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  • 'Failing' at NaNoWriMo Was the Best Thing That Ever Happened to My Writing
'Failing' at NaNoWriMo Was the Best Thing That Ever Happened to My Writing
Written by
November 2010
Written by
November 2010

Tayari Jones wrote an eloquent post entitled, NaNoWriMo? It's Not For Everyone. I couldn't agree agree more.

NaNoWriMo is definitely not for everyone. Initially, I thought I was one of those people. I am a painstakingly slow writer. I labor over blog posts (which is why I've blogged sporadically, at best, over the past four years), articles written for myself, and freelance jobs I do for others. I do ridiculous amounts of research then debate with myself (or others) over one point or another.

So when I heard about NaNoWriMo several years ago I thought it was crazy. How could I possibly pump out 50,000 words in a month? Was 50,000 words really considered a novel? A month of writing with no editing? Are you serious? I can edit a single sentence three times before reaching the end of the paragraph. There was another part of me that saw NaNoWriMo as some great adventure. Besides, if thousands of other writers could do it, so could I. Could it really be that hard? Uh...yes. It was. It was much harder than I imagined. I told myself that time constraints were the issue.

The truth is: NaNoWriMo required discipline and dedication to my writing that I didn't possess at the time. So for four years I tried NaNo and 'failed.' Each time I started out the gate with a bang, but then my enthusiasm waned. Finally, last year I decided to just skip it. Why torture myself? In the spirit of NaNoWriMo I decided to do something else instead. I went back to one of my languishing NaNo WIPs and finished it.

It was the first novel I'd finished since high school. This year I went back and finished another. That's when I discovered that even when I 'failed' at NaNo, I won. My experience with NaNo taught me how I write best. I write best early in the day, as opposed to in the wee hours of the morning. I'd been operating as a pantster, but I am far more productive and efficient as a plotter, even if I just plot the next scene in my head, as opposed to creating a full outline. I was also forced to face some deep seated issues that affected my ability to write and hampered my success in other ares of life. Perfectionism, procrastination, a lack of confidence, fear of failure, and maybe even fear of success.

Discovering these issues (many of them connected) and addressing them had a noticeable impact on how I approached a project and on how I worked. The joy and simplicity of writing was restored.

I was ready to try NaNoWriMo again. This time I would approach the challenge armed with a definite plan and the determination to win. I have no illusions that I'll come out on the other side of this with a well-crafted novel. That will require painstaking editing and revision over several months. But at least the lump of clay will begin to take shape. Yet I have the comfort of knowing that even if I 'fail' at NaNo, I will still learn important lessons, gain new writing buddies, and challenge myself in ways unimagined.

Simply put, I cannot lose.

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  • Jo Anne Valentine Simson

    Brava! Persistence is a virtue. You have given me new hope for maybe finishing a novel (or three) lying around my office in fragments. One NaNoRiMo effort left me with several novel chapters but nothing coherent. Maybe I can stitch them together after I finish a current project.