Why It’s Okay That I Quit NaNoWriMo

Photo © Alana Saltz

It looks like I won’t be finishing NaNoWriMo this year. Despite my best efforts and intentions, it just didn’t work out. I fell way behind after a deep bout of writer’s block and needed to give priority to my grad school writing project due a few days ago. And after the semester I’ve had (and the ups and downs in my personal life), I don’t want to scramble and stress to make the word count. I made it to about 22,000 words.

Although I had hoped to finish my series of NaNoWriMo posts with a happier ending, this whole process has made me think a lot about the way people view successes and failures in the writing world and beyond. I think NaNoWriMo is a good example of this.

I admire the aim of NaNo and the community surrounding the project, but I think it’s helpful to acknowledge that this kind of deadline isn’t right for everyone. Only about 80% of people who begin NaNoWriMo make it to 50,000 words. Even those who are the most determined and motivated may not be able to cross the finish line. Life gets in the way, or inspiration fizzles out, or the project hits a dead end.

So, is trying and failing better than never having committed to the project in the first place? I knew there was a good chance I wouldn’t be able to do it, but I gave it a shot. Some people may consider that a failure, but I think that’s a dangerous way to look at life. It’s the kind of thinking that keeps people from trying anything new or difficult. If you don’t try, you can’t fail, right?

People are often surprised at how adventurous I can be. My friends and family are still amazed that I applied for a last minute travel grant to go to Japan for 10 days. For someone with a life-long anxiety disorder to take a trip across the country by herself to a country where she doesn’t even speak the language is a little surprising. But I wanted to take that chance.

I tried, and I succeeded. If I had never gone for the grant, I wouldn’t have had the chance to embark on an amazing adventure that taught me how self-sufficient I really am. Sure, I got horribly lost and frightened several times during the trip, but I always found my way.

I see NaNoWriMo as being a lot like my trip to Japan. I got lost, but at least I gave it a shot. I put myself out there and took a chance. I think that alone is worth a lot. And I’ll probably even try again next year. So for everyone else who chose to try NaNoWriMo this month, I commend you on your courage, and congratulate you for participating whether you make it to 50,000 words or not.

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17 replies to “Why It’s Okay That I Quit NaNoWriMo”

  1. It’s OK that you didn’t finish NaNo – the point is that you tried, and look how much you accomplished! Even if it’s short of the goal, 22k words in less than a month is not trivial! You also deserve a lot of credit for having the courage to admit your “failure” publicly, and for recognizing that some things just can’t happen, no matter how good our intentions. So do what you need to do; the writing will always be there. And when you’re ready, you might want to check out ROW80 – “The writing challenge that knows you have a life.” It’s a fun, welcoming crowd that will be glad to cheer you on, whatever your goals!

    1. Alana says:Author

      Thanks so much for the comment, Jen! I’ve heard of ROW80 but haven’t really gotten involved. I’ll definitely check it out.

  2. Rachel says:

    I’m going to say it, listen carefully: YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE. Just because you didn’t meet a deadline does NOT MEAN YOU SUCK. I think the whole Nanowrimo thing is stupid to begin with and I don’t do it. I am a professional writer, I have made my living writing television scripts and I know how to meet a deadline. A reasonable deadline that is imposed by other people because they are going to pay me money for my words. As there is no cash prize at the end of the Nano rainbow. Fugggedaboutit. Writing is hard enough as is, adding inconsequential deadlines on top of it is not helpful. That’s my take. What I recommend you do is re-read those 20,000 words and find out if you really like what you wrote. Are you excited about your story? If so, great. Keep working on it at your own pace, at your own rate. It will reveal more to you as you keep going. You will be doing this for the rest of your life, don’t let a small speed bump stop you. In the words of Tim Gunn, “Carry on.”

    1. Alana says:Author

      Thanks for the comment, Rachel. I definitely don’t think I’m a failure. NaNoWriMo is a good idea in theory, and it works great for some people, but it’s not right for every one. I already have my grad school deadlines to keep me motivated, so I just thought it would be fun to be part of the community and maybe write a novel on the side. So yeah, I’m not discouraged at all. The point of my post was that I hope others don’t feel like a failure if they don’t finish. It’s an accomplishment no matter what. I really appreciate your words of wisdom, though!

  3. Debra Kristi says:

    I agree with Janette. I think what you did accomplish is something to be proud of. The word failure shouldn’t even be mentioned here. You did great! You got for more done on your WIP than I have manage while trying to be a mom and blog at the same time. Life if hard and sometimes we will have to make difficult choices. The important thing is you saw what you needed to do for your own sanity and you did it. I’m proud of you Alana! Chin up. 🙂

    1. Alana says:Author

      Thanks, Debra! I’m a little worried the point of my post didn’t come across. I was trying to say that I’m definitely not a failure, and neither is anyone else who tries hard but doesn’t quite succeed at something. Either way, I appreciate your comment and support!

  4. Emma Burcart says:

    I agree with you and all of the above. Writing any words at all, let alone 20k is never a failure. I don’t like the idea of NaNo, so I don’t do it, but I admire you for trying. For myself, I think paying some attention to word count in the month of November is as close to NaNo as I want to come. Thanks for telling us that giving up is not the same as failire. Sometimes you need to let go and focus on what’s important.

    1. Alana says:Author

      Thanks, Emma!

  5. Alana, ditto everything Rachel said. YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE. it’s simply a mechanism used by many people to write an entire book. who cares? I don’t. i look at the flurry around Nano and shake my head. I don’t need that kind of all or nothing mentality to finish a book, I have a life. a day job. family. grandchildren and pets. I have writing groups, social media to follow etc etc. In other words, I have a life. Writing is part of that life but it is not everything – especially not for an entire month. Which is 1/12 of a year. No way, girlfriend. I won’t even try.

    and less anyone wonder about my focus, let me say that when I was still kind of dumb about my own life, I completed 20 University courses in 22 months while working full time, commuting across Canada every week for work (mon and tues in Calgary, Wed and thurs in Toronto and Friday in Calgary again) parenting 3 teenagers, managing my husband’s business and serving as president for one organization and as a board member for another. Oh yeah, I also saw more than 90% of all my families baseball games that year. so I know how to organize myself. I know how to be focused and I am disciplined. But I’m older now and my time is valuable in a different way.

    good for you for choosing other priorities. Well done. Life happens. and you can still finish the book. just not in November.

    congratulations for making the best choice for you.

    1. Alana says:Author

      Thanks for the comment, Louise! NaNo can be unnecessarily stressful, but it does work for some people, so I still think it’s a good thing. It’s definitely not right for everyone and not worth stressing over…that’s the conclusion I came to, anyway.

  6. hang in there and don’t be discouraged. You got way further than I did. I got as far as signing up. 🙂

    1. Alana says:Author

      Thanks, Teresa!

  7. Meghan Ward says:

    Alana, I’m happy to learn about ROW80. I’d never heard of it. And I’m not a fan of Nanowrimo. I guess it’s good that it exists – it gets people writing more and talking about writing. But I did it once and found it incredibly difficult to keep up with the daily pace of 1666 words. I cheated on some days by just writing nonsense in order to make my word count. I felt desperate, not inspired. And what I did write – I think I made it to about 45,000 words – was total crap. So I wouldn’t feel bad about bowing out. And you’ve had so much on your plate this past month! Your personal life plus grad school – that’s huge. Take it easy on yourself.

    1. Alana says:Author

      Thanks, Meghan! I agree that NaNoWriMo can lead to a lot of unnecessary stress and project padding. That’s one of the reasons I decided to stop. I didn’t want to push myself to finish a broken project with stuff I’d probably need to delete later. ROW80 does seem like a better system, although I still appreciate the NaNoWriMo community and write-ins.

  8. Ellan Bethia says:

    Seems like there are a lot on people who do not like the concept of NaNoWriMo. I do, however. It does for me the very thing it proposes to do: give the unfocused writer (moi) 30 days of uninhibited noveling. Which is exactly what I use it for.

    Now, back to you and your 22K words. That’s a great success for anyone, but especially someone with a lot on their plate such as you have. I congratulate you for that (and for surviving another semester of grad school). Grad papers are like NaNoWriMos back to back. [BTW, there is a another challenge available for scholarly types: AcBoWrMo (http://www.gloriousgeneralist.com/2011/11/acbowrimo-academic-book-writing-month/) which I might try next year.]

    I, too, attempted NaNoWriMo. I was successful last year, but this year a new grandson stopped me at 28K words. I don’t care. Who who? I will certainly try NaNoWriMo or AcBoWriMo next year. Like you said, it’s the community and the challenge that make it worthwhile. I will keep working on My NaNoWriMo2011 WIP. My WIP from NaNoWriMo2010 is also on my desk for revisions. (I need to do lot of Medieval veterinary medicine research.) I love both stories, and without NaNoWriMo, I probably would not have them since I work best with externally-imposed deadlines.

    Grats again on your 22K WIP and grad school. I am curious, though. What’s your concentration at grad school?

    1. Ellan Bethia says:

      Actually, this is the correct link for AcBoWriMo:

    2. Alana says:Author

      Thanks for the comment, Ellan! I’m doing an MFA in Writing, creative nonfiction emphasis. So, I do quite a bit of writing on my own, which made doing NaNo not as important for me this year. Still, I thought it might be a good way to push myself to write more than I already do and get started on a novel as a side project. But I did get some ideas down that I may come back to later, so I’m happy I gave it a shot. Congrats on your 28K!

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