Losing NaNoWriMo : Or I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love to Write


I'm a loser, baby, etc.

So..this was the third year I attempted the NaNoWriMo challenge (50,000 word novel in 30 days). And I failed.

I managed to get a little over 28,000 words and just stopped. There were a couple of factors (illness, a friend’s wedding, the holidays, ennui, demonic Smurf™ possession…). But the biggest was just the falling out I had with my story.

It wasn’t her. It was me.

The thrill was gone. I wasn’t having fun writing it–so I damn sure knew that my readers would not have fun reading it.

And yes, I get that the whole point of the exercise is to JUST GET SOME EFFING WORDS ON THE EFFING PAGE AND EDIT LATER, YA MOOK! But I had gotten far past that point. I didn’t want to put any more words to any more pages on this story.

I just didn’t care any more. And life is too short to spend 30 days working on something you don’t care about anymore.

But, in hindsight, I still managed to learn a couple of things in the process of trying and losing. Because, ultimately, writing is a science. And an art. And an alchemical equation.  And a kind of magic. Nevermind…go back to the science metaphor.

Like with all science experiments, failure forces learning. With failure, one can still build on his or her store of knowledge and come out better for it.

So, without further ado…what I learned from failing NaNoWriMo:

It takes some actual planning to write a Real Live Novel

I don’t care if you’re a die-hard pantser–you’ve got to have some sort of plan on where you’re going and how you plan to get there. Even if it’s a plot outline that exists solely in your head (displacing your knowledge of Pink Floyd lyrics for a short period of time), you’ve got to have a plan.

I didn’t. Not really. I had a plot idea, not a plan. I did have a structure–but not an outline. My vague ideas remained just that…vague.

I’m not the sort to outline out each chapter to the Nth detail…but if I had planned out what I was doing a bit better, I probably wouldn’t have gotten as bogged in the middle as I had. Probably. Maybe. Just roll with me here, people!

You Need to Have Your Big Bad

I can’t stress this one enough: you have absolutely, posismurfly (sorry…still a little residual possession there…) got to have an interesting antagonist to drive the story.

My biggest mistake on this story was thinking that my protagonist was interesting enough to carry the book through a series of various minor villains–the biggest one turning out to be his mentor/friend.

EEEEHHHHKK! Wrong answer. No final bonus round for you.

I was bored out of my skull writing this book because it was all a set up for some big reveal toward the end of the novel of what a skunk the main character was. But he didn’t really have any real conflicts along the way. There was no yin to his yang to generate that friction. It’s that friction that should be driving the narrative.

It doesn’t have to be a Bad Guy™ per se–but Our Hero’s got to buck up against something or someone that’s at least as interesting or clever as she is. I should have made my character’s mentor/nemesis more interesting. Or give them both an antagonist that would be more than their equal and see how the two characters diverge in handling the situation. Or something.

So here’s the news flash, Chet: No character is interesting enough on his/her own to carry a story without an equally interesting source of conflict.

There’s Always Something Cleverer Than Yourself

It’s my blog…I can indulge in an Excalibur reference if I want to…

The original idea for my NaNo project was a short story I wrote about a retired superhero sidekick who is cynical and hard-bitten and cashing in on his past fame. And the “twist” is that it could be inferred that he got his mentor/hero killed. And maybe even did so on purpose. I actually found it to be quite clever, because there so much was going on behind the scenes that could be inferred by the text.

I work-shopped the story and it was pretty roundly criticized for not really being a story but an idea or an exercise. So I thought I could expand it–novelize it. Show rather than tell.

And then I found out the truth: Clever ain’t gonna cut it. And I’m not clever enough by half to hold the attention of folks for more than a few pages.

There’s a difference between clever and interesting. Between layered and obtuse. Between Dick Sargent and Dick York.

Clever can get you some high points in the text, but it’s good writing that makes a interesting novel.

Plus, sometimes it is better to keep it short because the devil in the details has a name: Dullzebub. And he is the cruel, dark lord of Sleepytown.

We don’t need to be shown everything. Just what is interesting. Or clever. But mostly interesting.

I still think the idea is worth pursuing, but I’m not sure if I’m ready to make it so quite yet. Which leads to my final point…

Just What Is That Thing?

In my case, I think I have novel idea–in the older sense that it is rather unique. I managed to create an equally unique setting in which the action could take place. I had ideas–but not a Novel.

It takes planning and craft to make a novel. An idea–or even a string of them–isn’t enough. It could be that this idea I have isn’t for a novel–maybe it really does work better in short form (but just not the one I originally wrote). Or it could be that the idea would make a good novel–but I’m not skilled enough to write it.


Regardless, I didn’t bring everything I needed into my workroom when I sat down to craft my little NaNo jewel. And as a result–I failed.

But maybe I won’t fail next time around–as long as I listen to the lessons gleaned from this year’s failed experiment. Maybe in a year’s time I’ll have honed a few more skills to use in my pursuit. Or at least recognize a stinker a bit sooner than halfway into the game.

Either way, even when I lose, I win.

About Shedrick

I am a professional librarian and a part-time writer that's working to do that the other way around. I currently live in North Texas in the lovely city of Denton (“The Home of Happiness“) with my lovely wife and the obligatory demon-spawn cats. When not writing, gaming, or watching cheezy kung-fu flicks, I can sometimes be found in a pub (or the American equivalent) enjoying a fine brew.
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2 Responses to Losing NaNoWriMo : Or I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love to Write

  1. Michael says:

    It sounds like an interesting story, I’m gonna steal it! Can I do that, can you own an idea? What if I preface it with “with all do respect…”, then can I steal it? I’m pretty sure I can do or say whatever I want as long as I begin with that ‘disclaimer’.

  2. Shedrick says:

    If you can do something worthwhile with the idea, more power to you!

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