achieved a more ‘personal’ goal. And, good on you for that.

    Here’s a post where I touched on Chris Baty and all his wonders:

    “Hazy” ;0)


  2. kanundra says:

    I agree, any writing is a good thing. For me Nano was a blessing this year. The kick up the bum I needed to get out of my creative and personal slump. Had too many problems at home the creative juices were stifled this summer. I love the whole experience. 🙂


    • dex says:

      It’s good to hear it was good for you! Writing is hard work. Anything that makes it a little easier or allows for focus is always a good thing. 🙂


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