For WriMos, November 1 is a lot like New Year’s Day, because you begin knowing that it doesn’t matter what you’ve done leading up to it; you’re armed with a blank slate and a lofty goal. Unfortunately, National Novel Writing Month doesn’t always have a happy ending. It can turn out to be a lot like that year you took out a gym membership that got used all of five times before you forgot about it.
Still, whether you powered your way to the 50,000-word goal or not, there’s value in doing NaNoWriMo. After all, if you think about it, the word limit is actually kind of arbitrary. Most novels are longer than 50,000 words, so “winners” haven’t necessarily written an entire novel by month’s end. So, if a novel’s not the important takeaway, then what is? The importance of the exercise extends beyond the word count to the basic opportunities that NaNoWriMo creates for you to learn and grow as a writer.
Even if you don’t have a brand spanking new winner’s badge on your NaNoWriMo profile to show off, you didn’t come away empty handed. Here’s what you can say that you’ve gained from the NaNo experience:
IT FORCED YOU TO COMMIT TO YOUR GOAL
As with any goal, you have to make a conscious decision to go for it. You may want to write a novel, but thinking about the idea in an abstract way won’t get it done. Until you actually take steps towards doing it, it will never happen. Starting NaNoWriMo forced you to come up with a story idea, and then sit down to get words on a page. It may not have been 50,000, but it was a start. November’s gone, but your idea isn’t.
IT GOT YOU WRITING, PERIOD
Whether you wrote 4,000 words or 40,000 of your novel, you wrote. I stand by the cliché that every little bit counts. It’s all practice and it all makes you a better writer — and hopefully more inclined to keep writing.
IT SHOWED YOU HOW TO FIT WRITING INTO YOUR LIFE
For as long as you pressed on during NaNoWriMo, writing was something you thought about every day. You had to consider how to make writing part of your routine, no matter how much was on your plate. Forming a habit takes work, and so what you did this year helped lay down the groundwork for your writing to come.
IT ENCOURAGED YOU TO WRITE WITHOUT JUDGMENT
It may not have come naturally, but trying to hit those word counts every day made you focus more on adding to your total than on the quality of the sentences you were stringing together. If you didn’t like what you were writing, that was December’s problem; the important thing was to keep on going. Like pretty much every other part of NaNoWriMo, it turned out to be a skill that needs to be honed, but at least you got some practice doing it.
IT MADE YOU FEEL LIKE A WRITER
A lot of people want to write, but far fewer actually go through the act of sitting down at a computer and doing it. The time you spent working on your NaNoWriMo novel made you a writer. Savor that feeling and let it inspire you.
IT TAUGHT YOU WHAT DOES AND DOESN’T WORK FOR YOU
The first year I did NaNoWriMo, I wrote 14,500 words — 29 percent of the intended total. In any academic setting, that would be a failing grade. It didn’t feel like a failure, though. Looking back on it, I realized that my utter lack of pre-writing and obsessive editing had held me back, and that not falling behind was key for me to stay motivated. I ended up using these lessons this year and last — and now have two winner’s badges to show for it. Figuring out what does and doesn’t work for you is an important part of the process, and one that requires experience.
So you didn’t “win” NaNoWriMo. Don't let it get you down. As far as I’m concerned, you didn’t lose either. There’s always next year, and if you want it, advice from successful NaNoWriMo alumni. Hold on to or relocate your excitement about your project, apply the lessons you've learned, and keep on writing!
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