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Get What You Want from NaNoWriMo – Part 2: Something to Prove

October 28, 2012

Back to Part 1: Introduction

Many participants go into National Novel Writing Month hoping to prove something, and I was no exception when I first started. This seems to take two main forms, one oriented outwards and the other, inwards.

Bragging Rights

Some people do NaNo for the ability to say, “Hey, I wrote a novel in a month–what have you done that’s half so cool?” But the desire to look good in front of other people will only take you so far. While I occasionally give in to the temptation to make use of my bragging rights, it has never been the thing motivating me, and I seriously doubt I could have gotten far if it had been. I’ve met few people who took this attitude–and fewer still who saw success with it–without some previously existing desire to write. Still, enough people are motivated by the prospect of being able to call themselves “novelists” at the end of November that it’s worth a mention.

There’s nothing wrong with trying something new to see if you can do it or to see if you like it, but if you’re in it for the fame and glory, I suggest you take a step back and a hard look at what really happens when you complete NaNoWriMo. The truth is that a few people may indeed be impressed, but most won’t give a damn unless your status as a winner comes with automatic publication credits and a cash prize.

Which it doesn’t.

What it can come with is something less impressive, but more powerful.


The word “validation” has multiple meanings in NaNoLand. In official parlance, it’s the term used for the process of submitting your manuscript on the website to have your 50,000 words verified by NaNoWriMo’s word counting machine so that you can be recognized as a winner on your profile. But for many participants, especially first-timers, it means much more.

The first year I did NaNoWriMo, I had no expectation of winning. I had never written more than 5,000 words on one story. I had never finished any story longer than two pages. At that point, I was pretty certain that I wasn’t cut out to be a writer, that I was just going to sit and daydream about my stories instead of ever putting them to paper. While I was deeply unsatisfied with the thought of all those stories sitting in my head forever and never reaching anyone else, I had all but given up on my own ability to follow through with actually writing them.

When I heard about NaNoWriMo, it seemed a little ridiculous. 50k in a month? Yeah, right. Like I could do that, after failing at so many other efforts. At the same time, I heard so much about the effects that it had on other writers–or other people who wanted to be writers–that I decided it was worth a shot.

I went into my first NaNoWriMo paying assiduous care to every rule and recommendation. I picked a story I had never attempted to write before, one I liked but wouldn’t care too much if I utterly mangled. I planned the story to fit, at my best guess, within 50,000 words. As I got into the writing, I allowed myself to go off in a direction I hadn’t planned for and give the story a different ending than I originally had in mind. I wrote every day at the same time.

On November 25th, I wrote my 50,000th word, including the words “The End.”

“Winning” NaNoWriMo was proof to myself that I could do things I hadn’t believed were possible. It proved that I could write a lot of words. It proved that I could stick to writing every day. It proved that I could write all the way through to the end of a story.

But one thing I didn’t realize for a few more years was this: while “winning” meant that I could do those things,  “losing” would not have meant that I couldn’t do them. I get the shudders when I think back and wonder if I might have given up had I not succeeded in that first attempt.

The other thing that didn’t sink in right away was that I didn’t need it to be National Novel Writing Month for me to write a novel. After I wrote “The End,” I don’t think I wrote much, if anything, until the next August, nine months later, and even then it was only because I signed up for a creative writing class. One month of intensive writing was not enough to build a sustainable writing habit. It took me a long time after to figure out how to give myself the motivation–and even permission–to write without external pressures. But doing NaNoWriMo served as a first step to launch me towards the point where I could.

If you’re planning to do NaNoWriMo for the first time this year, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Write for the words and the story, not the accolades.
  • Recognize that 50,000 words in a month really is a ridiculous goal if you haven’t already built up a strong, daily writing habit, especially if you’re responsible for school, work, and/or a family. Failing to reach a ridiculous writing goal will not make you a failure as a writer.
  • It’s okay to give yourself a break and a chance to breathe after November ends, but if you want to write seriously, don’t let that break last all the way to the next November. Give yourself smaller goals for the rest of the year to build up a more sustainable habit even if you’re not quite ready for daily writing.
  • The recommendation to start a brand new story instead of continuing an old one is meant to make the month easier, not harder. If you’re doing NaNo to prove to yourself that you can, don’t try to kick-start an old project at the same time. NaNoWriMo can be useful for that too (more on that subject later), but trying to do both is likely to overload and frustrate you.

Above all, remember that while completing NaNoWriMo can give you a sense of validation, you’ll have to learn how to find that in yourself as you continue writing the rest of the year.

Next up: Quantity Over Quality

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 28, 2012 11:59 pm

    You are getting me encouraged and inspired! My key to success this year will be that regular writing time. I can’t wait to see how much I can do — just reaching 30,000 words two years ago made me realize I can do this (writing)! Hopefully this will instill a sustainable habit. 🙂

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      October 30, 2012 8:27 pm

      Yay! You can do it! And I hope that we’ll get some chances to write together this November.


  1. Calling All Writers! « Jess Smart Smiley: the Internet Version
  2. Get What You Want from NaNoWriMo – Part 3: Quantity Over Quality « Anita M. King – Writing Window

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