I’ve Never Won NaNoWriMo, And That’s Okay

National Novel Writing Month. It is both the bane of writers and the savior. Write the rough draft of a novel in one month, they said. It’s 100% possible, they said. It will be fun, they said. I don’t know who they are, but they’re a totally different type of person than I am.

After four years of participating, I’ve never won a single year of NaNoWriMo yet. And I’m perfectly okay with that. Sure, NaNo might have all these rules and expectations, but in the end, it’s your goals that matter, not theirs.

When Is the Best Time to Write? Write now!

My goal for NaNoWriMo has always just been to write. Almost always, NaNo has been my excuse to either finish a story I was already working on, or at least make a big dent in it. If I’d been unable to get a word down for months, November became the dedicated month to get over that.

Sure, I kept that 50k finish line in mind, too, but it was never my actual goal. NaNo and me, we don’t mix very well. The arguably biggest rule of NaNoWriMo is to never edit what you write. Just vomit out your words and worry about their quality later. If you manage to have a pile of 50k words by the end of November, maybe some of those words will be worth keeping.

This “write first, ask questions later” way of doing things is not my method at all. I’ve been writing since I was 12 years old, and the technique I’ve found that helps me feel both motivated and sure of myself is to edit as I go. If I write 3,000 words one day, the next day I will read and edit those 3,000 words before continuing. When I finish a few chapters, I will go back and edit those before starting on the next one.

This method of constantly looking back at where I’ve been helps me figure out where I’m going. As you get further into a story, the more likely you’ll leave plot holes and inconsistencies behind. I find that frequently re-reading what you have already written helps to keep your story fresh in your mind so you’re less likely to make those kinds of mistakes.

Keeping Spirits Up Even When Word Count Is Down

Re-reading also does wonders for my self esteem. One of the biggest problems I have with the no-editing style of NaNoWriMo is that my inner critic just won’t shut up. It says that if I’m not making each word the best it can be as I go then there’s no point in writing. That if I do somehow finish my novel it will be a steaming hot pile of unredeemable garbage.

If I don’t edit at least every 10k words, then my motivation grinds to a halt. I not only feel like a worthless writer, but my ideas stagnate. The finish line might still be in sight, but it is suddenly on the other side of a bottomless chasm, and I with no knowledge on how to make a bridge. 

But if I go back, reevaluate, remind myself of what I have managed to do so far, then I continue my journey. Unfortunately, this method pretty much guarantees that you won’t win NaNoWriMo. Abandoning your words behind you helps to propel you fast enough to get through the challenge in a month’s time. Adding on re-works, re-writes, and other editing slows you down to a crawl.

In the end, I would rather say that I wrote quality 20k words in one month than 50k sub-par ones.

Only You Can Set Your Own Goals

I am, without a doubt, not going to win this year’s NaNoWriMo, either, because that’s not my goal. And that’s okay. Whatever methods or techniques work for you are going to work infinitely better than what someone tells you to do. You don’t have to go by anyone’s rules but your own.

Winning or losing NaNoWriMo doesn’t matter. What does matter is how you feel about yourself when it’s all over.

And if we’re going by that measure, then I always win NaNoWriMo. Always.

-Dana Lockhart


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