NaNoWriMo Tip: It’s Not About Winning

It’s the final countdown. The end of the month is upon us, and unless you happen to be a couple thousand words away, this might be where your NaNo journey ends. It’s also the last Friday of the month, so it’s time for my final NaNoWriMo tip.

This ‘tip’ is really more of a nugget of advice, and a lot of it was pulled from a post on my old Tumblog, but it still holds true, and I think it bears repeating at the end of NaNoWriMo.

This is my eighth year doing NaNoWriMo and after throwing in the towel last week, that means of those eight years I’ve only won three times. And I’m pretty sure the first time was the result of an abundance of spare time and an obscene amount of hard work. I wrote almost 30k in about 8 or 9 days back in 2013 because I really wanted to win.

I’m something of an expert when it comes to losing NaNo. And in the past every time I did I would feel so frustrated and feel like I failed not just NaNoWriMo but failed as a writer. That NaNo was a test and I’d failed, not just once, but over and over again.  And things like ‘you tried your best’ and whatnot were platitudes that I quickly grew tired of hearing.

But without even realizing it, I was learning skills and developing habits that would eventually lead me to a win. And I know the whole ‘You learn from your mistakes’ thing is a bit of a cliche, but it’s also very true. I’m not just talking about my writing output, either. The experience as a whole teaches me something about myself every year. I mean it took me 4 or 5 years until I realized that writing without a decent outline was never going to get me to 50k. This year I learned I need to consider what and how I’m prioritizing, and that building a sustainable writing habit is more important than trying to grind out 50k in 30 days. I’ve learned about my own habits and my own writing, especially when there is a looming and unmovable deadline. I’ve won NaNoWriMo several times because I’ve figured out what works for me, and I’m going to continue to learn and grow, whether I win future NaNoWriMos or not. Personally, I think that is a more valuable product of the time I spent writing than the 50k I might have churned out.

Could I have pulled out a win this year? It’s certainly a possibility. I’ve wondered a few times since then if I made the right decision to throw in the towel. But I knew I was neglecting things I shouldn’t, and it was forcing me to write at a lower quality than I was comfortable because I had a million other things going on that were eating up my time and attention. If I hope to publish next year, I have to consider how I use my time, and I realized this year that I’d rather prioritize the future of my writing career than win NaNoWriMo.

And let’s be honest, winning NaNoWriMo is really not what it’s about. It’s not about who wrote the most words and it’s not about how fast you write them, though from the trenches it can be hard to see it that way. NaNoWriMo has become something of a staple for online writing communities, and because everyone is doing it, it’s easy to compare yourself to others. But you aren’t less of a writer for choosing not to participate. You aren’t less of a writer for failing or for giving up.

You aren’t worth less than the writer who did win.

It is always upsetting for me to see writers who are feeling down or discouraged because they didn’t win, because I have been there, and I know how much it sucks. But don’t let it discourage you. Don’t allow a small setback to fill you with self-doubt. You are a stronger person and a stronger writer for having done NaNoWriMo (or having the wherewithal not to). This time of year it can be hard to remember to be kind to yourself, and whether you won or not, you’ve done something amazing!

Congrats to those who’ve already won, and to those that will! We are entering the final hours, and I know a lot of you will be writing furiously until the end, but know that I am cheering you on even if you don’t win.

Author: Alyssa Flynn

Alyssa is a writer of fantasy and sci-fi, a certified geek, and a blogger over at Alyssa Lost in Space. She is currently writing her first novel which she plans to self-publish in Fall 2020.

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