Ending with a Whimper: 7 Thoughts for NaNoWriMo Failures

nanowrimo failureYes, the clock is ticking down to midnight. Slouching toward a glorious National Novel Writing Month win for many folks. Not all of us, certainly, not even most of us, even if we built up new callouses from our keyboards trying to craft the next great novel. And then there are the writers who caved in on Day 10, or as the smell of turkey wafted over from the kitchen, or ignobly in the first damn week of the contest. Those are the stories barely begun for those failures, mere vignettes and half-thoughts lost on so many creaky hard drives.

The road to success is paved with moments like these, thank Xena. So even if a few notes and 2,000 crappy words are all you eked out this November, take heart. I have ideas for life in December and beyond.

  1. Without the 30-day constraint pressing upon you, come up with a reasonable schedule for writing. I work in 3-month chunks: one chunk for the first draft, one chunk for two sets of revisions, one chunk for major reworking if I need it and three more passes through the manuscript, and one chunk for beta reader feedback and “final” changes. Maybe I get more revisions in during a 3-month period, maybe not (more is better for me). Do what works for you, and schedule so that you can be successful. If NaNo spurred you to making a realistic calendar for yourself, that’s a success in and of itself.
  2. Take this time to reconsider your premise, major characters, and outline. Sure, it could be that Thanksgiving preparations threw you for a loop, or your infant took more time out of your day than you’d anticipated (ahem). But it could also be true that your heart wasn’t in this book as currently designed. Now that NaNo’s albatross is gone, look at your idea with fresh eyes, and be ruthless in its rearchitecture. And it may pay off in future productivity on this project
  3. Go back and do research. I try to get my researching done in September and October, hoping nobody will call me a NaNo cheater. It’s not writing, after all, it’s the foundation for the writing that I work on ahead of the starter pistol. Nobody stops track and field stars from trying on shoes before the race, do they? So if you had a lot of placemarkers in the text, or highlighted sentences that read, “INSERT HERE,” you need to cuddle up to your local library or online portal. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with informed writing. I was not born, for example, knowing about the history of carburetors and fuel injection. And they were critical to me selling my character in The Unintentional Time Traveler.
  4. Consider turning this novel into one or more other projects. My current work-in-progress is a novel I’m expanding from a short story; there’s no reason your novel project has to remain in long form. Maybe it resists growing past 4,000 or 5,000 words, or maybe the sidekick is the real protagonist you need to focus on. If nothing else, working on a short piece based on part of the story may be a good way to get a little mileage out of a failed NaNo assignment, and see what kind of story may be lurking behind your original expectations.
  5. Buy a NaNoWriMo shirt. Chris Baty’s organization gives nice money to young writers, and can use the support. I only buy NaNo shirts when I fail the challenge–and I donate when I win. Besides, a shirt is a kinder way to remind oneself that one didn’t make the goal than say, self-flagellation.
  6. Analyze your time management strategy and see where it needs revision. Let’s say the concept for the novel was fine, the characters were well thought out or at least documented, and you were gung ho for the first little bit, but then the dog needed to go to the vet, the kids wouldn’t leave you alone, the kitchen caught fire, and those life details took over your productive time. Have an interview with yourself about what you need to do differently, because every writer needs to make time for the work of writing. If you’re cobbling together 20 minutes here and there, you may need to take a hard look at your schedule and find another way to dig in at the keyboard.
  7. Check back to see where and when you lost momentum. When I misplace an object, I retrace my steps to figure out when it took its leave. The same logic applies here. Did you struggle with a particular character? Feel stupid as you were typing and talked yourself out of writing more? Did you write full bore until the last third of the page count? What, how, when, and where your novel curdled into an unmovable object may tell you something about where you need to shore up support for your next project, or give you a route toward rehabilitating this one. WIPs are only lost causes when we give up on them.

I’m off to buy a shirt. Good thing, since my last NaNo shirt is from 2004.

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Categories: nanowrimo, Writing


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