Is Your First NaNoWriMo Bound To Be The Best?

Posted on 10th October, 2015
Here we are in October again and NaNoWriMo writers the world over are preparing for the annual madness. I've done NaNo four times, as well as Camp NaNo five times, though for me it's the November event that is the real thing. In November, that target of 50,000 words isn't negotiable, whereas in the April and July camps, you can set your own target.
50,000 words in a month - it's a considerable undertaking. I remember how, at the end of October 2011, I agonised over whether to take part. Could I really commit myself to that? Eventually I signed up - and then immediately panicked. What had I let myself in for?
That November 1st I spent the day at work, then came home and wrote 1,400 words, which on any other day would have been a splendid achievement; but in NaNo terms, you need to produce a daily average of 1,667. So there I was at the end of day 1 and already I had fallen behind.
That pretty well summed up the NaNo experience for me. Some writers surge ahead. The age group that is the most successful is the over-55s - retired people. As for me, I worked jolly hard; I wrote every day and on the days I wasn't at work I tried to produce at least 2,000 words - and usually succeeded.
I remember one day in particular. I wrote a single scene and the writing swam along. Finishing that scene felt like a real achievement, especially as that day at school was extra long because of parents' evening. Even though I wrote "only" 1,000 words, I remember the satisfaction I felt.
Did I hit the 50,000 word target? Good grief, no. I managed 32,000 words. I could have written more (though nowhere near enough to get me anywhere near 50,000) except that I fell into the editing trap. When you do NaNoWriMo, the one piece of advice you are given over and over is not to stop. Keep going. Save the editing for later.
Many writers more than doubled my word count, but I felt I had acquitted myself well. I had written every day for a month. I had worked hard and my average daily word count was over 1,000, which in the context of writing alongside going out to work felt rather good. More than good. I had a feeling of achievement.
But you know what? In all the NaNos I've done since, I've never repeated that original sense of satisfaction. The second year, determined to hit 50,000, I used NaNo to work on the edit/rewrite of a first draft. That month, I stormed to a glorious 55,000... except that it didn't feel glorious. It felt like cheating.
Lesson learned. The next year, I worked on something new, but, though I worked hard on it, that first-time sense of achievement didn't return. In fact, all these NaNoWriMos and Camp NaNoWriMos later, I've never recaptured it. I wonder why. Is it because, having done it once, you never again experience that sharp sense of panic? That "What have I let myself in for?" feeling?
Any ideas, anyone? 


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Comments (8)

Thanks for your comments, Jan. I do hope your second NaNo will be as rewarding as your first. If you get your novel finished, I should think you'll be thrilled to bits! Best of luck xx
Another thought-provoking post, Sue. I can remember how pleased I was a year ago when I completed my first NaNo. As others have said, I initially thought it wouldn't be for me as I like to edit as I go along but having done NaNo last year I now know it's important for me to get my story down and edit afterwards. Having goals and deadlines is what works for me. I hope to get the rest of my story written next month but your post made me wonder. Will I feel as satisfied as I did after my first attempt?
Wise words, Jen. Concentrate on the achievement. You're right - NaNoWriMo does rely on the discipline of daily writing and it certainly proved to me that I could write every single day, but as a natural edit-as-I-go-along person I have always found it tough to plough on.
I've never done NaNo so I'm sorry I can't offer ideas. I know that NaNo helps many writers focus on the discipline of daily writing and that's great. My fear, though, is I'd be setting myself up for failure with the word count target. I write daily but I'm a slow writer, and also edit as I write.

After lots of trial and error, I have a good sense of the writing process that works for me. However, I wish everyone taking part in this year's NaNo good luck. I'd also say, celebrate what you achieve through NaNo, rather than focusing on what you don't.
You know what, Wendy - I'm the same as you. My natural way of writing is to edit as I go along. I find it hard to press on regardless, which is what you are encouraged to do in NaNo. This is one of the reasons I have never managed to hit that 50,000 target. In April's Camp NaNo, I tried to get round it by making brief notes of changes as they occurred to me, and that worked up to to a point, but it got harder and harder to press on with the story when all these edits were trying to lure me in.
I'm afraid I can be of no help as I have never taken part... and even wrote a blog post called No No NaNo to explain why. My problem is that I edit as I write. Once I've finished my story, that's it. Done. Even my novel was written this way - so the quantity v quality aspect of NaNo doesn't work for me, although I know it does for a lot of people.
Gloria, go for it! It's one of the best things you'll ever do. You don't have to spend November on the novel - you can use NaNo to write your non-fiction book, if you like. Most people who do NaNoWriMo use it to write their novels, but others use it for all kinds of writing. You're right - the discipline is marvellous.

Only you can decide which is the right book for November. I understand the wish to get your novel on paper (or on-screen). Do you have enough notes and ideas to get seriously immersed in it? Or, if you tackled the novel, would you feel torn because you "should" be working on your non-fiction book? Having two books could put you in a strong position, because if you had problems with one, you could fall back on the other.

I urge you to give NaNo a go. It's a huge undertaking but well worth it. Watching your personal word count graph going up day by day is one of the joys of life.
Oh gosh... I'm panicking just reading this. I only heard of NaMoWriMo a couple of weeks ago and ever since I'm 'Will I or won't I?'
I'm working on a non-fiction book at the moment but this novel in my head is screaming to get out. I have handwritten notes scattered all over my note book. I suppose I feel I can't possibly write 2 books at the same time. I think NaNoWriMo is the kind of discipline I need. Sorry you asked for ideas and here I am asking you for advice. Do I abandon my non-fiction for a whole month or wait and sign up for camp nano? Maybe you could write a separate post about this for the immature writers like me!