NaNoWriMo (or ‘Nano’ as it is more commonly known) definitely isn’t for everyone. To write 50,000 words in one month is hard for most, especially those with full time jobs, studies, school or just the general stresses of life, but it is still a fun and motivating challenge to take up every now and then. Right? For some, having a set goal of words to write for a month is encouraging and helpful to keep them on track, but for others, it is a looming dread that becomes more and more impossible as time goes on.
Of course, I’m not here to bash on Nano, or anyone who tries it. It really can be helpful to get writers to streamline their writing and focus on a solid goal, or start their novel/writing project. I personally know how rewarding it feels to accomplish this goal, and even to those who fail the challenge, there is still a great accomplishment in adding even a single word to your manuscript. After all, you’d still be one word closer to finishing your masterpiece.
So, now to the meat of the problem; if I have so many good things to say about Nano, why am I here complaining now? Well, to put it simply, the pressures of Nano left me in a very bad creative slump.
Let’s flash back to the summer of 2020. The world had gone into quarantine, everyone was stuck at home, and I had just begun to circle around the writing world of Instagram. I slowly introduced myself to the writing community, and became familiar with new terminologies, concepts and tips. This eventually led to my discovery of NaNoWriMo. I had never heard of it before, in fact, I had never really paid attention to word counts before. The most I would do was make sure each chapter I wrote was around 2000 (on average) before I moved on to the next chapter (and eventually stopped writing the book but that’s a story for another day).
Nano was the first thing that really introduced me to the concept of word counts. Beforehand, it had never occurred to me that when writing, I had to write a specific amount of words to make significant progress with my story, or that I had to aim for a certain word count for my novel to be considered complete. It was around this time that I realized that a lot of the ‘books’ I had finished before were more novellas than novels, and I slowly began to feel disappointed with my small word counts and ‘slow’ writing pace.
Maybe it was kind of ridiculous that I hadn’t realized it before, but writing (although important to me) was more of a recreational hobby than something I had to be analytic or calculated about, so all these new things suddenly being introduced to me was a lot to handle at once. I didn’t let it discourage me though, and I decided to take on an early Camp Nano in June with some friends.
If I didn’t write fast enough, then I’d prove to myself that I could write fast. If 50,000 words was the average length of a book, then I’d surely get there. And I did! But it was a bad idea for me in the long run.
Writing everyday consistently wasn’t something I did very often. I never had a set writing schedule; I just wrote whenever I felt like it, or if I had something passionate to work on. So that was already draining in of itself - not to mention that the only reason I could write everyday was because my school schedule got completely destroyed thanks to COVID. I do admit that the only thing that really gets me going once I start a story is just owriting it, but writing wasn’t the problem here. It was the pressure of getting to that word count.
I would write for a bit everyday, and if I hadn’t written the required 1,300 words per day, I’d force myself to write more, and if I didn’t, it just added more work for the next day. I didn’t really get to think through plot lines and structure in my story, because I was so focused on writing, and thinking back there were a lot of things I was unsure about that I wrote about anyways because I needed the word count. I skipped scenes, didn’t flesh out my characters as much as I could, and put all my attention into writing. Finally, on the last day of the challenge, I had about 39,000 words, so I spent the entire day writing, hoping to get to that 50k word count.
With a little bit of cheating (I took a scene that I had written separately a while back), I actually managed to get to 50,000 words, minutes before 12am. It wasn’t a complete ‘fair-and-square’ win, but the fact was I had gotten my manuscript from 6k to 50k (and then some) in the span of a month. I had never written that much for a novel before. It was an absolutely incredible feeling, and I’m not sure why I never bragged about it more. But then came the after effects.
I never realized how drained I was until it was time to write my novel again. First off, the happiness that came with completing the challenge was short lived due to the fact that my story was far from done. I thought that after reaching the word count I’d have a finished novel, but of course that wasn’t the case. I was only three days into the nine that my story was supposed to take place over, and now I had to tackle the rest without the added help of a deadline or word count. Without a clear goal in mind, and the desperate break I wanted after writing nearly 10,000 words in one day, I took a break from it. It is now November of 2021, and I am still taking ‘a break’ from that novel. Sure, I did go back to it and eventually add a bit more to it, but all in all I became exhausted from all the work I did on it, and got tired of the story.
In November of 2020, I tried to start Nano again with a new novel which, you guessed it, I am now taking a break from, after getting about 16k words in. I thought that after a while, I’d get back into the groove of writing, but now whenever I think of novel writing, word counts and deadlines and absolutes are brought into the equation. Essentially, I cannot break free of the pressure Nano had given me. It put me into a writing slump that I am yet to fully recover from, and has made the thought of finishing a book a very distant thought to me.
Right now, I haven’t been writing much at all lately, but I’m slowly getting back into short story writing, poetry and finding a new found love with micro fiction. The more that I actually finish the projects I start (regardless of how short they are), the more I begin to feel confident in my writing.
Nano is a big commitment, so it doesn’t hurt to be prepared or to (at least) have a plan in mind so that it won’t completely burn you out. Remember that overall word counts don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, and that it’s individual words that are important. Whether your story is only 3,000 words, 10,000 words or 100,000, as long as you're happy with it, the word count couldn’t matter less. My main problem was comparing my work with an imaginary standard I thought it had to be at, and I’m slowly overcoming this. This definitely isn’t the end of my writing journey, or my novel writing career (if you could call it that), and I only ask you to take care of yourself while you go through Nano. Drink lots of water, take lots of breaks, don’t force creativity and always, always know that even if you don’t reach the 50k word goal, you’re making incredible progress.
Maybe try doing a mini nano, with a 10k goal instead. Start small and grow bigger.
Good luck with the last stretch of Nano!