Jacquelyn Smith

Why NaNoWriMo Was a Bust for Me

This year, for the first time, I decided to try my hand at National Novel Writing Month. I had never really considered doing it before because it always seemed kind of crazy to me, but this November, I thought it might be just the push I needed, so I gave it a shot.


At this point, I want to say congrats to everyone who completed 50,000 words in 30 days. :) But as you can probably tell from the title of this blog, I was not one of those crazy/awesome people. I managed to scrape together just under 12,000 words before throwing in the towel.


Now I’ve completed three published novels, as well as another four unpublished ones, so it’s not as if I don’t know how to finish. I even wrote Storm Rider (113,000 words) in 61 straight days earlier this year, which is like doing two NaNos back to back. So what gives?


Here’s how it all went wrong:


I didn’t spend enough time planning my project.


When I write a new book or story, I like to spend a lot of time on the plotting and worldbuilding process. I want to write feeling like I’m intimately familiar with my world, its characters, and their backstories.


My decision to take part in NaNo was fairly last minute, and so was my project idea, so I wasn’t able to spend the amount of time I would have liked to flesh everything out before November 1st. I tried to write my project on the fly, but I didn’t feel confident enough in my direction to keep moving forward.



I let the rest of my life get in the way.


I knew November was going to be a tough month for me, even without NaNo. My hope was that NaNo would push me to get more writing done than I would have completed otherwise.


I’m not at the point yet where I’m making a living off my writing, so I have a day job. A few weeks ago, I also took on a new position there, which means more hours, and learning new processes. Combine that with all the stress of the approaching holidays, and some other life hiccups, and NaNo sort of fell to the wayside.


Could I have made the time to get the writing done? Probably. But my lack of initial planning made it even easier for me to let other things get in the way.



I got overwhelmed by the word count.


Crazy, right? My novels are usually 100,000 plus words long. But here’s the thing: I never write according to word count.


OK, maybe that’s not exactly true. I do check my word count periodically to see if I’m on track for my overall planned word count range (novel, novelette, etc.). But I don’t sit down and say, “I’m going to write         words today.” Instead, I break things down by chapter or scene, and forget all about the word count.


With NaNo, so much of the focus is on word count. It pretty much has to be if you want to finish on time. Not only does the official NaNo site helpfully keep you informed on how many words you need to write each day to make the deadline, but you also see constant updates from other writers on how many words they’ve completed so far, or what they’ve done that day. You can’t escape it.


I became obsessed with word count and trying to keep up, which took pretty much all the fun out of the process for me. It made my writing feel like a purely mechanical exercise.



In other words…


I did pretty much everything ass backward from the way I usually write. When I think about it that way, it’s really no wonder I didn’t finish. Why mess with what already works?


I hate to fail at anything (especially when it means failing publicly), but I think I need to chalk this one up as a learning experience. Would I try NaNo again? I’m not sure. But if I did, I would definitely need to approach it differently.


Did you participate in NaNoWriMo? What was your experience?


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2 thoughts on “Why NaNoWriMo Was a Bust for Me

  1. James Garcia Jr

    Hi, Jacqui. I applaud you for giving it your shot. You are far braver than I. I consider everyone who challenges themselves with the craziness that is NaNo as my hero. I dread November for purely selfish reasons: I miss all my pals who are holed up in their writer’s cave! 😉
    Best of luck with the changes at the “dreaded day job”, and certainly with all of your writing. *hugs*
    Have a great weekend!


    1. Jacquelyn Post author

      Thanks, Jimmy! *hugs* Sorry I haven’t seen you as much lately on Twitter with all this NaNo and day job craziness. :( I’m trying to get my balance back…

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