I attempted to complete the Nanowrimo project twice in the last 8 years. Both of my attempts to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 day have failed.
Sure, I had lots of excuses and distractions and I did make a pretty good effort of it. In the end, I have over 25,000 words of a story that I’ve been trying to get out of me for years. But it’s still a failed attempt. And I’m OK with that.
I’m not going to beat myself up over it because I came out of the experience with a few new and reinforced ideas and tips for anyone who is thinking about doing it again next year (including myself).
- Writing is goddamn hard.
Remember that. Balancing storytelling, craft, concentration, and (in the case of Nanowrimo) a focus on writing as many words as possible in a sitting — that’s difficult work. And for the most part, when I sat down to do the balancing act for two or three-hour spurts, it worked out OK. I just needed to do more sit-down sessions.
- Writing is rewarding.
When I did it, it felt great. When I wasn’t doing it, I was thinking about it. If it hadn’t been for a few weeks of career woes in November (one of those aforementioned excuses/distractions), this positive feedback loop would have kept me at it. So, feel good about it when you’re doing it, no matter how crappy the work is.
- Know your capacity.
One of the things I was most curious about when I started the project this year was exactly how many words can I write in an hour. The last time I did Nanowrimo — back in 2002 — I used a spreadsheet to keep track of my progress and in general it took a couple hours a day to do my daily goal of 2,000 words. Being that was 8 years ago, I wondered what, if anything, had changed in that aspect. Generally, I was able to write around 1,500 words in an hour. What does that tell me? Well, when I do sit back down again and tackle the rest of this work, I should have a pretty good idea of how much of a time commitment I’m looking at it.
- Feel your story.
I say “feel” because I have a tendency to over-think my stories. It’s easy to get into “this has to happen” or my story must have such-and-such element to it. But that can end up putting the story in too tight of a box. And it can also make you inflexible and stifle your imagination. Things I was very clear about before the writing began ended up being put to the test as I started getting deeper into the story. I actually brought a dead character back to life in the middle of the story.
- When the “real world” calls, answer.
Yes, I’m disappointed that I didn’t complete the project. But I’d have been even more disappointed if I hadn’t dealt with the conflicts that arose. Maybe the most important thing I learned is that I don’t have to make my self-worth and esteem dependent on the outcome of a writing project.
Now that I look over this small list, I’m not sure how useful it will be as a set of tips for Nanowrimo, but it certainly helped me look at the bright side of failing. If I can’t learn something from my failures, well, I may as well just give up.
 I have discovered this is a useful bit of information for me. It’s often the unknown that keeps from fully committing to a project. If I tell myself, in order to finish this novel, it’s going to be X amount of hours over Y days/weeks/months, that’s the kind of data that helps my analytical side shake hands with my creative side. I need both sides to win.