Welcome to the twelfth1 post of my NaNoWriMo tips series. For other tips in this series, as well as a schedule for future posts, take a look at the links below. Today’s tip and my discussion of it can be found immediately below the schedule.
Today’s post will talk about the one topic I’ve largely avoided bringing up aside from highlighting my own failures and addressing how to avoid them. It’s getting close to the end of November. Including today, you have four days left to write your NaNoWriMo story. If you’re writing based on the average pace needed to finish your NaNoWriMo project (1,666 words a day), this means that you have 6,664 words to go.
That said, if you’re on pace, this post isn’t totally meant for you. For that matter, if you’re not going to finish your story in November, but you are going to hit the 50,000 word count goal within the 30 days, this post isn’t totally for you either. That’s not to say you can’t read the post and get something out of it. If nothing else, stick around and jump in the comments and encourage others. But the post I’ll have that’s more meant for you is coming on Friday2.
This post is meant for those of you who are coming to the end of the month and are feeling disappointed, despondent, upset, overwhelmed, heartbroken, or frankly, just fucking pissed that you aren’t going to finish your NaNoWriMo novel on time. And although I mentioned a couple of posts back that this series’ post about writers’ block was the hardest one for me to write, this post likely had the most edits to it. That’s because it’s really hard to say the right thing to someone when they don’t reach a goal they really wanted to hit.
When I failed my 2012 NaNoWriMo project goal, it didn’t hit me that hard. At least, it didn’t initially. The idea floated around in my mind for weeks afterwards. While I didn’t finish writing the story in November of 2012, I did work on it regularly throughout December of 2012, as well as January through March of 2013. But then, as you’ll recall from the last post, I gave up on the story because I hated it.
November 2013 rolled around and I didn’t have any free time to do NaNoWriMo. I had just gotten a promotion at my job — one that meant I went from working 40-45 hours a week at an hourly pay to working 60-80 hours a week on salary — and my free time had vanished almost instantly. It’s also one of only two years since 2011 where I didn’t have any involvement in NaNoWriMo at all3. And it didn’t really bother me because I was so busy.
That said, November 2014 was a different story. I did have free time again, so in mid-September or so, I started making a game plan for the story I was going to write. I spent a Saturday afternoon sitting in a Panera near my apartment outlining and writing out a basic plot synopsis, all while coming up with these dramatic, vibrant characters. By the time I left, while I didn’t have a story fully modeled out, I had a great start towards it.
That’s what I’d love to tell you happened. In reality, I opened a Google Doc, wrote down two sentences or so of an idea, plus a short character description for a main character4, then played around on Sporcle for an hour or so until I went home and played video games for the rest of the day. I tried this again a handful of times more before the start of November, only to have the same end result.
I didn’t want to try writing a novel again. I mean, I did. But at the same time, in my mind at that point, I had failed with my 2012 NaNoWriMo project not once, but twice. My initial failure meant I hadn’t met my goal within the NaNoWriMo time limit. Then I had failed again because I had not only given up on my story with a few thousand words to go, I had also come to hate the story itself.
I say all of that to say that I was just looking at things the wrong way, though I didn’t recognize that at the time. Though the fact that I hadn’t finished my novel in 30 days was true, I had managed to turn out a 60,000+ word story with a complex backstory and a fairly significant amount of world building built in. The world building in particular should have been something I was incredibly proud of — even if my characters and the story itself did frustrate me — because it was a tough task that I had never attempted before when writing a story. But I was too caught up in being frustrated with failing two years prior that it kept me from even starting NaNoWriMo in 2014.
So what advice can I give to all of you from my own experiences? While my story isn’t a perfect one-to-one match, I think there’s still some key takeaways that can be made.
1. It’s Okay to Be Mad…For a Little While
If you’re mad or frustrated that you didn’t finish your story during NaNoWriMo, that’s fine. If you have frustration over not meeting your goal, that can be a great motivator towards working to meet the goal eventually, even if it’s not within that deadline. I know I’ve used my own frustrations with failing at projects to do them better the next time I attempt them (or for my next project, depending on the context of the project).
With that said, don’t dwell on your frustration for too long. If you do that, you run the risk of the spiral that I fell into myself in 2014 that I described above. At a certain point, you have to take why you’re frustrated, recognize where that frustration comes from, and make a plan to not have that failure in future attempts, be it with this story or with future shots at NaNoWriMo.
2. Focus on Your Successes
Even if you didn’t get 50,000 words written in November, how many words did you write? 25,000? 30,000? More? That’s a lot of writing! It’s a huge accomplishment to finish NaNoWriMo for sure. But it’s also a big accomplishment to dedicate part (or all) of a month to writing a story.
NaNoWriMo is supposed to be somewhat of a sprint. Authors often spend months or years writing their books. You just attempted to write a book in a single month. And while there will likely be more time you’ll invest into your story if you want to finish it or if you want to do something with it, the progress you made during NaNoWriMo is a great thing. Be proud of yourself.
3. Make a Plan For How You’ll Finish Your Story
If you do want to finish your story out, even after NaNoWriMo ends, great! I’ll be talking more about this specific point in Thursday’s post, though I do want to address for a moment in the context of not finishing your story during NaNoWriMo.
While the concept of getting your ideas on paper within the deadline of NaNoWriMo isn’t valid anymore with the end of NaNoWriMo nearing, the premise that you should get your main story on paper is still valid. Tell your story, start to finish before going back and editing it. Make sure you end your story, regardless of if you’re truly ending the story or setting up for a sequel or series. Then, chart out the steps you’ll take in the plot of your story to get you from where you are right now to that ending. Taking a little bit of time to make this structure (if you haven’t already) can help you to make sure you reach your new goal of finishing, even if it is in a different timeline than you initially planned.
4. Find Someone to Help Hold You Accountable For Your New Goal
One of the hardest thing to do when it comes to writing5 is to stick to goals you make without having some level of accountability towards reaching those goals. In an ideal situation, you’ll have someone close to you who will be willing to help you stick to those goals. If you have that, your solution is simple. Just tell your close person your goal, keep them updated, and stick with it.
That said, if you don’t have someone close to you who cares about your writing goals, this can be a little trickier of a predicament. As much of a cesspool as Twitter can be for various reasons, one of the beautiful things about Twitter is that there are ton of great writers’ groups out there (shout out to Ch21Con) that use Twitter to great effect. As I mentioned prior, resources like /r/nanowrimo on Reddit are great for this as well. You could even try asking in the comments here. If there’s a commentor that has an interest in your story, perhaps they’ll be your accountability person. I might even do it for some folks…though I admittedly can’t take everyone who reads this site. That would just be silly.
Like my NaNoWriMo tips series? Have questions for me about the topics posted daily? Do you just want to talk about your story and have nowhere else to do so? Leave a comment and join the discussion.
Support my writing on Patreon by pledging at this link.