I Won NaNoWriMo and This is Why I’ll Never Do it Again

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, happens every November and participants set a word count goal (usually 50,000 words) and try to reach it in 30 days. 50k words in 30 days doesn’t sound like much, especially to some writers, until you actually go to write it.

I’d made three previous attempts at NaNoWriMo, once in 2013, in 2017, and one last time in 2018, but each time I’d failed to even make it past 15,000 words. I figured I just didn’t have some key writing component in my brain to actually crank out that many words in such a short amount of time. I’d even written about how I was never going to do NaNoWriMo again.

But, something just happened this year. I was feeling stuck on the book I’m revising and needed something to distract me, so I could reignite some writing fuel for that. Plus, I’d had this idea bouncing around in my brain. So, I thought, why not give myself a little challenge and actually beat the NaNo slump.

That’s what I did. I made a fairly detailed outline (though, some parts were more helpful than others) and I girded myself to begin a gigantic writing adventure in November.

Thus, November 30th 2020, I finally hit 50,000 words and finally won at NaNoWriMo. But, I knew by the end of the month that this was my very last NaNo. Here’s why:

I’m a chronic underwriter

Writers seem to fall into two camps; you’re either an overwriter or an underwriter. The labels are fairly self-explanatory, but both have their pros and cons.

Being an underwriter means that my first drafts are basically the skeleton of the story or the foundation. All the main plot points and characters are there, but that’s about it. Through the editing and revising process, the story grows and develops as layers are added on and on. Actually, a lot of my best plot points are developed later into my process.

But, this means that trying to write a very specific amount is difficult for me. My writing is fairly terse and to-the-point as it is, and I’m not one to ramble on. For example, the first draft of the novel I’m revising was under 40,000 words.

Writing a 50,000-word draft in 30 days? Phew.

But, that was part of why I did this. It was supposed to be a challenge; something to get me to practice letting myself ramble a little, especially in the first draft. And I think it did that, but it was also a terrible slog.

Word counts kill my creativity

Most of the time, I was so worried about making sure I hit my daily word count, that I didn’t really have a chance to connect with my characters, the story, and setting the way I’m used to when I really take the time to get into it. By the end, I felt like I had this completely superficial meaningless draft where I felt like I barely knew what was going on anyway. It wasn’t total trash, but I hadn’t connected to it.

My current book, you know, the one I’m in the middle of revising, was written totally by hand and without any tracking of words. And I enjoyed almost every minute of it. Despite the fact that the end result was much shorter than I thought, I felt like I knew my characters and had the right atmosphere. It was a strong draft even if it was short.

Like I just mentioned, I spent so much time just cranking out words, I felt more like a word count robot than a writer. While this did get me to just write without worrying too much about quality (because a written story is better than no story) and to drag a topic out, it started to feel more mechanical than actual creativity.

30 days isn’t enough time for me

It took me just under a year to finish the first draft of my current book, which is a step up from the 2-3 years it took me to write my first book, so I’d like to be able to write a first draft faster. But, I think one month is too quick.

Almost all of my other creative pursuits, project, and hobbies (my painting, the bookstore, reading, and baking) ended up being forgotten while I was trying to write my daily word count.

For reasons previously mentioned, the daily word count was so difficult for me. Since I also have a day job, I don’t have all day to sit and write a certain amount of words. Sometimes, I didn’t have the energy either. There were days when my creative juices were simply drained and I needed a day off, but the farther I fell behind the less I had time to take breaks.

By the end of the 30 days, I’d had enough. I was frustrated with myself and with the draft. I just wanted to be done, which is not what writing should be. If I don’t enjoy the process, I better hang up my laptop right now.

I’m sure as I continue to practice writing faster, I’ll get better. But, for now, I’m going to stay far away from strict time deadlines.

None of this is meant to discount or devalue other’s NaNo experiences, though. Most writers find immense value in participating and it allows them to work on projects they need to get done and adds some outside incentive. And I’m so happy for them and their ability to write so much in so little time.

Of course, I never could’ve written anything as fast as I did without the desire to win. So, there is that.

But I think this has fully confirmed for me that I don’t need to do NaNoWriMo again. I did it, I won, I can move on with my life and write the way I need to in order to fuel my creativity.

Even though it’s not for me, that doesn’t mean it’s not an amazing annual tradition for writers and a non-profit that supports raises money for education and creativity. While I won’t be participating in another NaNo, I will continue to support the organization and my fellow writers who participate. And I will continue to be in awe of anyone who can write 50,000 or more words in 30 days.

2 thoughts on “I Won NaNoWriMo and This is Why I’ll Never Do it Again

  1. I love this post. Usually, I’m an underwriter too. There have been about two times in my writing life that I have written quickly, and one of those was followed by intense burnout.

    Kudos for handwriting one of your recent drafts! And kudos for finishing NaNo and recognizing it just isn’t for you. I was going to do it this year. Instead I got to about 20k. But, that’s better than nothing!


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