On Losing NaNoWriMo (Again)

I know what you’re thinking. 

Colette! It’s November 30! You could still finish!

Y’all, I am not writing 34,285 words today. Because, yes, that’s what it would take for me to get to the minimum 50,000 words to declare myself a “winner.” Which means that even in a year when I felt more prepared, more motivated, and more excited to finally “win” NaNoWriMo for once, I wrote less than 16,000 words on my project, and most of those words I wrote in the first ten days of the month. 

Now, you may be thinking “Colette! What the hell happened?! You were so excited! You kept cheering everyone on all month long on Twitter, too!” And you’d be right. I was, and I did. So now onto the what the hell happened bit…

FIRST – I was cocky. So, so cocky. 

I’ve been a “pants-er” for NaNoWriMo before and never won, and I thought I had learned that lesson.

So this year, I “planned.” [Insert Hysterical Laughing Emoji Here]. By “planned,” I mean I had selected a fairy tale for my base of inspiration, so I had a general plot structure lined up, I had a few key points I knew I wanted to hit, and I spent literally hours analyzing subtext and imagery… and then I wrote the first 179 words of my novel without  knowing my main character’s name. That’s right. I got to a moment where another character – a character whose name I didn’t figure out until over 2,000 words in, mind you – was supposed to call my main character’s name. And I didn’t know what her name was. 

Pro Tip: Figuring out your characters’ names should probably be part of the planning process. 

In addition to not knowing my characters’ names, I didn’t know where the hell they were. I’m in the midst of creating an entire fictional, fantastical kingdom…and I don’t know what it’s called. I know that in addition to the main castle, there are seven additional regions that serve this one “capital.” And I had names for exactly zero of them. 

So yeah. Apparently I was still “pants-ing” my novel a heck of a lot more than I intended to. But I really did try to keep going, just figuring out those, you know, totally minor details as I went along. 

SECOND – I got scared. So, so scared. 

In his book The War of Art, author Steven Pressfield talks about this idea of “RESISTANCE.” Aka, when the universe sees you’re making creative progress and throws up every imaginable mental and physical roadblock possible in order to derail you from your work and your goal. 

It’s a pretty hippy-dippy/woo-woo concept, but after this month, I totally am buying it. That, and the power of Mercury going into Retrograde. 

For me, resistance manifested itself in the form of party planning and Netflix binges and day trips and phone app games. It was all these things that were suddenly SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than me spending time on my novel. 

But you want to know the truth of it? I was just hiding. I wrote for 10 days straight, had almost 13,000 words done, and I was terrified. Who do I think I am to take on these characters and settings and themes and challenges and work? Why do I think I have it in me to write a novel, let alone this novel, let alone this novel right now during NaNoWriMo?

Pro Tip: Imposter Syndrome is loud, mewling, tempestuous bitch, and the second you let her into your head, she’s setting up camp and not going anywhere. So you gotta confront her and kick her out as soon as you suspect she might be arriving. 

I did not do that this month. In fact, I basically laid out the red carpet for Imposter Syndrome. As soon as I heard her start to whisper “You know, you have so many other things you could be doing right now…” I agreed, and walked away from the work. 

You cannot walk away from the work. 

THIRD – I finally got brave…ish. But then I hid again. And now it’s the 30th. 

As soon as Thanksgiving passed, I was ready to throw Imposter Syndrome out with the rest of the leftovers. I started posting on Facebook and Twitter about NaNoWriMo again. I hammered out another 2,000 words. I checked the word count needed to still finish on time and it, at first, seemed totally manageable. 

And then…I didn’t write. 

Not only did I not write my novel, I wasn’t writing my Patreon posts either. Everything that came out felt stilted and weak and not worthy of publication, so I just kept deleting and rewriting and tossing things to the side. It’s like the inner editor that I swore to silence during NaNoWriMo came back with an absolute vengeance. 

While I did finally get all my Patreon posts completed for November, my novel stays stuck at 15,714 words. 

So, now what? 

Now? I keep going. I’ve shown Imposter Syndrome the door (for now – lord knows that bitch always comes back…) and I still have the energy to write this story I want to tell. But now I also know what planning really needs to look like. So in December, I’ll be spending a lot more time mapping out locations and family trees and naming all the rest of my freakin’ characters. And then I’ll work on chapter outlines – honest to goodness chapter outlines – and then I’ll write. And maybe I’ll free write more chapters and scenes as I go through the planning, because the 15,714 words I already have are helpful to me! Just getting in there and writing the story has actually helped me uncover a lot of things that I don’t think I would have known or seen if I hadn’t just flung myself into the draft right away. 

So, yeah. I may have “lost” NaNoWriMo yet again. But I have the start of something I truly believe in, and I know I will share with the world someday. 

And now it’s time to get back to work. 

One comment

  1. Great post! I only hit about 14,000 words on my novel. (I thought it would be a great idea to do NaNoWriMo, plan my jobs big poetry slam event and buy a house all at the same time. Spoiler: It was not a good idea).

    But I completely understand your last statement. You have the beginning to work with and the drive to keep writing and that is what matters in the end!

    Good luck with writing in December!

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