How My NaNoWriMo Went

My NaNoWriMo ends today.1 The following is what I thought of the NaNo experience, which let’s be honest, is not aimed at someone like me, who’s already a professional writer with multiple novels already published for whom writing is my job. So take it with a massive grain of salt.

I have been writing every day for 56 days in a row.2 Twenty-five of those days took place during NaNo. Before NaNo I was averaging about 300 words a day. During NaNo I averaged 700 words a day.3

I already knew that gamification works on me. I’ve been using Scriveners’ Project Targets for years so that when I reach my word count goal my program congratulates me. Why, yes, I do take a bow.

Obviously, for me the NaNoWriMo word count goal is too high. It’s been at least a decade since I averaged anything like 1,667 words a day. So I went in with the lower goal of 10k words for the month in mind. I passed that goal on Day 12.

NaNoStatspageI enjoyed watching the word counts of my “writing buddies” going up. There definitely was an increased sense of camaraderie. I am not in this alone! Look at all these other people striving to finish their novels! Look at their bar graphs going up! I would love to have a stats page like the NaNo one for all my novels. I loved that bar graph.

But . . . by the second week the 1,667 words a day expectation was starting to get to me and the ever-increasing words per day in order to finish on time was really freaking me out. The line on the bar graph shows you every day where you’re supposed to be and I was never even close. I only hit 1,667 twice. I was starting to feel like a failure for not hitting 1,667 words a day and falling into the bad habit of typing in order to hit the word count, rather than choosing the right words. I was starting to hate that bar graph.

On day 16 I had a stern talk with myself: Are you a writer, Justine, or are you a typist?

I spent that day reading everything I’d written of this new novel, rearranging and deleting loads of it. It was my best writing day of the month. Not because it was a 1k day but because I was really happy with those words. I’d started to figure out what the novel’s about and where it’s going. I was beaming.

From that day on I went back to my usual practice of starting each writing day by reading over what I wrote the day before, editing it, and only then writing new words. I was back in the rhythm of my novel and feeling happy. I wasn’t thinking about word counts, I was thinking about the novel.

NaNo didn’t work for me because I struggled to get that massive word count goal out of my head. Yes, I wrote more, but much of that excess of words was more typing than writing.

I would have loved NaNoWriMo back when I was a teen writing obsessively and feeling like I was the only one on the planet who was trying to write novels. It would have given me a structure and a community. I would have been in heaven. And, wow, would I have blitzed that measly 1,667 words a day goal. Those were the days when I could write a 5k story in a day without breaking a sweat.4

Also back then I had no clue about rewriting. I thought you were supposed to produce perfection in your first draft. NaNo dedicating January and February to Now What? would have clued me into the whole rewriting thing much much sooner. How lucky you all are!

I won’t be doing NaNo again. I’m too competitive. I really wanted to hit that word count goal even though it would have played havoc with my RSI. Despite my self-pep talk I’m still annoyed I didn’t come close to 50k. But I’m really glad I tried it. I’ve been recommending NaNo for years without actually knowing how it worked. It really is a pretty sweet and easy to use interface.

It’s proven itself over and over again to be just the thing for new writers who keep getting in their own way. Finally, someone is giving them permission to just write! And they do.

It also had the lovely side effect of getting me to check in more frequently with my writer friends on where they are with the latest. Knowing that you’re not alone with your novel, that there other people sweating over theirs, is reassuring. We humans are social creatures. We mostly prefer to suffer together.

The following are some little tweaks I’d love to see on the NaNo pages:

I would love it if you could edit your stats page to put your own word count goal in. Mine would have been 300. It would have made that line on the bar graph far less intimidating.

More writing achievement badges! At the very least one for ever 5k increment would be lovely. The jump from the 10k badge to the 25k badge and then from the 25k one to the 40k one is too steep. More rewards = more better!

I’d also love it if the word counts continued to be visible even after people hit their 50k goal. So instead of just seeing that those writing buddies are WINNERS! you can see that they’ve continued writing. It would be a good reminder that hitting 50k is not the end goal—finishing a novel is. (For those who didn’t know 50k is a very short novel. Most are at least 60k. Razorhurst was 90k. It’s not a long novel.)

TL;DR: NaNo’s fab but didn’t work for me. However, my younger self would’ve loved it.

  1. I’m ending early because I’m off to Adelaide for the historic first day/night test. I can’t wait! []
  2. That’s unusual for me. I usually take at least one day off a week but more usually two. I’ve been experimenting to see whether it makes my RSI worse. So far so good. I did have a flare up but that seems to have had more to do with trying a new treatment. []
  3. I also stopped blogging for the month of November so the jump in word count is not quite as dramatic as it looks but it’s still pretty dramatic. []
  4. Those are the days that led me to having RSI now. But I digress . . . []


  1. Sass on #

    I didn’t do NaNo this year, but I’ve tried it in years past. I hate that goddamn line. It was put in in about 2010? I think? Before that it was just a bar graph. I have never been able to keep myself above that line, which usually leads to me quitting in frustration in week 2. Only once have I kept up for the whole month, and I still started November 30 11k behind target (I was 13 WORDS off 50k by that midnight, I have no idea how).

    • Justine on #

      We should campaign for them to get rid of that line! 🙂

  2. Mandi on #

    Ohhh it’s really interesting to see how others see nano. Congrats on getting an average of 700! That’s a really neat. I love it and I’m highly competitive too so I always race well ahead because I just need to get it all down and I’m a pretty immersive creature, but there is a smaller version of NaNo that happens in April and July(I think) called Camp NaNoWriMo where you can actually edit your word count up until validation week and it sets you up in cabins with other writer’s who are doing similar genres to yours unless you make a cabin yourself and you get to talk to them in a chat like room. It’s pretty cool.

    • Justine on #

      That sounds like a fantastic idea for writers on their own. And for slower writers. I like the emphasis on editing.

  3. leseparatist on #

    I think if someone updates their wordcount after validating, you should be able to see their wordcount and the winner badge, both, on the forums and when you click on the profile. I went around the forum and the only places other than “writing buddies” where I couldn’t see them were the main forums where the moderators’ pics went. In the discussions, the wordcounts were visible. So I guess it’s just that one page that could use tweaking.

    Congratulations on reaching your goal! (Can’t wait to read the novel that this will be in! :D) I agree that having a flexible goal would make it a more enjoyable experience for me too – I was co-writing with my gf, and our goal was 80k, which we reached, but it would have been nice to see that we still have space to go for the last week and a half. (We didn’t finish the novel, alas, but we hope to keep going and do that by the middle of December. We’ll see.)

    • Justine on #

      I was talking specifically about looking at my list of writing buddies. I could only see WINNER and not what their word count was. Basically I wanted their word counts to be visible without any additional clicking.

      You two wrote 80k in a month?! Wow. That’s HUGE. Congrats!

      The quickest I’ve ever written a first draft was three months and that was more than ten years ago. Don’t think I’ll ever write that fast again. Then, of course, it was many months of rewriting before it was finished finished.

  4. Nicole on #

    It was really interesting to read this. I’ve been meaning to do a similar post about what I learnt from doing NaNo.

    I’ve started a few times, but this was the first year I got to 50k. The main reason for that was the support in the forums and chat rooms associated with my area. The competitive word wars, the sprints on twitter, etc, and the encouragement of others to just keep going, don’t worry if the words weren’t good (and they weren’t – there’s some terrible writing in there), just write and worry about it later. That really got me past the idea that every sentence and paragraph had to be perfect, which is what had paralysed me when trying to write in the past.

    • Justine on #

      I’ve been hearing exactly this from a lot of people: that Nano’s super helpful if you’ve never been able to let go and just write before, that it can really help you relax and just write without worrying about each word being perfect. So glad it worked for you! Finding a community can be essential.

      • Nicole on #

        Absolutely, “breaking in” to an established writing group is near impossible, and putting yourself out there to form a new one is a big step, so the local NaNo groups can be great for that. My last location (UK) wasn’t quite as friendly though, so I think it would depend on location 🙂

        It was such a different experience from the creative writing course I did, where the focus was on crafting every word. It was very hard to let go of that, but very freeing when I managed it.

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