A few days ago, I “won” NANOWRIMO again. It’s been how many years in a row, now? From my project page on the NANOWRIMO website, I’ve done (and won) Nano consistently since 2018. I’ve also done (and won) in 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2015. In fact, the only time I participated in Nanowrimo and haven’t won was in 2014, but I think I was just doing edits that year anyway, so it was a little different.
You may ask, why am I telling you this? Am I so full of myself b/c I’m SO good at writing that I have to brag about it? On the contrary, I’m actually full of imposter syndrome. You see, I won 2 days ago but barely told anyone. I quietly announced to my write-in partners at Panera when it happened (and only those sitting next to me even heard). I told James and a couple of other friends in chat. However, I didn’t post it on Facebook or in my writer’s Discord group? Why?
Because I don’t feel like a winner. Ok, I understand that for some people, it may be a huge deal to write something that long or write that much in a single month but…I’ve done it. I know I can do it. I don’t even join Nanowrimo unless I intend to win. Writing that much in a month is something I can do. However…
Writing that much in a month is EXHAUSTING. I have no idea how I used to do it while I had a full-time job or worse…in the case of ’08, while in grad school. And, even more unfortunately, writing that much doesn’t finish a novel…Well, ok, I’ve done Nanowrimo for a part 2 of a manuscript and then, yes, I’ve finished. But starting a new project, or in the case this year, continuing on a project I started a few months ago, doesn’t finish the book.
Currently, for my novel Gen Codex, I have a goal of End-of-year to finish it, but as I’m only 1/2ish way done that means I’m going to have write a Nanowrimo’s worth of words in December, too. (And here I am complaining about it in a blog post, rather than writing LOL). So for me, Nanowrimo winnerdom doesn’t feel so exciting.
That being said, I did allow myself a break from writing yesterday because honestly, I feel like all writers need a break sometimes. Some authors may tell you that you’re not a real writer unless you write every day, but let’s be honest…are you really producing your best brain work if you don’t take breaks? Or at least, change tasks for a day. I like to read or listen to an audio book, or what I discovered recently, is to do something non-word creative, like draw or make jewelry.
This got me to thinking about what Nanowrimo is really about. Yeah, it’s writing 50k words in one month, but what is its actual GOAL? I’ve talked to a lot of writers about why they do Nanowrimo and have gotten a wide range of answers.
- I just want to prove to myself that I can do it
- I’ve never written anything that long
- I want to get a good chunk of my new WIP done
- I want to develop a writing habit
- I like the community
- It helps me get inspired
- I want to write a novel
And while none of these are the wrong reasons to do Nanowrimo, some of them are definitely come with some myth.
I want to develop habit
My biggest complaint is the development of a habit reason. Anyone who’s done Nanowrimo has probably at least once killed themselves during the month to get their wordcounts in. This causes December to be a no-writing month, so any habit you tried to start by forcing your way to winner, is ruined if you felt overtaxed. This is why when people tell me that they are doing Nano just to write but don’t think they’ll win, I always encourage them. Like any other habit, consistency (not volume) is the key. So, if you’re new to writing regularly or trying to pick it up again, I like to say that anything helps, even if it’s 100 words.
It’s like starting a gym routine. You can’t go every day for a month and expect to bench press 200lbs at the end of it (I have no idea if that’s even achievable as I am not a gym person…but you get the idea). If you tried that, you would be likely to hurt yourself, which would put a hiatus on your gym-going. Writing is a lot like that. Yeah, you can’t “strain” your mind the same way you strain a muscle, but there is a point where inspiration dies and writing just feels like a slog. Or you feel like you’ve written the phrase “He nodded” like 16,000 times and have no better way to say it.
Just like a gym habit, a writer needs “rest days”. For me, that involves reading. It’s interesting when I talk to writers who don’t read (I have been one of those at times) because I’m like…well then how do you know what to do!? I think Molly McGhee, an incredibly intuitive author and editor I met at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Conference really drove it home when she said, “You should be reading everything all the time.” Since then, I’ve tried to broaden my reading repertoire and OMG it has helped the words flow faster. Even just passively absorbing the language other authors use helps me widen my creative range of ways to say things (like, “he nodded”).
Anyway, the moral of this story is: take breaks. Read more.
Finishing a Novel
I know there are some writers out there who are tight with language and can write a whole novel in 50k-ish words. But I am not that kind of writer. My storylines tend to be longer than a 50k novel(la) can sustain but also, as you see from this blog post, I am W O R D Y!
Thus, the second myth of Nanowrimo is that you’ll get a complete novel during the month (unless you go over 50k). I have worked on 6 different novels during my more than 6 years of Nanowrimo. Here’s a snapshot.
As you can see, some of my novels are on there twice as “rewrite”, “part 2”, or “final”, which means it has taken more than 1 Nanowrimo to complete them. The other two that I wrote to completion, Love in the Time of Zombies and Sparks only got 1 Nano each, but they still needed to be finished after the month was over.
Now, this is not a bad thing…especially if you’re writing a genre that typically goes to the 90-100k+ range like sci-fi or epic fantasy. However, my beef with this is that many promising writers abandon their ½ finished novel once Nanowrimo is done, never to revisit it. If you’re writing for yourself, that’s one thing, but if you’re writing to have a novel done then you are doing yourself a disservice.
This is another reason why the “kill yourself during November then writing nothing in December” is bad. You get out of the habit. You forget about your story. Your writing muscle starts to atrophy. It’s OK to give yourself a few days off after completing Nano, but I really STRONGLY suggest getting back to it during the holidays. I know they can get crazy but try to do a little. Maybe edit some of what you’ve already written if you find yourself too distracted to write. Or listen to a writing podcast or YouTube video. Or read! Again…READING HELPS!
But please, for the love of Brandon Sanderson, don’t leave your half finished baby out in the cold!! I mean, you wouldn’t serve your family a ½ cooked turkey, would you (gross)?
TLDR version: Finish yo’ novel!
I just wanna see if I can do it
Last but not least, I want to address the “accomplishment” feeling. I felt like it’s worth including especially because you’re all probably thinking, “Wow, Lyndsie is a total Nanowrimo grinch. Why does she even do it?”).
So, you wanna see if you could do it…and you did it! YAY! Completing Nanowrimo is not a small feat, regardless of what I feel. I remember the first time I made the commitment. It was 2008, I was in my final year of Grad School at CU and had wanted to do Nanowrimo for years, but was always too afraid. I don’t know if it was just because I’d been in academia for too many years and needed a creative outlet that wasn’t research, or if nearing the end of my college career got me panicking that I’d never be a writer if I didn’t start, but I finally bit the bullet and decided to do it.
I’ve always written, but most of the time it was as an escape from real-life. I never intended it to go anywhere. Yet, as I was earning my degree in Linguistics, I realized that I still had stories to tell and if I didn’t get them out of me, I would go crazy. So, even though I had final papers and tests (mind you, the semester ended like December 6th), I wrote Sparks, a magic school-ish story involving fractal worlds and interdimensional travel. That novel is finished and maybe someday I’ll go back to do something with it, but it was definitely an incredible feeling to survive Nano and grad school (and not fail out!) with 50k+ words under my belt.
So, please don’t think that completing Nanowrimo is not an accomplishment (Lyndsie). It totally is! And now that you have done it, you know you can do more! Like finishing your novel (another great feeling, but more on that later).
Remember: Keep reading! Keep learning! And, most importantly…keep writing!
I believe in you. <3
(Also, I should note that, before this note, this article was 1667 words…the standard amount you should write per day during NANOWRIMO. I guess it’s hardwired in me now!)