POSTMORTEM: Why I Failed NaNoWriMo

Yes, I am fully aware that NaNoWriMo ended more than a month ago (last year, if you want to be cheeky) but I can’t seem to process anything properly without writing about it ad nauseam and posting my feverish ramblings on the internet for all to see. So I’m going to try and analyze exactly how I failed the online writing contest so catastrophically. I’ll review my tweets that November, cross reference certain good days on my NaNo stats with diary entries/tweets (Twitter is my diary now) and my actual novel-in-progress, and fathom the cause of long stretches of inactivity. Perhaps with this “comprehensive” investigation, I’ll be able to form a better response to my NaNo failure than a simple “I just couldn’t do it” because that is a shitty excuse and I refuse to accept it because fifty thousand words aren’t that impossible to write goddammit.

Let’s begin.

So my earliest tweet about my NaNoWriMo progress was on day 2. Let’s take a look at what tweeted at half past eight in the evening after presumably a whole day of fruitful writing:

Oh.

Yikes.

Looks like I was doomed from the start. I mean, with optimism like that, is it really any wonder why I couldn’t even hit the halfway mark? Case closed, right? No, no, let’s dig a little bit deeper. I’m sure the story’s much more complicated than this. I definitely remember going through several hurdles. Or at least trying to.

This is what my writing statistics look like

stats

As painful as this is to admit, I really didn’t seem to have a chance. I mean, just look at that barely moving progress bar. Back then, my average word count would be a thousand words. A measly thousand! And that’s on a good day. On bad days – and there were indeed a lot of those – I’d be lucky to write more than five hundred words. My maximum words per day was 1,500. Just so you know, prior to the start of NaNo, I had set 2,500 words per day as a goal. I was uncharacteristically and cluelessly optimistic then. I even wrote it on my little whiteboard so I wouldn’t forget. And I didn’t forget. I never forgot. The 2,500 words looked down on me every day, mocking me, tormenting me, until I had to take it down in shame – I couldn’t just erase it because that felt a little too cowardly.

I had hit 1,666 words on Day 1, which gave me a little hope at the time. Though, I confess that I actually wrote the first thousand words before November, before I committed to doing the challenge. But, hear me out. I did polish those words on the first day and added a couple of hundred more so technically it’s not completely cheating. I didn’t consider it as cheating anyway.

On the fourth day, when I had written close to 3,500 words, I tweeted this:

I’m very articulate, as you can see. I think this about my first road block in my novel. At this point I was just starting to introduce my main characters but kept getting caught up on the minute, unnecessary details that I just couldn’t seem to ignore. Numerous times I’d just stop what I was writing and go in full research mode, which completely took me out of the rhythm I had warmed up to. I couldn’t help it. I’m a nitpicker by nature. Even when I know I don’t and won’t ever need to include a certain very specific detail, I just couldn’t rest leaving it ambiguous. I distinctly recall looking up different motorcycle models, their specs, their popularity in a certain city, and whatnot but getting frustrated when I couldn’t get the right info I wanted. I was thisclose to contacting an acquaintance who’s really into bikes to get a more personal insight. Only my social ineptitude stopped me.

Research is vital for writers, I know, but I think I may have gone overboard for a while. I got a bit too finicky about minuscule details because I wanted to put off actually writing the story. Scouring the net for info and trying to understand how fast a certain vehicle can go before it falls apart for one stupid anecdote was easier than putting words on the page. Less draining. God knows I’m not the first writer to fall into this trap.

Eventually, I learned to not get so caught up on details. I’ll fix that later, I repeated to myself like a mantra. Though I still slipped up every now and then but I managed to knock myself back to my senses when I opened more than ten tabs.

The first and only milestone I achieved was the 10,000 words badge. That was on Day 10. I was starting to gain awareness and feel apprehensive of my excruciatingly slow progress. I had also realized why I wasn’t hitting the par.

Yes, I blamed my prior training as a journalist for my terrible word count. In all fairness, I do believe that the value of brevity has been drilled so deeply in my mind that I may not be able to shake it off anymore. It’s a useful skill but seeing as NaNo’s more about quantity than quality, it was more of an affliction than anything.

Sadly, I don’t think I ever rectified what I perceived was my wrongdoing as my word count didn’t improve at all.

I started to first lose steam when I reached Chapter 3 a.k.a the inciting incident. That’s sometime between Day 11 and 12. Makes sense since I was afraid that my inciting incident wasn’t inciting enough. Also, action scenes. Ugh. Exposition is much easier. Still, even though I had a tough time writing down that sort of action scene, I rather enjoyed what I was writing. Slow going, sure, but it got me excited for what’s to come. After that scene, the rest of the chapter came rather easily.

Upon closer inspection, I think I can safely say that it was Chapter 4 onward that impeded my 50k goal the most.

19

Notice how I barely made any progress after Day 19. At nineteen thousand words, I was getting started on Chapter 4. What happened in Chapter 4? my nonexistent reader might wonder. That’s when I started the serious world-building. I had also introduced a new character which was all shades of fun. That god-forsaken character – who is innocent, I know, but god it was so hard getting his voice right – took me days to introduce. I redid the opening paragraphs so many times I very nearly gave up on writing from that character’s point of view. But I had to because he’s a key figure in the subplot! And I’m still not satisfied with what I wrote! Rewriting is going to be a major pain. I do not envy my future self at all. I left so much rubbish that I think it will be easier to start from scratch on the second draft.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Four days of absolute stagnation later, I finally got back on my feet. Not that it did me any good since it was already Day 23, seven days before the deadline and I hadn’t even reached half of NaNoWriMo’s end goal. However, I would also like to point out that my novel would have exceeded 50k anyway (20k and I was still in the first act) so victory wouldn’t have tasted that sweet, wouldn’t have been completely fulfilling. I would have only gotten an online badge and some bragging rights… and also probably the confidence to move forward with my novel… and self validation.

Anyway. I tried to at least try to reach the halfway point as a sort of compromise. There was just no way I’d crunch out the whole 50k but I could settle on 25k. Better than nothing, y’know?

endpoint

Yeah, I achieved nothing. I gave up after 21k words. Somehow I couldn’t entice myself enough to squeeze out just a couple thousand words more. I think I had started on focusing on my Reading Challenge when I realized my NaNo was a bust.

On a positive note, failing NaNoWriMo didn’t really discourage me from continuing my novel. If anything, it encouraged me to keep writing until I reach the finish line. It just so happens that my finish line wasn’t the end of November. And that’s alright. Trying NaNoWriMo helped me get to know my story and gave me the push I needed to start writing. Now I’m still pumped to write and complete my novel. I’m still currently at 32k words and nearing the end of Act 1 but I hope to pick up my pace soon. So a happy ending, regardless.

That’s all well and good but there’s still the matter of what exactly happened that caused me to fail NaNoWriMo. I planned my story in advance, listed down important plot points, outlined enough chapters to form a solid narrative… so what gives?

I think the pressure was too much for me, as shameful as that is to admit. No matter how many times I tell people (and myself) that I work best when I have a deadline, when it comes to creative writing, I kind of can’t always push myself to write. Sometimes I just need to step back and reassess the plot and where I’m going with it. Sometimes the story just outright refuses to budge no matter how much I try to cajole it. That sounds like such a basic excuse but whatever. I was getting anxious about my word count too and, predictably, it paralyzed me mentally and physically.

My novel will be done when it’s done. For now, I’ll keep on writing. As for why I failed NaNoWriMo… well, maybe I needed to.

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