No Go Nanowrimo: Should You Feel Bad About Not Finishing?

Well whoop-de-doo. Get out.

Another National Novel Writing Month has come and gone. Maybe you pushed through and collected your intangible little badge. (I did. Nary a free drink nor swooning supermodel in sight so far. I have been lied to.) Maybe life got in your way and you got distracted. Maybe you stopped caring about your book. Maybe you just stopped feeling like writing. Maybe space chimps replaced your brains with Captain Crunch and you liked it. Life rolls on.

So let’s say you didn’t finish Nanowrimo this year. Should you feel bad about that?

Yeah, I think maybe you should.

Bear with me.

About two-thirds of the way through this year’s Nano, I struggled a lot — as I do pretty much every year. (November really is a terrible month for a project like this, especially if you’re not used to daily output. Newcomers to Nanowrimo invariably discover this with keen astonishment, many of them waiting for that mythical “better month” when, presumably, life will stop happening.)

I was way behind. I disliked my story. Other time obligations intruded. I lost sleep. My fingers hurt. Walking Dead was on. And so forth.

A couple of friends tried to cheer me up. Hey, if you don’t make it, that’ll be okay, they said. You can just pick it up in December, champ. No big deal.

Only it was a big deal, and it took me a little while to parse out why attempts to comfort me and let me off the hook only aggravated me further. And then it hit me.

If you didn’t make Nanowrimo, and you’re unhappy about that, then it means you were serious. Or, at least, you wanted to be serious.

And if you fell short of your goal and didn’t feel the slightest bit bad, then maybe what you were doing didn’t mean much to you in the first place.

This is true of everything in life, not just writing. There’s nothing wrong with feeling bad about missing the mark you were shooting for — as long as you get back up and try again. Reams of cliched platitudes have been built on this fundamental principle.

Yes, Nanowrimo is a big, frantic communal goal, and falling short, especially when you see other people go racing past you, can hurt. But don’t lose sight of why it hurts — because, presumably, you really want to write.

Don’t let that disappointment turn into something bigger than it is. It’s not a sign you “don’t have what it takes.” It’s not a soul-crushing insight on your total lack of character. Don’t start playing Pink Floyd’s “Time” over and over while squinting into the middle distance and crying. I said stop it.

Now, maybe Nano didn’t work out for you and you feel just fine about it. That’s cool too. It can be a sign you’re not serious, but that’s not necessarily the case. Plenty of writers start out with Nanowrimo and reject it without blinking an eye. Not a thing wrong with that, as long as you replace it with a process that gets your ass in the chair and words on the page. Whatever works, as long as it works.

But if you find yourself feeling crushed by this year’s Nanowrimo — take your time. Get a little sad about it. Get mad at yourself if you want to. It’s okay. Work through it.

Feel better?

Cool. Now get back to writing.

  • CONGRATS on the WIN! I myself feel bad I didn’t do more but I also feel like a super WINNER even with out the winner badge with how much I accomplished! It was a wonderful month, and I am glad you enjoyed it as much as I did!

    • I just read your blog entry — sounds like you did great all around! And thanks.

  • I love your blog Daniel. Love it! I was having withdrawals and feel alllll better now. 😉 I do however, have Captain Crunch for brains and feel life has a tasty outlook for it. P.S. Send milk.

    • Milk is on the way. Sorry, 1% is all I have. (Insert timely “I am the 1%” joke here)

      Thanks for the kind words. This made my day. 🙂

  • This post in four words: “Somebody call the WAAAAAAAAHHHHmbulance!”

    Which is to say, I loved this post. And congratulations on finishing your novel. E-mail me a copy when you have the time. I’d love to read it.

    • It still needs some work, but you’re at the top of the list. I’m looking forward to having you read it. A lot.

  • Firstly, congrats on reaching 50k! That’s fantastic!

    Second, this is a great post. I didn’t do NaNo so I can’t quite relate it to my own experience, however I think you have a great point–if you care about wanting to complete NaNo, chances are it’s because you really want to write, or perhaps better said, you really want to have written. It’s certainly not always an easy thing and we don’t always complete our goals, but that’s not the point–the point is that you keep writing anyway.

    • Thanks!

      Yeah, there have been a couple of times when I’ve really beaten myself up over not meeting a goal, and it took me a while to make those negative feelings productive. I think it’s one of the most important lessons we can learn as writers.

      • I think we all have a tendency to beat ourselves up over not meeting goals (especially if you’re a goal-oriented person like *cough* me), but it’s good to remember that any progress we make is progress. That’s something I learned from #wordmongering. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Spot on. That is all for now. Thank you. 🙂

  • Excellent blog post; very reassuring for those who didn’t make it. I was nearly one of them! I like the way you look at it; if you’re gutted enough with the “failure” it can only strengthen your resolve to get it done next time, or to make a fresh goal.

    I have to admit, every time I saw a tweet or post about why someone was pulling out of the competition, my heart was a wee bit sore for them. ‘Cos I know that would have been me only two or three years ago, if I’d tried it back then.

    I think the main thing that got me through NaNo this year is due to me being a stubborn auld boot who doesn’t deal with failure very well. So, to anyone who didn’t complete NaNo this year: be comforted in the fact you aren’t as sour as I am (yet) haha 🙂

  • Hey Daniel, enjoyed reading your above post-NaNoWriMo article. Here’s my version:
    “NaNoWriMo 2011 Winner — not word count-wise, but in far more far-reaching ways”