Why I registered for and then gave up on NaNoWriMo

The setup for NaNoWriMo at home, if I need to ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

November: cue the sweaty palms and sleepless nights for many aspiring novelists. Because, thanks to the wonder that is the internet, everybody has been exposed to the pressure of writing 50 000 words in 30 days – the 30 days that are usually the most hectic in most industries with the holidays coming up.

For writers, editors, and publishers, November means one thing only: National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. This in turn means several other things, not limited to the afore-mentioned bodily functions and sleep deprivation.

Somewhere during October it dawned on me that NaNoWriMo with all its pressures were just around the corner, and after taking stock of my circumstances I decided that I will not register for it this year, thereby not setting myself up for failure. But then I woke on 1 November, suddenly unemployed and with #NaNoWriMo and several other hashtags relating to it in my Twitter timeline. “Oh what the hell,” I thought to myself, “I have plenty of time to do it now”.  So off I went and registered.

However, time was really all I had; no plot, no plan, no snacks. Still, later that evening I sat down and somehow managed to write a few words more than the recommended daily goal of 1 667 words. What was written on my screen was utter crap. There was less of a plot than what I had that morning, the characters were awful, and dialogue was non-existent. Well, I thought, this could be a prologue, and there’s plenty of room for character development, and off I went to bed, trying to figure out how to proceed from what I had. By the time I fell asleep I thought I had a plan.

When I woke up the next morning, I had an entirely different plan, but this one seemed better. It had a theme and while the plot was still missing, I did some research and found a few great angles to build the story around. I managed less than 1 000 words before I was reminded by my course facilitator that the new course I registered for was starting in five days, and that I should work through the introductory module by then. That meant that I didn’t have the time resource I thought I had all along.

I’m not sure if it was denial from the start, or whether I really believed that I could still make up for lost time/words when the first few days passed and I was still stuck on 971 words.

Two days ago I decided to admit defeat. I should’ve stuck to my original decision to not sign up for NaNoWriMo this year. It has been a tough one, 2012, and job hunting in the last two months of any year isn’t an easy task. I’ve had a few great interviews, but nothing’s paid off yet, and while I feel pretty relaxed about it, I suppose somewhere my subconscious isn’t convinced that I am/will be okay.

This morning I read this article, found in my Twitter timeline yet again. There are several points I agree with. If you’re going to write a book, write it; don’t wait for November and the pressure of 1 667 words a day, every day (turns out it’s way less than what a novel should be in any case). I don’t dispute that it’s good advice to write every day, but don’t put a number on it, in terms of words. If you spend your daily hour writing an outline, and not actual novel, that’s good too, because planning is important. Unless you’re Stephen King, apparently, and how I envy him for that.

It’s good to have a deadline, but don’t be too hard on yourself either. Writing a (good) novel isn’t that easy (again, except when you’re Stephen King), otherwise more people would do it. If it’s your dream to write a book, do it; if you can take time off to do it, that’s great. If not, do it when you are able to. Just don’t give up.

Write in May if you prefer the weather to November.

If you want to edit as you go along, do it, but don’t get held up by it because you’re too afraid of carrying on.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Editors will (or should, if they’re any good, in my opinion), will pick up on double spaces, grammar and spelling oopsies, etc. In any case, have a complete piece of work before you start worrying about whether or not to insert a comma in the last sentence of the second paragraph of page 389.

Most importantly (based on the focus group of me, myself, and I): don’t compare yourself to others. This is not a competition. If you have a writing group of supporters, make sure you’re all supporting each other, not competing with each other. It’s not a race, it’s your dream.

Wow, will you look at that! Over 900 words of advice from someone who can dish it out but refuses to follow it. Maybe I should write self-help rather than novels. I could be NaNoWriMo’s agony aunt!

I’ll be cheering for my friends participating in NaNoWriMo, just as much as I’m rooting for those who write all year round, despite day jobs and families. I’ll also be reading a lot, mostly Stephen King, and maybe work a bit more on the draft I carry everywhere with me (you’ve got to love the internet!).


  1. orestgtd

    Thanks for linking to my post. There’s never a good time for NaNoWriMo. Last year I thought of doing one and didn’t as I was busy in November. This year I’m even busier, but decided to jump in anyways. Good luck with your journey.

  2. stine1

    I envy everyone who at least starts and is giving it a try. I don’t even start 🙁

    Thanks for linking to me!

    • Syllable

      I don’t think it’s worthy trying if you don’t sign up with the goal to finish in mind. I also think it’s better to set your own pace than to put the pressure to perform on yourself, so don’t feel bad about it. Just don’t give up 😉

  3. Sonia G Medeiros

    I was freaking out when NaNo came around this year. I wanted to register but, then again, I didn’t. On a good day, I was getting around 500 words. But I really, really, really wanted to finish my novel-in-progress this year. At least the first draft. The pace I was working at wasn’t really working for me. I decided to go for NaNo but with a rebel status because I was continuing my novel. Halfway through NaNo, I am grateful for it. I didn’t think I’d be able to hack the daily word count but (and nobody is more surprised than me) I’ve been able to do it.

    I think you have to try different things, even if you don’t think you can and even if you end up failing. Sometimes, something will give you that unexpected boost. Of course, you shouldn’t be afraid to change tracks when something isn’t working for you either.

    Congrats on giving NaNo a shot! 😀


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