What I Learned Failing NaNoWriMo

What I Learned Failing NaNoWriMo - And Why I'm OK With It

This was my fourth year taking part in NaNoWriMo. And it was the first year I failed to hit the 50k word target. I'm surprised. And I'm kind of not surprised.

I mean, I did get a late start on NaNo this year.

After getting a few thousand words into a new romance, I decided that wasn't a genre I wanted to think about all month. So I said "screw this," and started over on a horror novel. (What? They cheer me up.) Thankfully it was one I'd outlined years ago, so I saved that step.

And still I hit just under 42k words (not counting what I'd put into the first project I set aside).

Yesterday I thought I'd hammer out those last 8k or so words. After all, on my first day working on this novel I wrote over 10k. That just goes to show how undisciplined I was the rest of the month.

But that didn't happen.

What Went Wrong?

Things were great once I got started on the project. The first 20k words or so were pretty much a breeze. So what happened?


Yep. That's it. Other stuff came up. Some, important stuff. Some, not so much. Just stuff.

It was a ridiculously busy month. It was an emotionally draining month. Throw politics and the start of the holiday season into the mix, and the fact I'm neither stumbling around in a drunken stupor nor passed out in perpetual hibernation kind of amazes me.

So let me try to explain the whirlwind that was November just to put this in perspective. (Yes. I'm making excuses. But shush. It's my blog, and I can if I want to.)

All Freelance Writing' Anniversary

That's right. You heard me. It's your fault I didn't finish NaNoWriMo.

Not going to fly, huh? Damn it...

You might remember that All Freelance Writing was on a bit of a hiatus for months. That's because I was busy on the back-end of the site, working on the re-design you see now, including heavy content customizations as things were moved into the new theme.

The re-launch was scheduled for November 1st. (Honestly, there were times I didn't think I'd make it, and some new features had to be pushed back.)

"But Jenn..." I can hear you thinking. "Why would you be so stupid as to plan a blog re-launch in November? You know that's NaNoWriMo."

Yeah... point taken. It was stupid.

But, this November was a very special November. You see, All Freelance Writing launched way back in November of 2006 (as SixFigureWriters.com).

That meant this November was my baby blog's big 1-0. And if there was ever a perfect time to unveil a fresh look, the site's 10-year anniversary would be it.

But was a new design enough for me?


Don't be silly.

I'm not into gimmicky nonsense to get attention. I've tried contests and all of that here in the past, and I've never been happy with how it turns out (generally attracting short-time visitors hoping for freebies). I wanted to focus on those of you who have been around for the long haul.

So the plan was to come back with a vengeance, and bring you a relative crap-ton of new content this November.

And I did, thanks to some awesome guests who helped out, even if I didn't quite hit my target of daily posts. (You're lucky I ever got out of bed again after the election. So cut me a tiny bit of slack.)

With that much content to write, this blog alone drastically ate into the time I normally would have invested in NaNoWriMo.

The Podcast

The podcast here was also part of it. Normally I run two guest-hosted episodes (which are an hour or more) each month, and two shorter solo episodes where I tackle questions you send in.

Because this November was special, I brought in guests for all four episodes (including hosting a four-person round table discussion for the first one).

Recording them alone takes quite some time -- an hour and a half to two hours is pretty typical for a guest-hosted show's un-cut call. And, naturally, they take longer to edit. While these guests were awesome and edits were pretty simple, we're still talking about around 10-12 hours of work this month just on the show.

Other Stuff

I won't get into the rest in detail, but suffice to say it's been a pretty lousy month on the personal front. The stress certainly slowed me down at times (though it also forced me to jump headfirst into projects for distraction's sake, which may have actually helped at times).

And let's not even start on what politics did to my mental state and schedule this month. I wish my little inner voice had enough sense to say:

"NaNoWriMo? In a presidential election month? Hell, no, you're not going to do that!"

Sadly, it did not.

Oh, yeah. And I started work on the new blog for the 3-month challenge that will be featured here starting January 1st. More info to come on that soon. But at least that was a pleasant thing as far as NaNoWriMo interruptions go.

What Failing NaNoWriMo Taught Me

Here's the thing. I feel like I should be royally pissed at myself for not writing my 50k words last month. But I'm not.

You know me. I don't fear failure. I always push myself to my limits, because that's the only way you can find out where those limits are. I thrive on that in business, including when it comes to things like NaNoWriMo.

I almost skipped NaNo.

I knew it would be a crazy month, especially with all the work on this site. It was a pretty last minute decision and rush to come up with an idea (the romance actually wasn't the original idea planned -- yeah, I was super flip-floppy this time).

But I did it anyway.

And during the month I spent the better part of one week dealing with some personal writing that came to over 15k words.

And despite everything else going on, I still managed to write almost 42k words in a project I'd shelved 7-8 years ago, not sure if I'd ever make time for it again (and I did want to).

Do you know what that taught me?

I'm Not a Friggin' Super Woman

There are limits to what I can do, no matter how much I sometimes try to fight them.

Failing NaNoWriMo this year wasn't an issue of laziness. It wasn't procrastination. It wasn't even that there wasn't enough time on top of my other work to draft a novel.

It was an issue of priorities.

Yes, I could have scaled back the All Freelance Writing content and made up those 8k words. But I made the right call given the circumstances.

Yes, I could have done two shorter podcasts and pushed two interviews to December. But I'm quite happy with the November guest line-up, and I'm happy with the time spent on them.

Yes, I could have blown off personal issues for a few weeks, not tackled those 15k+ words (which were largely about trying to help myself process a situation), and quite easily exceeded the 50k words I needed for my NaNo novel. But I wouldn't change that decision.

I also took time with family for Thanksgiving, enjoyed a bit of downtime when I needed it, and took more time to push myself on personal projects (a new workout routine, back to my French lessons, more reading, and more time with my guitar and writing music for example. And I've been itching to get back to painting, so maybe that will be next -- in a bit of a "let everyone else fend for their damn selves; I deserve to focus on me for a change" phase at the moment.

All that said, I chose my priorities. And I stand by them, NaNoWriMo success or not.

It isn't realistic to think I can do everything I want to do all the time. And sometimes it takes failure to remind myself of that.

And that leads me into the next thing I learned thanks to missing my NaNoWriMo target:

Fun Has to Count For Something

Sometimes with NaNoWriMo I get so caught up in reaching word count targets that I forget to let myself enjoy the writing process.

And damn, does that ever suck...

Did you know that the last two NaNo novels I wrote are pretty much a blur to me? I don't feel like I know those characters anymore. And while I love the stories and plan to polish them eventually (not my priority genre right now), I just don't feel as invested in them as I'd like to.

Not so with this story.

This one was special. I started working on it back around the end of 2008 and through early 2009. It was a project I threw myself into to help me get through another rough personal patch (so kind of fitting I'd go back to it now).

The moment I found my old handwritten outline (an entire binder full of scene notes, character sketches, and such), it was like seeing old friends again. I remembered those characters, their motivations, their strengths and flaws... everything.

I knew this story. Inside and out. I could close my eyes, put on my story playlist, and watch the entire thing play out in my mind like a movie. It almost felt like cheating to "write" this at all given how at-home I already felt in this story's world.

But the time away from it also gave me new insight. So I was able to pinpoint problem areas and fix them on the fly (largely issues with the mythology behind some of the characters).

Working on this novel was more fun for me than any writing project has been in a long time. And, like I said, I realize now that has to count for something.

I'm OK with the fact that I didn't hit 50k words in a month because I enjoyed the process, I got reacquainted with a project I've desperately wanted to finish for years, and I made quite a bit of progress.



A lot of it.

So do you know what? Maybe there's one more lesson in all of this...

Maybe I am a Friggin' Super Woman After All

And if you wrote a novel, or even half of one, while also juggling running a business, holding down a full-time job, and / or taking care of a family, do you know what? So. Are. You!

50k words be damned. Progress is progress. And I'm nearly 42k words ahead of where I was a month ago, on a project I otherwise may not have touched again for years, and on a project that I'm finding quite a bit of joy in working on.

So yeah. I'm cool with failing NaNoWriMo this year. I could have burnt myself out to make it happen. And I might have hated the project as a result.

Instead I'm working on something I love, I kept my sanity (or enough of it) to deal with the re-launch and anniversary month content here, and somehow I survived an all-around hellish month.

What's a measly 8k words compared to all of that?

The thing is, this novel was always expected to end up more in the 80-100k word range when it's finished anyway.

So 42k? 50k? What's the difference really? I got about halfway through the novel. And I will pick the project back up, either this month during my vacation or early in the New Year, and I will finish this draft.

NaNoWriMo put me on the path to finally finishing what is probably my biggest pet project. And I can't think of a better result than that.

Dare I ask... how did everyone else's progress go with NaNoWriMo this year? Did you write your 50k words? Did you come up a little short? What did you learn from the experience either way?

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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8 thoughts on “What I Learned Failing NaNoWriMo”

  1. Jenn, you are a superwoman… YES YOU ARE! You do two or three times more than anyone I know. I often stand, or more likely, sit in awe.

    Please remember both fun and re-creation… sounds like the book will be more than a wow!

    • LOL Thanks Anne. Plenty of fun and recreation. No worries. Even that gets planned. 😉 A minimum of 30 minutes a day for reading (usually much more if I take a book to bed), guitar time, day trips, possibly hanging w/ Lori next week if she’s free, and I even schedule in a set number of movies each week just to force myself to escape the work grind a bit more. Plus, there’s soccer most weeks — probably my biggest joy oddly enough. 🙂

  2. I cannot point any fingers as I never participate in NaNoWriMo. My excuse is a little 3-Day, 60-Mile Walk that takes place every November + vacation + client meetings that keep me gone half the month. I find walking 60 miles in 3 days MUCH easier than what you try to accomplish with NaNoWriMo. 😉


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