Nanowrimo, AKA National Novel Writing Month, is an annual challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November. In just 30 days, writers attempt to complete a short novel. They may also succeed in creating a daily writing habit since you need to write about 1,666 words a day to win. Sounds like a great challenge, right? Especially for new writers who often need an external deadline to finish that elusive first draft.
So I signed up. And I deeply regret it.
I made three major mistakes
To me, Nanowrimo eemed like a miracle cure. Writing 50K words in just one month could be an incredible boost to my word count. I’m not a new writer. I’ve already finished many first drafts and I already developed a writing process and habit. Nanowrimo didn’t seem so difficult and I wanted to prove to myself that I could complete the challenge. I gave myself no other choice but to win.
2. Beginning a new project
When November 2020 came close, one of my works in progress was being read by my critique partner. I was in the middle of reading over the first draft of another story I had completed a few months before. Starting a new story, as per the Nanowrimo guidelines, was not what I should have done at that point.
Despite all, I began to plot a new story. I decided to make the story simple but ended up creating an entire fantasy world with multiple races, cultures, and religions, and a large main cast. Whoops. Still, I was determined to enjoy this story. Unfortunately, then came my third and biggest mistake.
3. Ignoring my mental health
I was going through a stressful period of my life and I needed a healthy outlet. This was not it.
My current writing habit allows breaks when I need a mental health day. Nanowrimo’s word count doesn’t allow for that, at least not in the way I approached the 50K challenge. I forced myself to write almost every day so I wouldn’t fall too behind, sometimes managing only a few hundred words. I’m proud of those hundred words, however, more proud than the first day where I wrote 6K without any mental resistance.
There were many days when I wrote just for the sake of Nanowrimo, not because I was excited to continue the story. I should’ve taken a break. As I said before, I was going through an extremely stressful period of my life, and I should have spent the time properly taking care of myself instead of fixating on an arbitrary word count. However, I was determined to win. Losing wasn’t an option for me, to my detriment.
I won but I failed
I won on Day 29. I spent the last few days writing like a madwoman. I was behind on my word count, but as I said before, failing wasn’t an option. I hit 50,000 words and my creativity was squeezed dry. I was so spent, I didn’t have the energy to celebrate.
So I put my novel aside. I didn’t take a break, I collapsed. My break didn’t come until I got diagnosed with COVID-19 and spent several days in bed, sleeping and guzzling tea. After I recovered, I was finally able to open up my laptop and continue writing almost a month after I won Nanowrimo.
Burnout after Nanowrimo is experienced by many, and I said before, I was dealing with personal issues that made the challenge a bad idea for me this year.
What I learned about writing
Many people try Nanowrimo and finish with less than 50K but they gain a writing habit or are pleased with whatever they wrote. That is good and healthy. That is the point of Nanowrimo.
I don’t think Nanowrimo is for competitive writers with an already established writing routine, at least in my personal experience. I like the 50,000 words I wrote, I just wish I enjoy writing them more.
Perhaps if this past November wasn’t such a difficult time, I would have enjoyed the challenge more and I wouldn’t have experienced such an intense burnout. Maybe. I still think my competitive nature would have worked to my detriment. Because I don’t want to write to complete a word count. I want to write because I love writing and because writing makes me happy.
I still recommend Nanowrimo to others. If you want to try the challenge, go for it! It may help propel you to finish a story or create a writing routine, both extremely vital things to writers. You might learn something else about yourself, as I have, something good, bad, or ugly. All of which can be beneficial for your writing journey.
As for me, I’ve learned what I could about myself and my writing during Nanowrimo and I will not be attempting the challenge again — at least, not in the near future. For now, I will stick to the writing routine I have, the one that allows me to take breaks when I need them. Most of all, it allows me to write with joy.