Why I Failed NaNoWriMo 2016

So NaNoWriMo 2016 started and ended at around 500 words, which is a shame. I was excited about the plot, the characters and plumbing the Lovecraftian mythos that I set in rural Victoria, present day, but I just couldn’t hit the daily deadlines to do the challenge justice. Even though I have officially thrown in the towel for NaNoWriMo 2016 I’d like to share my thoughts on what I have learnt about this experience and how it can help me, and perhaps you, become a more focused, disciplined writer.

There’s a complete novel on the other side …

Full-Time Employment

So what happened mister professional writer? Well, that’s just one of the many challenges that prevented me from completing a wording marathon: work. To be precise: paid work prevented me from devoting time to my personal creative projects. As a consumer and cog in the capitalist machine, I need to generate wealth to keep myself and my family sheltered and fed. Money, sadly, is what gets in the way.

And bling-bling is one hell of a motivator. Literally days after starting NaNoWriMo, my workload increased, more freelance ghostwriting opportunities came up and I would be a fool to ignore any paid gig that involves writing.

My solution here is to manage realistic expectations. November is a shit month to abandon everything to transcribe my stream of consciousness. When I’m due for my next holiday, that might be a more appropriate time to attempt a 50K novel in under four weeks.

Time Out

As a full-time copywriter, I also need a break from writing. I enjoy spending time with my wife and daughter and my eyeballs often crave the immaculate visuals of Battlefield 1.

Everyone needs a respite from their day-to-day grind. And your body will tell you when it needs time out. Too many late nights and you’ll slow down. Soon you’ll be over-caffeinating and you’ll swear that the zebra on your mug just winked at you.

You can’t perform at your best when your body is at its worst so take care of yourself.

Set Small Goals

When you look at an enormous number like 50,000 words it can seem like an impossible endeavour if you’re not in the habit of writing for yourself every day. Well, of course it’s a tough task if you think you can bang out the words here and there and hope for the best. Break up that primary objective into a string of smaller, more manageable chunks.

Instead of being paralysed at the thought of tackling an epic project you’re now thinking about a series of deadlines. It’s all about time management and understanding your own output.

Quality Over Quantity

In that mad rush to reach your word count you have to sacrifice attention to detail, consistency, logic and a lot of other important things. Getting that first rough draft done is what NaNoWriMo is all about but you don’t want to be editing a document that can’t be salvaged.

You can avoid major plot holes, character motivation issues and other narrative-destroying errors by planning ahead. Develop your main characters and create profiles for them; brainstorm the setting; list each chapter and what you want to achieve in each scene. Sure, it won’t be perfect and you may even go off course but if you have some direction in mind then you’ll most likely end up with some prose that won’t need to be put out to pasture when all is done.

Keep Writing

Don’t let failure stop you from writing. I have failed every NaNoWriMo attempt because I never reach the 50K target. Next time I attempt this challenge I’ll choose a quieter month, take advantage of annual leave to manage my time better, take breaks when I need them, stick to a series of smaller goals rather than just think about the target and ensure that I’ve planned enough to keep the story from becoming a mess. I swear the zebra just winked at me again.


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