My NaNoWriMo Failure/Win

My NaNoWriMo Failure/Win

Happy December!

November is now officially over, as is NaNoWriMo, the annual competition that challenges you to write a whole book—at least 50,000 words—in thirty days. It’s a LOT of work to write that much, that fast. I’m truly in awe of the people who succeed.

For the last two years, I’ve considered participating. This year, I decided to do it.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was up for the challenge. I’ve spent the last five months editing TIME BETWEEN US, which means I’ve spent nearly every day since June reading my story, reconsidering the words I’ve already written, tightening up concepts, making characters more consistent, and applying hundreds of pages of insightful feedback from my amazing editor. It also means I’ve spent a lot of time away from my kids.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never loved writing more, and I savored every single minute I’ve spent locked up in the editing cave with my characters (they are so much fun… so witty! And unlike my kids, when I ask them to do something, they don’t talk back!). But I’ll be honest, on November 1, what my laptop and I needed most was a little time apart. A break, if you will. Permission to see other people.

But I signed up for NaNoWriMo anyway, because I’m so insanely excited about my second project, but I’m also a little bit terrified. The outline and synopsis are done, and even though I’ve been working on it off-and-on for months, I needed a push to just… write. You know, that super creative, fun thing we do when we don’t second-guess every word we just… go. And that, as they say on their website, is what NaNoWriMo is all about:

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. This approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

That sounded like a lot of fun, to “build without tearing down”. To let it be okay to write “a lot of crap”. To not edit.

I started off strong, whipping out pages, tracking my words, and sharing back-pats with my fellow NaNo-ing Apocalypsies. I pulled out my laptop at the end of the day when I really wanted to watch TV instead, just to get that word count higher. I was going and going without editing anything I’d written.

But I couldn’t keep it up.

I was fine with the pace. I wrote a lot and I saw my kids. But I couldn’t turn off the editor.

Really, I tried. But after I had twenty sparkly new pages completed, I just had to read them. And once I read them and discovered how much they sucked, I just had to make them better. I found myself spending my precious hours editing and building on what I’d already written, rather than picking up right where I left off. But that’s always been my process—it’s how I write.

Here’s the other thing: I love research. My stories involve music and maps and foreign towns, and for me, part of the joy of writing each scene is absorbing myself in it. I wander around the Internet looking at photos of beautiful destinations. I hang out in Google Maps. I build playlists on iTunes. That sounds a lot like procrastinating, and I decided maybe it was, so I tried it the other way. I turned off my WiFi and marked up my manuscript instead, noting spots I needed to return to, and then moved along. And I finished the scene, but frankly, I missed the journey.

By the middle of November, I was not only writing, I was also editing and researching—doing it my way and breaking all the rules. My manuscript was growing, but so was my “cuts” document. I was both building and tearing down.

But I was having a blast.

I ended the challenge with a grand total of 43,685 words. Within that total, I’ve included all my major cuts—all 6,366 words. That leaves me with a manuscript that falls short of the 50k goal, but is 37,319 words richer than it was when I started. And you know what’s cool? I like a lot of those 37,319 words.

Okay, so I technically failed the competition, but I accomplished so much this month because of NaNoWriMo. Watching other writers push themselves inspired me to write, and I wrote a lot. I edited a lot. And I feel great about where I am.

And that’s really what NaNoWriMo is all about—inspiring people to write. Whether you ended the month with 2,000 words or 20,000 words or 50,000 words, all that matters is that you created something new. And hopefully had fun doing it.

I’d love to hear about your NaNoWriMo experiences! Who hit their 50k goal? Who didn’t and feels great about it anyway?

By |2017-05-03T09:43:09+00:00December 2nd, 2011|Categories: Writing|Tags: , |4 Comments


  1. Kevin December 3, 2011 at 5:33 pm - Reply

    This year was my third NaNo. I decided to take advantage of the program to force myself to work on the novel I’ve been writing, off and on, for three-ish years. I knew there was a good chance I would finish the first draft within the NaNo period so when the final sentence was written, my story was told, and I only had 34,xxx words written, like you, I felt I had “won”. Very exciting, and also somehow sad. After three years with these characters, they’ve taken on a life of their own and it’s a little sad not to see them continue to grow.

    I learned a lot about process, to, with this first book. I think the next one will go a bit smoother once I’m ready to start writing! I can’t wait.

    Reading your description of your process is inspiring as it sounds a lot like me! I desperately want to get this book published when it’s ready; knowing that your going to be published and that we have similar processes is very encouraging!

    Congratulations on your success and your NaNo “win”!

    • Tamara Ireland Stone December 10, 2011 at 5:09 am - Reply

      It sounds like you had a successful NaNo “win” too, Kevin, just in your own way. Keep at it. It sounds like your characters deserve to keep growing and evolving. Good luck! I’m cheering for you.

  2. Gabrielle Prendergast December 2, 2011 at 5:38 pm - Reply

    I “won” NaNo this year, my first year. I did a lot of re-reading too, but I didn’t make any cuts. I’m still not finished the MS – it needs about another 30K I think – and I’m pretty scared about editing after that, because it’s going to need a LOT.

    At this point, I’m starting to lose confidence a bit, but I’m going to push through. I think at the every least, I have a beautiful love story, that I can peel out of the rest of it and rebuild into something else…maybe?

    Congrats on your 37,319

    • Tamara Ireland Stone December 2, 2011 at 5:53 pm - Reply

      Congratulations, Gabrielle! That’s fantastic, and it sounds like you’re off to a great start on a beautiful story.

      If you like the camaraderie that comes with NaNo, check this out: My friend, Suzanne Lazear, just launched NaNoFiMo–National Novel FINISHING Month– She’s a fireball of inspiration and this group is already off to a great start.

      Congratulations again on your huge WIN! I’m completely in awe of you, and all the others who pulled it off. It’s HARD work.

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