Lessons learned from failing NaNoWriMo – the 2017 edition

So, I took part in NaNoWriMo again this year. And unlike the first few years when I took part, I did not win (winning being defined as writing 50,000 words in November). To be fair, I did not make it easy for myself.

I’ve had a complicated relationship with National Novel Writing Month the last few years, wondering if it’s actually helping me write or just write badly, which is part of the reason why I’ve taken a few years off (alongside life reasons, naturally). I even have a draft blog post about the subject, which I may finish someday.

This year, to see if I could improve while writing wildly, I set myself the impulsive task, thought of a few days before November while in the shower, to try and write a short story a day. I’ve been trying for a while to improve my short story writing, so I can start submitting stories to magazines and websites, and actually get paid to write fiction. But it’s a different beast from novel writing, so I thought some deadline-delineated practice would do me good.

I thought of a few story ideas, and then when November came around, I started writing. It all went downhill from there. While I had some vague ideas, the same kind of vague ideas that have led to whole novels in previous years’ NaNoWriMo attempts, trying to condense a story into 1,700 words (= one a day) and give it a satisfying start, middle and ending is a lot harder, at least for me.

By the third story, I realised most of my words were coming from dialogue, and I wasn’t filling in the story, giving anything a background, or indeed doing anything that would be required for a decent story. So, I started writing a story about someone locked in the trunk of a car with duct-tape over their mouth. And then I stopped.

NaNoWriMo is good for a lot of things – for getting you out of your comfort zone, for letting you make mistakes, and for helping you finally get that (part of a) first draft down on paper. It’s not very good if you are trying to level up your writing, at least in my experience. That said, it did bring home what it is I need to be working on. I may not have won, but I’ve learned a lot anyway.

So, if you want to improve your writing, try writing a short story (could be about a minor character in your novel), figure out what you’re doing too much of or not enough, and then try to write another story that does the exact opposite. And, crucially, don’t give up, as I did.

I’m hoping to get back to my weird non-dialoguey short story after the holidays, but as you can see from the 18 days after November it’s taken me to write just this short blog post, I’ve clearly got some mental blocks I need to push through first. Hopefully I’ll be able to get through them and report back to you how I did it.


Reach for the stars! Try not to think about the long drop down!

Meanwhile, happy holidays, everyone! Wishing you lots of writing and life success in 2018, and hopefully some return to general sanity after these last two years.

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