10 things I learned from failing NaNoWriMo

I signed up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the first time this year – and managed to fail completely at completing the challenge. However, I’m still happy with what I achieved, though it isn’t anywhere near enough to get me the NaNo tick of approval.

The NaNo target is 50,000 words – 1,667 per day on average. I managed to reach 20,848 words. It’s not where I hoped to be but it’s 20,848 words that weren’t written a month ago so it’s a win in my book. Over all I’m very glad I took the challenge and I’m planning to be there again with bells on next November. Following are ten things that failing NaNo has taught me.

Who am I to give advice, you ask? Nice attitude, buddy. These are things I want to remember for next year, when I vow to complete the Nano Quest!


  1. A regular schedule is essential. Slice out a certain amount of time per day – 20 minutes, an hour, 2 hours, whatever it may be and, ideally, write at the same time each day. This was key for me. It’s when I deviated from this plan that my writing dropped off. For the first two weeks I wrote each morning, while I had my morning pot of tea. This gives the added bonus of getting it out of the way – and anything else you write that day is a bonus.
  2. Accountability is essential. I wish I’d known about the blog widget earlier, so it’s there for everyone to see if I slack off. Well, everyone that reads this blog that is – me and, occasionally, my mum. Hey mum. 🙂 The NaNo graph was good for a week or so then it palled for me, the blog widget is definitely a go-to for me next year.
  3. Tools really helped. A mate who is an old hand at NaNo introduced me to the concept of ‘word wars’; you set a timer (30 minutes for us) and write your heart out. You then compare totals and crow if you write more than your competitor/s. This got me through my original slump at 9,000 words. Thanks to Aaron I broke the 10,000 barrier and got as far as I did. We used this online timer to keep track: http://www.online-stopwatch.com/bomb-countdown/full-screen/
  4. Goals are another essential – even if they’re not the same as the official Nano goals. My goal was to finish a first draft of my MG novel, aiming for around 45,000 words. I didn’t make it, but I got almost halfway.
  5. Breaks are necessary. Get out & see the sun every now & then or you’ll go completely insane.
  6. Staying healthy (& sane) is important. Drink water in between the tea and coffee, eat more than just junk food and stop and stretch every now & then.
  7. Support helps. If I’d been in more regular contact with Aaron, my word sprints partner, from the beginning I think I would have achieved more. Doing it alone is tough!
  8. Motivation helps. Find pictures of settings or characters that motivate you, pin up inspirational quotes and use a funky cup for all that caffeine you quaff.
  9. No excuses or breaks from writing every day. Some people can do this, but I learned I can’t! Once I lost momentum it was game over for me. Next time I’m going to write every day, even if it’s only a page worth.
  10. It’s the journey that matters in the end. Maybe this is just an excuse as I didn’t ‘win’, but I’m not going to beat myself up over that. Real life happens and my aunty died early in this challenge, so I took time to be with friends and family and grieve as that was my priority. Make sure that you don’t neglect life to the point that nothing matters but those 50,000 words – no novel is worth that.

Any other tips you want to share for how to get those words down?

About B Lee Draper

Teacher, uni student, aspiring writer.
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6 Responses to 10 things I learned from failing NaNoWriMo

  1. Pingback: BRAG TIME! NANOWRIMO COMPLETED! | Visions and Revisions

  2. Before I started NaNo this time, I typed up a rough plot for a mystery novel (about four pages in all), so I knew that I was going in some sort of direction. I started NaNo once and had no idea where I was headed with the words I was writing. It might have worked for a short story, but not a novel. So, I ran out of steam. Last year and this year I had a plan of sorts, and for me it made all the difference. Your 20848 words is impressive. That’s a lot of words. I’m working on middle grade and adult mystery books. Keep up the good work. Keep in touch.

  3. B Lee Draper says:

    Thanks Gale – having a plan drawn up is definitely a great idea. I had a plan but it was in my head – more of a ‘feeling’ really. It wasn’t too successful. 🙂
    Next year I’ll follow your lead and have something concrete written down to guide me. Congrats on ‘winning’ NaNo & thanks for the ideas and encouragement!

  4. Pingback: NaNoWriMo 2013: Post Mortem | A.K. Anderson | Science Fiction and Fantasy Author

  5. Erica says:

    There’s good advice there. I agree with Gale: 20+ words is not chicken feed.

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