On Failing NaNoWriMo

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On 31st October, some time after 9pm, I decided on an inexplicable whim to sign up for 2015’s National Novel Writing Month. I didn’t have an outline or even a tangible plot in mind beyond the shadows of an idea. I wrote about 11,000 thousand words over the first week, stumbled in the second week and never got up. I officially failed my first attempt at NaNo.

This came as no surprise to myself. After all, I’d basically walked into the desert with a glass of water and expected to last a month. The original plan had been to just write, to force the words out by any means necessary just to make the daily targets. For all my ambitions about a glitzy future in literature, I’m a tad embarrassed to admit that I’ve never actually finished writing such a long piece of work on my own. I’ve got about 20 documents saved on my laptop of stories I started one day, brimming with enthusiasm and barely able to hold all the ideas in my brain, and abandoned about 10,000 words in. It’s the same routine every single time: I get an idea, I jot down a basic premise then rush to write it in a linear fashion, fearful that the adrenaline will soon evaporate from my system. It always does; usually by the time the exciting stuff’s supposed to happen.

I’ve struggled with writing fiction for many years. I’ve never recaptured the fervent passion I had for it as a teenager, where I could feel the words pouring from my brain to my fingers with incredible ease. There’s a Word document on my old laptop that contains about 30,000 words of a YA novel I had been writing when I started university. That remains uncompleted, as expected. The words can come easily enough for the first big chunk of writing: It’s the middle bit that kills me. I usually exacerbate this problem by looking back at my first draft – which is meant to be sloppy on some level – and deciding it’s just too awful to finish.

As a reviewer and writer of general literary discussions, my best pieces tend to be written very quickly, in a rush of heightened emotion and set to an invisible deadline. Almost every post on Bibliodaze with over a thousand views was written in under an hour; some I even managed to crank out in 20 minutes. It’s this way of thinking that made me believe I could pull off NaNo, as pathetically unprepared as I was. Just get it out. But it doesn’t work that way for fiction with me. When it comes to a review or a post on a recent event in the publishing world, I don’t necessarily need a bibliography of secondary material, but there’s already a structure in place, so getting my own thoughts on the subject organized in a succinct manner is relatively easy, depending on the subject. There’s no such safety net with fiction. Even a minutely detailed plan can fall apart, at least it can for me.

I told one of my co-workers that I was taking part in NaNo this year, and she was very excited for me. She asked every day how much progress I was making and what I planned to do once I’d finished my novel, which she assured me would be brilliant. Telling her that I gave up was a surprisingly hard thing to do. She seemed more disappointed about it than I was. I shouldn’t have told her – I put enough pressure on myself as it is – but I quietly thought that outside knowledge of this project would spur me on further. I couldn’t hide behind the veil of secrecy. The frequent e-mail reminders from the NaNo board were supposed to help too. Instead, it just felt like more pressure, albeit extremely smiley-faced pressure that isn’t intended to be judgmental.

I’m not sure if I’ll sign up for NaNo next year, or if I’ll even attempt to write more fiction outside of these events. I question whether my ambition stretches that far these days, particularly as I find creative satisfaction through other outlets, such as podcasting. I’ll never write anything off, of course, but for now my pitiful attempt at National Novel Writing Month can stand as a pretty solid representation of my literary follies.

4 COMMENTS

  1. i loved reading this. sorry you didn’t finish but thank you for sharing your experience. i thought i was the only one who had 20 really good story beginnings that ended at 10000 words 🙂

  2. You may simply not be ready to write a novel yet…if you get brilliant flashes of dialogue and scenes, but are having trouble with writing a linear story, I suggest writing those scenes & saving them in a folder for that novel rather than trying to write from beginning to end. Get feedback on those scenes, because that may spark you to write more. Apps like Scrivener and Ulysses are great for writers who think in scenes (they include Diana Gabaldon, btw).

    When you have a ton of scenes for one novel, consider a developmental edit to help you pull it all together, or at least devour a few books on plotting. Does that make sense?

  3. I’ve done NaNo for about seven/eight years now, and only completed it twice. Both of those manuscripts are absolutely hideous to look at, I padded the hell out of the story to achieve the word-count and took my original ideas in directions that just… didn’t work.

    I love the idea of people coming together for a project like this and meeting likeminded writers in your local area, but NaNo so rarely works in practice. 🙁

    • Failing Nano isn’t a bad thing. I did Nano back in 2011, and I STILL haven’t finished the first draft of that novel. Nano was great for motivation, but it left me with an absolute mess – way too much padding, inconsistencies, not enough planning. Part of me wants to finish, and part of me thinks I shouldn’t bother because my story sucks . Writing 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days isn’t a realistic goal for most people.

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