Home > Writing > Anatomy of a NaNoWriMo failure

Anatomy of a NaNoWriMo failure

November 21, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Last year, during the month of November, I participated in my first every NaNoWriMo. Basically, it is as it likes to claim, “thirty days of literary abandon”. During those thirty days of last November, I managed to write just over fifty thousand words of a novel that currently sits at just under one hundred thousand words. It will likely end up at around one hundred twenty thousand words. The experience was amazing. For almost an entire month, I felt like I was pumped up on writing adrenaline. By the time I was done, I hit my goal, and felt absolutely fantastic.

Now, fast forward a year. It’s NaNoWriMo 2011. The month preceding the craziness of NaNoWriMo, which should have been filled with excitement and anticipation, was instead consumed by indecision, anxiety, and dread. Up until the last minute, I’d not even decided which of the five story ideas I’d been tossing around I was going to choose for the November marathon. Not good, and definitely not good for boosting ones confidence before taking on such a monumental task. Unable to make a firm decision, I basically wimped out. Here’s how.

For NaNoWriMo, I decided to take an old story, for which I’d written about sixty thousand words, and add on another fifty thousand. The two together would probably have just about finished the book. While not what I’d originally wanted to do (I really wanted to write something from scratch), it was still something reasonable to attempt. I thought that having something already in progress would make it easier to jump in and start banging away at the keys. Makes sense, right? Au contraire.

It was bad enough I was already feeling disorganized and highly unprepared. After making the choice of what to write, I suddenly found myself buried neck deep in a story about which I’d done practically no thinking prior to November. And to top it all off the original work was written in a haphazard manner and contained several parts which were supposed to, when taken together, form a nice, unified whole. However, I discovered that I had discrete sections of a book for which no connections could be made, nor any semblance of a reasonable story that could take off from what I’d already written. It was a complete and total disaster.

I have since reluctantly given up on this year’s effort and resigned myself to using it as a perfect example of what not to do next year. I know now that I must take at least the month of October to think about what I want to write in November, and I need to make a final decision on a story prior to November 1st. I also need to have a solid outline (either mental or written) so that I can begin typing on November 1st without immediately becoming lost in a cloud of confusion (which I did this year).

So until November of 2012 and the next NaNoWriMo, I will return to the novel I started last year and I’ll continue working on tying together the pieces of the novel I was going to work on this year. With a little luck, by next year at this time, I could have two novels completed. Or, with not so much luck, I could still be buried in a literary quagmire. Let’s hope for the former.


Categories: Writing
  1. Erin
    November 21, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    So bummed that you had a bad experience this month. But you know, you don’t HAVE to wait until next November, you could have a February writing month. That would give you a few months to plan, finish the holidays and your birthday. I’m just saying, to limit yourself.

    • November 29, 2011 at 5:43 am

      Why Erin, that’s actually a very good idea. I hadn’t thought of that. I think February just might work for my non-November version of NaNoWriMo. I guess it would be NaFebWriMo, though. Right?

  2. Jon Pagan
    November 24, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    I count the effort as a win! Th fact that youve tried back to back is impressive. I had one successful script frenzy and have been too chicken to try again for fear of not completing it.

    Either way, Im excited to read the finished novel when it’s done! Are you planning on publishing it through Amazon or the like?

    • November 29, 2011 at 5:46 am

      Thanks for the kind words and encouragement. My plan now is to flip back and forth between the one I wrote last year and the one I was going to rewrite and add to this year. If I get hung up on either one, why I’ll just have to write a short story or two 🙂

      One day when your life slows down, you’ll have to jump in and try another Script Frenzy. They are wild experiences, but fun. That is, of course, unless you shoot yourself in the foot like I did before this NaNoWriMo 😦

  3. Tara
    November 25, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    I feel your pain. At first I thought my brilliant idea of the revision/rewrite was a really bad idea, especially since I’d just finished a revision of another novel a week before November, and didn’t even think about the new/old characters or story until Nov 1. I think it’s actually harder to do what you or I attempted than to do a completely new idea in a month. And though I’m not an outliner nor even much of a planner, thinking about the story for at least a few days beforehand really does help! So are you going to try and fix the novel outside of the November challenge? I know how hard it is to give up on an idea. Other than my 2005 novel, I’m still working on every single one of my NaNo novels (six in all). I refuse to accept defeat. 😉

    • November 29, 2011 at 5:52 am

      Yeah, funny how something can seem like such a good idea at first, but then totally fall apart before you know it. I’ll chalk it up to a lesson learned. I blew it on several fronts. Now that I’ve made those mistakes, I won’t be repeating them.

      I’ve really enjoyed going back over the older novel and re-familiarizing myself with it. It’s like an old friend, you know? Interesting, too, that as I read through parts of it I found myself thinking, “Wow, that was pretty good.” Of course, that was usually followed by a, “Wow, that was really bad.” 🙂

      Thanks for the encouragement. I fully expect next November to go much better than this one. Of course, it couldn’t really go any worse, could it? 🙂 In between now and then, I’ve got two stories underway that can keep me very busy.

      Congratulations on your NaNoWriMo victory!

  4. December 9, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    Hi Dave. I got your e-mail about the Mistletoad on my blog. I got that thing back when I was either in junior high or high school in the mid to late ’80s so I can’t exactly remember where I bought him. I think it was Hallmark but don’t hold me to that.

    Good luck on your MistleToad quest and have a very Merry Christmas!

    Ann-Marie (from Devil’s Starchy Fingers)

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