Nanowrimo Is Just The Beginning

It’s over halfway through November. You’re taking part in Nanowrimo…and you’ve only written 10,000 words.

You’re panicking.

Par is nearly 30,000! How are you ever going to manage to catch up? You’re never going to finish. You might as well just stop now, really. Better that than pushing yourself through the next less-than-two-weeks only to find that you’ve failed. Right?

Wrong.

So here’s the thing. On the 31st October, here’s how many words you’d (probably) written: 0. Is the number of words you have now more than 0? Yes? Well then you’ve already won. You turned up. And I bet you, those 10,000 words weren’t easy to get. Maybe you’ve been squeezing out small amounts of time wherever you can, but it’s not enough. Or you love your idea but it’s just coming slowly.

All of these things are fine. All of these things are still victory. Journey before Destination: you’ve gone far further than you ever would have without taking part. Every single one of those 12,000 words is a word you didn’t have before.

Remember that Nanowrimo is a challenge, but it’s not really a challenge that you finish on the 30th November, because most novels won’t be finished by then. It’s very easy to think about Nanowrimo as a contest where the only way to win is by hitting 50,000 – a lot of the publicity around it touts that, and is where some people have problems with it.

But Nanowrimo is so much more than that. It’s the start of a journey, not the destination itself. You’re not going to finish your novel in one month. Even if you did manage to finish the entire narrative, you wouldn’t be done – you’d have revising and editing still to do. So there’s nothing wrong with having more writing to do either.

When I wrote Mundane Magic over two years of Nanowrimo, I very much had points where I felt like there was so far to go that I couldn’t cope with it. The feeling of being overwhelmed is real and it happens to almost everyone. There’s very little way to escape that feeling of trying to fill an ocean using a pipette.

So keep going. Whether you’re at 30,000 or 12,000. And when the 1st December comes? Still keep going. Keep going through December, through January, through as long as it takes for you to finish.

Because whether you’re writing this novel for yourself or to publish or just to show to your friends, completing it will make you feel like nothing else. You will stand on that finish line and you will know how long it has taken you to get there, how much work it was, how accomplished you feel being able to say you’ve done it.

We talk a lot about sprinting in Nanowrimo, but it’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon. And sure, you might do some sprinting along the way, but the whole process isn’t about going as fast and as hard as you can. That works for some people, but for myself and many others it just makes us burn out.

For me, writing for an hour or two every day is the sweet spot. More than that and I start to get exhausted. Less and I don’t feel like I’m making progress. Your sweet spot might be totally different, and that is fine. Even if you write 250 words a day and never more than that.

You’d never expect a snail to race a cheetah – only other snails. Maybe you’re a snail. It’s okay to be a snail! You’re still going to finish your race eventually. What the cheetahs are doing is irrelevant. You’re going forward at your pace, at your ability.

All of it is progress, and the only thing that will undo or minimise that progress is stopping. So don’t stop. Keep going. You can do this.