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Five Reasons You Didn’t Fail NaNoWriMo

Short Stories by Joel RobisonSo no doubt your social media streams have been filled over the last few weeks by people celebrating their NaNoWriMo success. Undoubtedly, there’s a lot of high-fiving and statuses being liked. There’s probably even someone who already has their (unedited) masterpiece up for sale on Amazon. And whilst this can all be very exciting if you’re one of those people who made the fifty thousand word target, if you didn’t, it can grate a little and make you feel just a bit cynical about the whole process. You probably can’t help but wonder, given you can’t seem to even write fifty thousand words, if you could you ever be a professional novelist?

But you can stop with the despair and self-loathing, because whether you did two thousand or two hundred thousand words this past November, NaNoWriMo has helped you with your writing.


One of the major downfalls of many a NaNo participant is lack of planning. Or, to be more precise, the wrong sort of planning. Now you’ve had a few days to get over the initial sting of not getting to fifty thousand words, it’s a good time to look back at what planning you did and how much it benefited you.

A Thoughtful Life by Deborah DeWitPerhaps you spent a lot of time doing character bios only to find the characters morphed into something very different as you wrote. Or maybe going into NaNo knowing everything about your characters from their shoe size to the names of all their childhood friends killed the fun of discovery through writing and resulted in you getting bored. It’s possible that all those weeks of careful planning, chapter by chapter, left you so little wiggle room that you felt constrained by your own outline.

Or you might have been a person who did no planning, preferring to “wing” it and see where the story took you. Maybe this lead to days when you were clean out of ideas of what you should be writing? Or perhaps chapters where nothing happened as you tried to buy thinking time for yourself and your story by having your characters doing mundane things that did not add to the plot?

If you take a long hard look back at your planning you’ll most likely find that there were things you’d probably do differently – more planning in some areas, less planning in others. And you can take this knowledge with you going forward, having a better understanding of what level and type of preparation you need to do before embarking on another book.

Managing Your Time

Inside the Clock by Jim KayI don’t think there’s a writer out there who doesn’t wish they could manage their time better. It’s tough. And so it’s common to go into NaNoWriMo with the best of intentions only to find real life getting in the way. As much as writers would sometimes like to be locked away in an isolation chamber until such time as the novel is complete, it’s just not practical. Therefore, it’s important to get an understanding of what steals away writing time and learn to manage it better. Ask yourself whether there were times when you could have got a lot of work done. Perhaps there were less external demands on your time early in the morning than late in the evening? Or maybe the words just seemed to flow a lot better at certain times of the day?

Were there distractions that could have been avoided? Do you have a particular weakness for checking Facebook or searching for cat pictures when the writing gets tough?

Locking Out The Editor

Closed for Business by HarmonyWishesFineArtIt’s very easy to want to edit as you go. In fact, ignoring that impulse to change that broken sentence or go back and rewrite the first chapter so that you can place an important plot point is one of the most difficult skills to master. Of course, there are those writers who prefer to perfect one page before moving onto the next (Dean Koontz amongst them) but this is a conscious choice. If NaNoWriMo gives writers one thing, it’s blind panic where there just isn’t time to go back and revise. You, as a writer, might decide not to write that way but it is still a vital skill to have.

And like all skills, it takes practise. So whether you managed thirty days or just three, you got vital experience of locking out your own internal editor that can be built upon in the future.


En Plein Air by Daniel GerhartzIdentifying your own personal writing style can be difficult as a writer. It’s like being a teenager again and trying to figure out who you are. Just like your teenage years you’ll go through many phases, try out different things. Wondered if you were a natural at verbose poetic prose, or if your natural style was short, sharp and coarse? NaNoWriMo is the perfect arena for that. It’s quite possible that the answer to these experiments is a resounding no. But the fact you tried something a little different, stepped outside your comfort zone for a while, should be seen as a greater positive than winning NaNoWriMo.

The more you write the more you’ll find your natural style and rhythm. Sometimes those experiments will turn into dead end alleys but you can’t ever get success without trying them. Maybe next time you’ll strike gold!

Writing As A Habit

Imagination by kelleybean86Any successful writer will tell you that books don’t write themselves, that they are an arduous process of writing words day after day. It’s a habit you have to learn if you want to be a professional. If you managed to write every day for the whole thirty days that should be seen as a massive accomplishment even if you failed to reach the target word count required each day. But even if you only managed to write a few days in succession before falling off the NaNo wagon, it’s something you can build upon in the future. Habits are built with continual practise and you can’t expect to pick them up first time round.

Remember that fifty thousand words in a month is a tall order, even for some professional authors. But, if you can get into the habit of writing every day, even if it’s only five hundred words, it soon mounts up.

Hopefully you’ll now see that even if you didn’t manage fifty thousand words in November, NaNoWriMo gave you valuable experience. You should now have a better idea of your own writing processes that you can hone and develop ready for next year.

Title image by Joel Robison.



  1. Avatar jeff says:

    I participated in NaNoWriMo and hit about 22k words. I don’t consider that a failure – but not for any of the above reasons – although the reasons stated are valid. I wrote 3 times more than I did last time, so it’s a progression. And sometimes it’s not meant to be – people can have personal issues (or family issues like I did) that don’t allow you to finish till they get worked out.

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