NaNoWriMo – Friend or Foe?

I wasn’t going to do NaNoWriMo this year.  I didn’t think I could find the time to write and in fact, I had been feeling kind of anti-NaNoWriMo. 

2015 was the first year I did it and there were pretty intense emotional highs and lows. 

I started my first novel, finally!  I got 30,000 words into it.  I was actually putting my story down on the page.  That part was thrilling!


My stats

But I “lost,” by a longshot, and I don’t handle not reaching my goals well.  30,000 out of the 50,000 word goal made me kind of crazy. Watching the bars on my chart not meeting up to where they were supposed to be, I hated that. I am too much of a self-critic to be able to handle falling behind like that.  I would try to make myself feel better about it by telling myself it was an arbitrary goal and didn’t ultimately matter, but then I would get mad and rebel and not write anything for a few days. That doesn’t exactly help with progress.  So then I would try to write some more, but despair about how far behind I was getting whether I was writing or rebelling.  Ugh.  

So yes I got some of my book written and I’m super thankful and happy about that, but it also made me really hard on myself, and that’s not terribly healthy.


camp nano

The other thing I don’t really understand about Nanowrimo is the whole “community” aspect.  I tried doing Camp Nano in July last year.  I had high hopes that I would get some more done and I wanted to dive into the community spirit of it since the rules are a little less stringent during Camp Nano.  But I found myself feeling quite lonely and left out as the people in my “cabin” already knew each other and so they mostly talked only with one another.  There were constant conversations and back-and-forth in the message board and yet rarely would anyone respond to me when I posted comments.  It didn’t feel good.  It felt like real camp and there are too many of us who know what it’s like to not be the popular girl at camp.  I had thought maybe the writers’ community would be different… 

So I was very disappointed in both the experience and my expectations for a community I thought was off-the-wall enough, forward-thinking enough, to not be like that.  So the camp experience and the seeming inability to keep up, especially when faced with the updates by other writers (“I got 5000 words done in the last 20 minutes ! yay me! This is my 16th novel!  Who wants to word Sprint, right now, GO!) were disheartening to me.

This year I wasn’t even tempted to try. I have a seven-month-old who very rarely lets me use both hands at the same time.  When she does, I have other things I need to be doing with those hands – dishes, laundry, shower, etc.   Because of my new stay home mom status, this fall I also started using Twitter more.  I got on it for updates about the world because I am pretty isolated beyond the occasional “good morning” over coffee in my new town.  Of course I couldn’t help myself from adding several writers and writing websites etc. to my Twitter timeline. (I’ll get into the whole social-media-writers-community thing in another post), but suffice it to say for now everyone, I mean everyone, was talking about Nanowrimo even if they were talking about why they couldn’t participate.  I felt a twinge, a twinge of missing out, of missing my book and my characters, of feeling unproductive, useless.



On November 1, I came up with an idea of how I could try to get some writing done, despite the lack of hands free time, tested it out in the morning and signed up for Nano in the afternoon.  I told myself that I would join the “rebels” of Nano, thereby allowing myself to continue my novel-in-progress (I had no interest in starting something new with my beloved adventure story only partly completed) and working towards a more manageable goal.  I promised myself that I would keep my eyes on my 20K word goal and NOT be pressured by that d@mn bar chart.

Skipping ahead (I’ll talk about my writing process in the next post), three days left to go in November I reached 50,000 words.  I won NaNoWriMo.  I won NanNoWriMo and I finished my novel.**   And I didn’t have anyone to tell.

The weather was lovely, so  I bought myself a fancy coffee, but I got a day old pastry, compromising between celebration and budget (wrong choice) and the baby was too restless to let me sit in the sun and enjoy either of them. So we walked home and went on with our day.  I blasted out a few text messages, but nothing more.  I validated my word count on the Nano site and got an email confirming I was a “superhero,”  but then I never went back.   I had reached my goal and I was busy, hands full, both of them so I didn’t even see at the end there where the writers’ community would supposedly be celebrating? I didn’t know.  I assumed something would happen at the end of the month, but I didn’t have time to log in and check or participate, so I really have no idea.   I felt (still feel) really really good, but the feeling was and is sort of just sitting there inside me and I don’t know what to do with it.

In the first few days of December, only one or two people I  knew ever mentioned my win to me again after those reply texts (what is there to say really anyway I guess…) and on Instagram and Twitter many writers were posting about how they “failed” and how disappointed in themselves they were.  It made me sad.  I was sad for me and my effort and accomplishment with a total let down of expectations after succeeding.  I don’t even really know what I was expecting, but Nano builds the “win” up so much that you can’t help but get swept along.  And I was sad for all the writers out there labeling themselves and feeling like failures for not garnering the completely arbitrary “Win.”

I suppose nano is a good challenge, and maybe people write real books that really get published, and I am thrilled I am close to a first draft because I participated.

However, when no novel is really just 50, 000 words long, when “successful” writers’ advice is to just spew out words with little care as to their quality (shovel sand, vomit up a first draft, edit later!), when poking inherently self-criticising people with a 50,000 ton stick, and when providing only a temporary and essentially “cool kids only” community feeling, is NaNoWriMo really the Big Bright Shiny it’s purported to be?