I can’t win NaNoWriMo (why I’m doing it anyway)

I recently read an awesome blog post by fellow YA writer and blogger Aubrey Cann, entitled “My failed romance with NaNoWriMo.” The post is almost a year old now, but it’s literally so relevant to my life that I didn’t even realize that it was a year old until just now. When I checked. Because I do my research. Obviously.

NaNoWriMo NovemberIf you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, my guess is you either a.) don’t write novels yourself, b.) don’t know any [aspiring] novelists, or c.) have been living under a rock, in which case, have no fear, I am here to do the explaining things.

NA • NO • WRI • MO (noun) — 1. Na(tional) No(vel) Wri(ting) Mo(nth); 2. an annual event in which anyone can try to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November; 3. a testament to the fact that hell exists.

In her post, Cann talks about how she’s seen NaNo work wonders for some writers, but it’s simply not for her. In her defense, NaNo does tend to work best for people who have that magical ability to turn off their inner editor, be okay with flying by the seat of their pants, and not touch that delete button ever in order to hit 1,667 words per day (if you don’t speak wordcountese, that’s approximately five to six double-spaced pages). Not all of us are like that.

What happened to Cann? She tried to have a life.

HORRORS. What a thing to do, in the middle of a perfectly nice November.

I have participated in two NaNos so far in my life. They resulted in posts like this “NaNoWriMo: Destroyer of My Soul,” in which I may have had a mental breakdown and used a lot of animated Disney gifs for no reason whatsoever.

In neither NaNo did I even come remotely close to hitting 50K words. The highest wordcount I’ve ever gotten in a NaNo was 16,593 last year, and that’s because I used NaNo to finish my first draft of Privateer

I actually hate NaNo. I really do. It goes against every instinct I’ve developed as a writer, and it makes me stressed and aggravated and likely unpleasant to be around. I’m not a pantser—I’m a planner. I have college to focus on. I have a blog to maintain. I’ve got STUFF TO DO.

But what I’ve found in the past few years that I’ve done NaNo is that it forces me to write every day, which is something that I’ve not been doing lately—something that I often forget to do once the school year starts again. More than that, NaNo forces A LOT OF PEOPLE to write every day. And then complain about it to each other. And that’s why I keep doing NaNo, honestly. For the collective complaining.

I love writing, but it can be such a solitary sport. I work best when I’m alone in my room with my headphones in with the door closed in the middle of the night (and over here we have a Sam, practicing her run-on sentences for next month). Novelists, for the most part, do the initial work alone. And it can get lonely and discouraging, when all the company you have is your shoulder devil, who’s telling you how much your WIP sucks.


But participating in NaNoWriMo is different—it’s a community of griping, crazy-eyed, twitchy people who maybe have never met one another, but still feel compelled to send each other words of encouragement as the days drag by. It’s something that’s not often encountered in this art form. And something I’ve learned over the years is that NaNo success doesn’t equal a shiny, new 50,000-word story on November 30th; NaNo success is writing ANYTHING. A couple of pages. A sentence a day. A dent in your fifty-page outline. That’s success. And it’s success because we MAKE it success, through our celebration of each another and our stories.

NaNo isn’t about winning. It’s about writing together. And maybe during NaNo, I hate it and myself and every idea that I have, but in the back of my mind, I know that I’m not going to be stuck in my pity party forever. Because there are people who are willing to drag me out of my pit of despair. Other WriMos who will cheer me on, just as I’m cheering them on.

And on every December 1st for the past few years, I’ve looked back and realized how much I’ve accomplished. Those words weren’t there before. They may never have existed if I hadn’t had that insane, 50K-word goal.

If not for NaNo 2011, I don’t know if I’d have dug Privateer out of my computer files and started writing it again after months of self-doubt. If not for NaNo 2012, I don’t know if I’d have gotten to the end of that first draft. If not for NaNo 2013…

At the end of next month, I’ll fill in the blank. And so will 90,000 other writers. Be one of them!

NaNo 2013 Novelists

16 days and counting! Ha-ha. Ha.

Samantha Chaffin


P.S. – If you’re going to do NaNo, too, come gripe with me. Seriously, we can gripe our way to December. It’ll be a grand old time. Add me as a writing buddy here.

P.P.S – check out Aubrey’s blog here! She’s awesome and writes about writing like an awesome person who… writes about writing… really well.


10 thoughts on “I can’t win NaNoWriMo (why I’m doing it anyway)

  1. deshipley says:

    My NaNo alter-ego is gonna add you like you’ve never been added before!
    …Actually, she’s impatient, and already added you while I was telling you about it. A woman of action, my NaNo self is. That’s why I chose her to take on my Novembers.

  2. Aubrey Cann says:

    Thanks for mentioning my blog! I’m really glad you enjoyed my NaNo post from last year. I’d forgotten about it, and I only recently reread it to remind myself why I am NOT aiming for 50k this November.

    Also, I really loved this: “And that’s why I keep doing NaNo, honestly. For the collective complaining.” I think you’re onto something.

  3. Ashlee says:

    For the collective complaining – oh, how I love it! This will be my first NaNo and I’m already complaining. One moment I’m highly optimistic and the next moment I’m convinced 50K words will be the death of me. I’ll added you to my buddy list. I’m going to need some buddies for sure. Good luck!

    • samchaffin says:

      HOORAY! 🙂 There should be an idiom that falls somewhere in between “the more the merrier” and “misery loves company” to describe my NaNo feelings. Haha good luck to you, too, Ashlee! Thanks for reading and adding me!

  4. nearlypublished says:

    You’ve totally convinced me to participate this year. I’ve been having doubts about it all year (seriously. Like I don’t have any other problems :P), but your post has made me remember just how much I love-hate NaNo. Will you be working on Cure Me?

    • samchaffin says:

      YAY!! Haha I know the feeling. And yes, I will be working on Cure Me. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever started a new novel just for NaNo… What about you? Have you decided what you’ll work on? Maybe Balancing Act? 😀

  5. Kim says:

    I love-hate NaNo too. But to be honest, if it didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have a reason to pester my co-workers about a writing thing, haha. And I love seeing the looks on their faces when they hear about the 50k goal. Oh, NaNo, I love thee.

    Still, I’ve never won, even while doing the Camp NaNo’s in the summer. Why? Because anyone who is still in school knows how impossible that month is.

    But… I’m not in school anymore. *eyes grow as wide as saucers*

    Nope. Still not going to win. I’m sure. But maybe next year.

    I’m totally doing it this year and once I reactivate my account for another high-flying month of attacking the keyboard, I’ll send you a friend request. I’m already cheating by starting my new project this month because (no suprise) I’ve got another deadline to meet. I don’t have the luxury of waiting until November to start. That would be way too much planning for me anyway, and I’m a planner (generally. I plan the bare bones of the story, and then only plan the specifics a chapter or two ahead of where I am. Hasn’t failed me yet).

    Cheers to another fnu (insane) NaNo! I look forward to griping with you.

    • samchaffin says:

      Hahaha that’s awesome, Kim. I completely relate—most of my friends think I’m crazy. Except for my roommate, who got so into NaNo last year (although she was NOT participating) that sometimes she wouldn’t let me go to bed until I got my words in. Nice of her. 😛 Actually though, it’s great to have people around who will push you like that. And YES, the school thing! It’s crazy hard! Haha but I have faith in you! Represent for all of the working women out in the real world. 😉 Soon I’ll be joining you. And I probably still won’t win, either.

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