Only kind of related, sorry. Do you have any advice for people who fail NaNoWriMo? I’ve never won in the seven years I’ve tried, and it’s frustrating to be ignored by writing advice blogs (not accusing you specifically!)

I’m really glad that you asked this, anon, because I’m afraid that I won’t finish my NaNo project this year either. For those who are unaware, winning NaNoWriMo just means that you have written 50,000 words of a website-validated novel between November 1st and 30th. There is no limit to how many people win. 

First of all, I would like to discourage the use of the word “fail” when talking about completing any sort of creative project. No one fails, because no matter if you complete your novel or leave off at the cursed 5,000 words, you will always gain experience that makes you a better writer. While there may be winners at the end of NaNoWriMo, there are no losers. No one leaves NaNoWriMo being a less successful writer than where they started; the progression is always positive. 

No matter what people say, writing is hard. Writing with the intent of being published is even harder. We all strive for perfection, and often times that concept is what holds us back. A lot of writers, including myself and some of the other PLHL mods, find that what they write during NaNo is not up to the standards that they set for themselves, so they get discouraged and either step away from the project or start from scratch. This is a normal part of the writing process, but may cause major setbacks if the author is trying to reach the tight thirty-day deadline. For NaNo projects in the past, I would get stuck after the first few pages because I was too self-critical. I would spend most of my time perfecting the very beginning instead of just trying to spit out a first draft. More often than not, the idea with which I started would fizzle out. I would start to criticize every plot point and sentence for being unoriginal/cliche/awkwardly written and scrap the project purely out of fear of failure. If you feel that this is your issue, try finding a way of writing your story that prevents you from going back and editing. That may be something as simple as switching from a word processor to a composition book, or something more complicated like taking your writing and locking it in a safe after each day. Do something that forces you to forget about what you previous wrote and solely focus on story progression. Plot holes, incomplete sentences, and purple prose can be fixed in the next draft.

Another source of writing difficulty I have struggled with over the years is not knowing what to write. The first few plot points are strong, and I know how I want the story to end, but the middle is a black hole of indecision and doubt. The most common solution to this is to do extensive planning of a novel, whether it be through outlines or notecards on a cork board. Write any idea you have down, even if you don’t think that you will use it. When you get stuck in the middle, those moments of deus/diabolus ex machina may give you the push needed to break through the writer’s block. Just start writing– even if it is something that is completely out of left field. Who knows, you may like the new direction so much that you rewrite the entirety of your novel in the second draft. Get new information on the page! Plotholes can be fixed after the first draft is done. The whole point of NaNoWriMo is to get a first draft of a novel written. Novels are never publisher-ready by the first draft. 

If your issue lies within motivation, that is something only you can change. Try to find a reason for writing your novel that is more than wanting to write a novel. Is it for the feeling of accomplishment? To prove someone wrong? As a outlet for creativity? Identify why you want to finish and set your goals accordingly. 

If you can identify why you are unable to meet the 50,000 word deadline, it will be significantly easier to work through the obstacles and reach your goal– whether it is fear of inadequacy, writer’s block, or feeling like you can’t dedicate enough time to writing for NaNo. My final piece of advice is to do something thinking about your noveling style. Find out if what you’re doing is what is best for you. If it isn’t the best, trying different methods of planning/writing/story telling may be what it takes to hit that 50,000 mark. Only you can figure that out.

xx Sarah