Post-NaNoWriMo: It’s Not About Winning or Losing or Failing, It’s About Finishing What You Started

So you took part in NaNoWriMo 2013. Some of you successfully cranked out 50,000 words or more in 30 days. That’s outstanding. If this is your first time, double outstanding then!

But this post isn’t written for those of you who’ve met the 50K in 30 days goal. You’ve gotten enough congrats and accolades; you don’t need any more from me. I’m talking to those of you who didn’t meet the 50K in 30 days goal. 

Yeah, you. That’s right, you. Listen up.

Some of you didn’t make it, for whatever reasons. Life got in the way. The work-in-progress got a little unwieldly. Whatever. Some of you made it to Day 30 just several thousand words short. Some of you probably threw in the towel around Week Two. The point is, you didn’t finish.

Am I going to give you grief about this? Nope. Because I didn’t finish, either. I knew I wasn’t going to. My total word count for NaNoWriMo: 14,474 words. I was well aware I wasn’t going to have the time I’d wanted to fulfill the NaNoWriMo goals, but no matter. I’d written a solid outline, figured out my plot points, got to know my protagonists, learned what the concept of my WIP is, and wrote a synopsis that for once doesn’t make me want to squirm. Guess what? I’m perfectly fine with not “winning” NaNoWriMo this year. It doesn’t make me a failure, because I’ve got an unshakable belief in my WIP, and that doesn’t mean I’ve failed.

Ah, there’s that word: failure. That word’s been bandied around a lot in many a blog right before the end of NaNoWriMo, and in blogs post-NaNoWriMo. I’ve read a lot of “I failed at NaNoWriMo” blogs over the past few days, and not just from the first timers trying their hand at this marathon writing thing, but from those who’ve taken part in NaNoWriMo before.

“Didn’t reach my 50,000 word count in 30 days, so I failed at NaNoWriMo.”

Failure. Failed. Fail.

You stop using those words RIGHT NOW.

You are not a failure. To quote Gene Kranz, “Failure is not an option.”

Yeah, we live in a competitive society, and we treat the concept of 50,000 words in 30 days as a competition. But we’re missing the point of NaNoWriMo. Sure, it’s great to reach the 50K in 30 days goal, but once you’ve started on your manuscript, the real competition is with yourself, to finish the manuscript. So whether you’ve reached 50,000 words in 30 days – and if you did, give yourself a giant pat on the back – or if you didn’t, you’ve got work to do.

Look, calling yourself a failure means you’re selling yourself short. Once you start using the word “failure” when it comes to your writing, you become used to describing both yourself and your work as “failure.” So fucking what if you didn’t bang out 50,000 words in 30 days? Take comfort in the fact that there’s a lot of people who wrote 50,000 words of pure shit and have smugly declared themselves “winners!”*

Because NaNoWriMo isn’t about winning or losing. NaNoWriMo challenges you to write within a specific time frame, but the true purpose of NaNoWriMo is to challenge you to write, period. I was one of those newbies, all full of hope but without a clue as to what I was doing, and by the second week, all was lost. So I declared myself a failure. Last year, in spite of so many challenges, I plowed through, and met the 50K/30 days goal, but even if I didn’t meet the goal, I was writing, and I was going to finish what I’d started. That’s what NaNoWriMo asks of you: finish what you start. It shouldn’t matter that you’ve only written 22,714 words in 30 days. What should matter to you is that you started something that’s grabbed your attention, enough of your attention to wrest out 22,714 words. So finish it through. See where it leads you. Because you don’t want to be that person that never finishes a damned thing they start, and then spend the rest of their days lamenting this very same fact.

So here’s the deal I’m going to cut with you: I’ll ride your ass about finishing the novel you started more than a month ago, if you promise to do the same. Need the motivation, the push, someone to vent to? I’m here for you. Point being, writers shouldn’t have to go at this alone. Writers support one another, and if you’re feeling like you want to take your laptop outside and fire several rounds from a 12-gauge shotgun at it, don’t. Press through, but most importantly, reach out. I’m happy to listen.

And while we’re at it, I’m going to ask you, dear reader, to go ahead and get on me about the progress of my manuscript. You’ll notice I put a word count widget to the right of this blog. I’m going to update this every few days, and talk about my progress as I go along. Of course, I expect a lot of you to ride my ass in return. It’s only fair.

So let’s recap:

  • Hitting your target goals is great, but refrain from calling yourself a “winner.”
  • Not hitting your target goals should not be a reason to turn you into a mopey sad-bastard, so refrain from calling yourself a “loser” or a “failure” because you’re either 1,000/5,000/30,000 words from finishing what you started on November 1st.
  • You started something. Now let’s finish it. No matter how long it takes.

 

* – Speaking of which, NaNoWriMo is notorious for having produced some terrible writing from people who believe that simply hashing out 50,000 words or more in 30 days, and not bothering to either edit or ask a friend or colleague to give their steaming pile of unfettered literary horseshit their honest and brutal feedback. These same misguided bunch will either A) send their first draft manuscript to every agent and publisher in the country, and then gnash their teeth wondering why they’re not getting a response, or, B) self-publish this first draft, thereby adding to the thousands of volumes of poorly written, badly spelled, terribly edited self-published crap that will no doubt add to the negative reputation self-publishing gets, especially among the old guard publishing houses and their sycophantic acolytes.

In other words, don’t be this loser. Edit your work. Then edit it again. And get a few people to read it before you send it in or throw it up on CreateSpace or SmashWords for the world to read.

A few other blogs to read and motivate you:

From Chuck Wendig – NaNoWriMo: On the Language of Losing

From MJ Wright – How to Write and Not Be Driven to Eat Your Own Weight in Lard

 

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34 thoughts on “Post-NaNoWriMo: It’s Not About Winning or Losing or Failing, It’s About Finishing What You Started

  1. Amen, brother! And that bit about “finish your shit” still applies to many of us who did hit 50k. Because my novel isn’t done, so I still need nagging. And if I catch any of you submitting or–worse–publishing your NaNovel, without months and years and buckets of monkey-sweat spent on editing, I WILL be around to eviscerate you with a dull spoon. (I think I’ve spent too much time reading Wendig’s blog. Oh well).

      • Feel free to start nagging any time. If I were really tough, I’d be getting some real writing done even right now, while at a conference that runs from like 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. But I’m not that tough. Maybe tomorrow some sessions will be dumb enough to skip out on. I wrote a bit during one this morning that got kind of dull. . . .

        • There ya go! A little something goes a long way. I wrote a bit on my rare commute to work yesterday – I work from home, and yesterday was a rare office day, so I jotted a few pages down on the hour-long commute. A little something.

          • Yeah. Any day you get a few dozen words down is a success. And when a day or two passes with nothing–well, just like dieting or quitting smoking, you just pick up and go on from there, rather than giving up!

        • Okay! I’ve finished the totally shitty first draft, which is so full of holes it makes Swiss Cheese look like the rock of Gibralter. Now’s the really dangerous time, when I flounder around at loose ends and don’t accomplish anything.

            • I’m going to let it steep for a few weeks and work on other things I have neglected (including, I’m sad to say, things like cleaning the shower. I wish someone would invent a self-cleaning shower, then come and install it for me).

  2. I have four pretty hefty assignment all due in this fortnight for Uni. They pretty much killed any time I had to write a novel, but I’m still hacking away at my nanowrimo idea. It’s going rather well I must say. Nowhere near finished, but the framework is there.

    • You and I aren’t alone. There’s a lot of us who’ve gotten started on a new WIP that’s gone along rather well. We have to do what we can to keep progress from falling from the wayside. Good luck to you, Carol!

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  4. Great post, Gus. You ought to stick an IWSG badge on it and make it your monthly contribution.

    No, didn’t finish either, but I’m right there with you in thought process. Where’d you get your counter? I might do the same. And do I feel like a failure? Hell no. Actually, I’m a winner for getting done what I set out to do…start a freaking novel. And…get this…I actually LIKE what I’ve written.

    I especially liked your footnote. I’ll ride you and you me and we’ll get it done! Good inspiration in this one.

    • I realized earlier this morning that today is IWSG, and this would have made a fine contribution for this month. Jumped the gun too soon, I guess.

      One blogger I read last night mentioned something about an “accountability buddy.” Basically, you and your writing buddy keep tabs on one another, and decide on a time when you want to finish your draft. This way, you’re motivating one another, and keeping tabs. Something like that.

  5. You’re right about a couple of things; I made 50k but I think only about half of what I wrote is usable.
    Hell, I got bored so I just started writing a non-sequitir lesbian sex scene. And it’s really good, but it has no place in my book.
    AND this Nano is a continuation of an old book I didn’t finish two years ago. AND I didn’t finish the book this round, either.
    So I’m pretty much in the same boat as you if you only count what I wrote that’s USABLE. I think I’ll keep writing on this one as well. Why wait another two years to finish?

      • The first part is live at https://www.jukepopserials.com/home/read/1254!
        I’m actually dropping a new chapter Friday.
        I decided to just edit it and post it piecmeal because the draft is NOT ready for human eyes.
        It’s a CYOA and I have about half the choices completed, but breaking it down into chapters with weekly deadlines helps me to get off my ass and edit it.

        There IS another book I’m working on–a third draft which I am refining–I was gonna suggest we swap projects for critique, but I figured I’d wait until holiday things got a little calmer.
        If you’re down, let me know!

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