Friday, November 6, 2020

What I Learned When I Failed NaNoWriMo

by A.C. Williams @Free2BFearless

I tried NaNoWriMo for the first time last year. For those of you who aren’t familiar with NaNoWriMo, it refers to National Novel Writing Month. It’s a massive writing event that happens every year in November ( and supports authors around the world in a goal to write a novel in a month.

I had always wanted to try it. November is usually such a busy time of year for me, though, but last year I determined to give it a go. I had a new novel to write. I had everything ready to go. I made a plan on how many words I needed to write every day in order to make the goal of 50,000 words.

I had no doubt that I would succeed.

I write really fast. Word count has never been a problem for me. I could crank out 10,000 words a day easy peasy. It was actually common for me to write more than that. With a NaNoWriMo goal of 50K, I figured I was set. I could do that in a few weekends. 

So, at the end of November last year, once NaNoWriMo was over … how did I end up with less than 30K? I failed NaNoWriMo by more than 20,000 words. Sure, writing 30K in a month is a big deal, but not for me. That’s a good weekend of writing for me. 

At least, it used to be.

I know what all my slower word-count writer friends say: “You wrote 30K in a month! That’s amazing!” And my grumbling response was that I’d one written 34K in a single day. So since I had obviously failed NaNoWriMo so horribly, there must be something wrong with me. Or maybe I wasn’t as good a writer as I thought I was. Or maybe this whole writing thing had just been a pipe dream that wasn’t actually achievable, and I’ve been fooling myself for 30 years believing that I could do this.

Yes, can you hear sad violins playing?

In case any of you are participating in NaNoWriMo this year, or if any of you plan to in future years, let me offer you some encouragement gleaned from my experience when I failed NaNoWriMo.

First off, you don’t tell stories in a vacuum. Even if writing is the only thing you do for a living, life has its own challenges and special circumstances and stressors. Life is distracting, y’all. Sure, you can learn to overcome distractions, but when your life is cram-packed full of family drama, ministry work, holiday preparations, it’s really difficult to prioritize your word count. 

What I didn’t take into account in starting NaNo last year was that I had just moved across the country to a new living situation in October. Also, in October, I help direct a gigantic outreach program my church does. Both of those are enormous drains on mental and emotional fortitude, and as much as I’d like to claim that my emotional health doesn’t affect my writing, I can’t. If my emotions are out of whack, I can’t write.

Secondly, I hadn’t written fiction regularly in a long time. Sure, I’d throw some words together in fits and spurts whenever I could cram it in, but to sit down and just write every day? Yeah, that wasn’t happening. I was too busy, and I hadn’t prioritized it. So leaping into NaNoWriMo without practicing was like trying to run a marathon when you’ve done nothing but lay on the couch and eat chocolate for the last year.

Creativity is a muscle, and if you don’t exercise it, it atrophies. 

Thirdly, and most importantly, I had become a better writer. Back in the days when I could crank out 20K in a day, I wasn’t a bad writer, but my focus was certainly more quantity over quality. As I’ve grown in my craft, my writing has gotten deeper, more vibrant, more professional. I produce really clean drafts now, whereas when I was a young writer in my 20s I just slapped words on the page and moved forward.

I had to accept (and embrace) the fact that I couldn’t write 10K high quality words in a single day and still be able to write at the same level the next day. It was a huge turning point for me to understand that just because I wrote less meant I was actually accomplishing more.

So if you are participating in NaNoWriMo this year, let me offer you this advice: Give yourself some grace. 

This year has been nightmarish on so many levels. The emotional drain is real. Don’t push yourself to the breaking point as you write and create. Consider the other things happening in your life and take them into account when you work on your daily word count. 

Even if you fail NaNoWriMo like I did, you can still learn from it. I’m not officially doing NaNoWriMo this year, but I am writing a little bit every day on my fiction novel. And if I calculations are right, I’ll have 40K and a new finished book by the time November 30 gets here. AND I’ll have the brainpower to wake up the morning and write some more. I’ll take that.


A.C. Williams is a coffee-drinking, sushi-eating, story-telling nerd who loves cats, country living, and all things Japanese. She’d rather be barefoot, and if isn’t, her socks will never match. She likes her road trips with rock music, her superheroes with snark, and her blankets extra fuzzy, but her first love is stories and the authors who are passionate about telling them. Learn more about her book coaching services and follow her adventures on social media @free2bfearless.


  1. This is a very helpful article, and not only for writers!!! Thanks you.

  2. Rooting for you on finishing your latest work! Good words, similar to what I share, with firstime NaNos. To me, winning is writing. Period. And if you do so in a community of fellow writers, double win. I prefer the term "fall short of the goal" rather than "losing."

  3. My PC died two-thirds of the way through last year and they couldn't recover my work.