What I’ve Learned From Falling Behind in NaNoWriMo


It’s everything.

Everything else is secondary: plot, creativity, talent…

If you don’t write every day consistently, you will lose. Simple as that.

I’m a few days’ work behind.

But I will catch up. I will not give up.

I will conquer NaNoWriMo. This time next week I will be caught up or I will pay my friend NathanΒ $50.

I know he’ll see this. And he will hound me for it.

But I’m determined to win, to beat this goal, so much that I’m setting the stakes higher for myself to drive me forward so I will not compromise.

NaNo this year is going really well. I’ve had a couple plot breakthroughs. It’s challenged me so far. I’m developing my characters in new ways.

I’m excited and hungry to win.


Question of the day: Are you doing NaNo? How’s it going so far for you?Β 


  1. I’ve done it the past 2 years and had every intention of doing it this year. The story I wrote last year I continued writing and completed in summer. I’ve since been editing it. I haven’t yet finished editing it and the next NaNo I was going to write would be the sequel… so as I’ve not “completed” editing the first novel, I didn’t want to start writing the next!! πŸ™

    • That’s a good call to not start a 2nd book before you’re finished with your first one, Lauren. I would encourage you to use NaNo this year to be your editing month. Get that book DONE! It’s been in your head for a year – you can finish this thing!

      Edit your novel in a month. You can use this loose guideline for editing:

      1. Major revision of the structure. Shift chapters, add news ones, remove ones that don’t work. Add notes in sections that are missing tension, or need more development. Focus on the big picture.
      2. Fix obvious grammar, punctuation, and continuity errors.
      3. Refine action, descriptions, dialogue, characterization, etc…
      4. Line edits. Smooth out sentences, further correct errors and inconsistencies.
      5. Proofread on paper. Edit as necessary.
      6. Send to a minimum of 5 beta readers.

  2. δ½•γ§γ™γ‹οΌŸI don’t have any idea what “NaNo” is. I’m only leaving a comment because you asked so nicely for one.

    • National Novel Writing Month is appreviated NaNoWriMo or NaNo for short. It is when authors attempt 50,000 words written for their novels in the month of November. http://nanowrimo.org

      • *abbreviated
        Why is my best editing done AFTER I hit reply?

        • Thanks, A.J!

          And Bruce, if you’re writing a book, it’s never too late to start National Novel Writing Month. You can join the site and hit the daily word counts with hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Everyone writes at least 1,667 words per day for 30 days. Even if you start late, you can still be part of it and get a lot done in your book! I highly recommend it for writers of all levels.

  3. New to your blog, but definitely enjoying what I’ve seen so far. I’m not formally engaged with NaNoWriMo, but the frequent mentions of the program on various blogs I’m following are contributing to my own writing program. Looking forward to following your efforts both here and with NaNoWriMo.

  4. I was doing very well. I actually started my goal in Oct and then progressed to Nov. But just as I hit a pretty great word count for week one, combined with my long work shifts in front of the computer already on top of my writing time, my body essentially said ‘nope’ and criend uncle. (Long story short: nerve compression) But Oct rocked so I just might take that as success and bow out gracefully to give my poor muscles a break and help my friends with their projects πŸ˜€

    • I’m sorry to hear that, Tea!

      If you still have a goal to write a book, have you considered dictation or a voice to type program so you can relax and heal your body, but you can still write?

      It’s not for everyone (like me), but it might be an option πŸ™‚

  5. Hey, my name is Nathan, too!

    My biggest problem is my blabbering. I have a general idea on what I want to write about but when I sat down to start I spent 3 pages talking about my family history and genealogy and I want to write about investing.

    How do I get past my tendency to “blah blah blah” content and dive straight into the meaty content?

    • Glad to see you already hounding me, Nathan! πŸ˜‰ This is why I picked you to be the debt collecter this week!

      With nonfiction, it’s still about story.

      You need to come up with a one-sentence premise. It’s basically your book pitch. It encompasses all the main points of your story. Once you have that sentence, now you have your core focus for the book. Then, structure the book — you can do this many different ways. I’d advise writing a page or two, outlining your approach. And only write about what’s interesting to you.

      If you don’t want to write about your genealogy, then don’t. If part of it is important to your overall narrative, then share a story about your family that encompasses the point you’re trying to make. You could share a story of your first investment, if it was buying Beanie Babies in the 90’s. Whatever that looks like, you can tie story, genealogy, and narrative together into a cohesive approach.

      But you can’t do that until you know WHAT you’re writing about. So to figure that out, structure your book and know your main focus.

  6. I’m doing NaNo this year. I tried it last year and failed miserably. I approached it a little differently this year, with more of a plan, though not a scene by scene outline. More of a summary of how the story begins and how it ends. I had to do quite a bit of world building and character building beforehand.

    I’m about 10,500 words in. Sadly, I didn’t get any words down over the weekend, so I’m about 2,000 words behind. I’ll catch up this week. I’m loving the story so far. Having a hard time with fight scenes, so I actually came to your page for your post about fight scenes and saw this.

    Good luck on your project. Consistency really is the key.

    • Tom,

      Don’t feel bad about taking a down day. Come at your writing today with vigor! Your mind (and fingers and back) are all rested. You’ve got this!


    • Hey Tom! You’re ahead of me, I’m around 8,500 words right now. And I will be caught up 7 days from now. Now I have a crazy task ahead of me. I need to do 3,000 words a day for a few days to catch up (and I’m a slow writer). If I can do it, you can too. I’m having to say no to a lot of really important social events, but it’s worth it to me.

      Because I’m going to finish my novel, dammit!!

      And as for approaching your summary, this is what helped me. I wrote my premise (my one sentence book pitch that encompasses everything awesome about my story). After that, now if I’m ever stuck, I look at that sentence and refocus the story to rotate around the theme in that sentence. Then, I wrote a 1 1/2 page summary of the plot. I just spent an hour writing it down in paragraph form, making sure every paragraph (except the last paragraph in the story) ends in absolute disaster so there’s enough tension in the story. From there, I have a loose outline without spending a month focusing on it.

      Feel free to try that approach.

      I hope it works, and I’m glad you came back for the blog on fight scenes. If you have any questions, shoot me an email (just reply to the weekly blog emails) and I’d be happy to give you feedback on your fight scenes!

  7. The hardest thing for me was I continued working on my first novel, which I started in January. Friday I determined I had WAY too many characters and there is a significant issue for location. So, I have to rework chapters 1-12, and move on for chapters 13-end. I am not behind (at 16,000 plus words) but I KNOW a MAJOR rewrite is ahead of me and it is daunting. Do I write forward from where the plot should be? Or do I start over? I think I will do the former to keep my momentum going.

    • A.J. — Loving the engagement here! That’s what I like to see! πŸ˜‰

      That was a good call to shuffle around those things, especially since you were still able to keep on top of your word count. Keep up the good work!

      You hit the nail on the head: keep your momentum going. I’ll likely publish a blog post about this, but I have the exact same feelings that the rewrite will be insane.

      I’m not even correcting spelling errors, that’s how rough my first draft is.

      The important thing is hitting your plot points and staying true to your story’s premise. You cannot edit a blank page, so even if you write absolute crap (like me), then after a few rounds of editing, it will be something you can work with.

      For now, focus on the writing, on hitting those plot points. And worry about editing and making it flow after the first draft is done. πŸ™‚

      • Ben,

        Nano is about community for a solitary passion, isn’t it? πŸ™‚

        I had to really MAKE myself sit and write yesterday after spending Saturday rewickering a plot outline based roughly on chapters. (I will confess that I used the story structure on writelikerowling.com to frame out my storyline. My main characters are the same, but this gave me a way to look at the newer version of my story.)

        Today I plan to get chapter 12 drafted. Then let the stream of words begin!


        • I’m not sure I’m following your question about Nano being about a solitary passion?

          At least you have it outlined! I’m busy every day until around 8pm, so I can empathize with you needing to MAKE yourself sit down and write.

          • My comment was meant to say that writing is a solitary activity (hobby or passion). Nano provides a community for that solitary activity. (I was trying to say that NaNo provides a community for those of us whose passion (writing) is a solitary activity.)

    • I’ve had problems like this, too. I had a major event happen too early, and I wrote a whole chapter on it, only to find out yesterday that it needs to happen later. I’ve been summarizing my chapters after I write them, and I add notes like this so I can refer back when it comes time to rewrite and do revisions. It helps a lot! πŸ™‚

      • Hi Lois, after I started, I realized I left out practically the entire setup. So on day 4, I went back and started from the beginning and am now fleshing out the intro before the inciting incident. Beforehand, the inciting incident was around page 10. Embarrassing!

        Don’t worry about re-organizing sections. You’ll be doing that in your revisions too. It’s good that you’re getting the words on the page. πŸ™‚

  8. I am doing NaNoWriMo and I am a few days behind. I initially thought of just giving it up but then I decided I’ll just make up for those days I missed, because I really want to win this year. “I’m excited and hungry to win.” You couldn’t have said it better. πŸ™‚ My sentiment, exactly. Best of luck with NaNo! πŸ˜€

    • Good for you, Anna! Right now I’m 5,500 words behind schedule.

      And I’m going to destroy it this week.

      Comment next week and tell me how you destroyed your word count and caught up to your schedule, okay? πŸ™‚

      • Destroying those numbers sounds like a great plan, Ben! Good luck in destroying that 5,500 words. You can do this! πŸ™‚ Okay. I’m hoping to do finishing demolishing this week, too, so I can resume my usual daily word count. Lol.

        • Anna, are you hoping to demolish your word count this week, or are you going to demolish it this week? I’m going to challenge you to change your mindset and trust yourself when you set a goal. It might sound like semantics, but I don’t think it is.

          If you want to demolish the word count, it is going to happen. As simple as that. That level of confidence in yourself is crucial to you being successful.

          • Okay, semantics or not, I was asking myself the same thing. The safest thing to say, to be honest was, “hoping to.” I really want to catch up and demolish the high word count… Okay, I’ll demolish it this week. *nods head* Yep. I need to make this happen. I need to win NaNoWriMo this year.

            • Imagine the feeling come November 30th if you’ve not written your novel. Now imagine the feeling if you have written it. Chase that dream!

              Today I wrote 3,241 words. It took me four hours. But I did it. I passed up a social event I probably should have been at. But I got my writing goal done. And I’m going to demolish it tomorrow, too.

              How many words did you write today? I believe in you, Anna! Any progress is still progress. As long as you hit the goals you set for yourself. That’s what counts.

              • I have started demolishing those thousands of words that I have yet to catch up to. πŸ˜€ Yay!

                You passed up a social event? Wow… It’s great to know you managed to write 3,241 words! Congratulations! You ARE demolishing them. It’s awesome! πŸ˜€

                I managed to cough up 3,668 words today but at different hours. Thanks for being encouraging!

                I know there are others out there who are in the same boat. It really helps when we check in on each other.

                • Good job, Anna! That’s awesome! You’ll be caught up in no time!

                  And haha, yes, I passed up a social event. I’m no hero… but yes, I’m kind of a hero for doing that.

                  My goal tonight is 2,000+ words. I have something tonight that I cannot get out of, so my time will be much more limited.

                  • Thanks! πŸ˜€ Good luck with the demolishing. I hope you were able to hit the 2,000+ words you mentioned.

                    • I got sick. πŸ™ I wrote 700 words yesterday. Which makes tonight another 3,000-word day. But, by Monday night I will be caught up!

                    • Aww… Hope you feel better soon! I am sure you’ll be able to catch up on those words. It seems a bit (a bit!) easier each day to go over the 1,667 word count when there’s that determination to win NaNoWriMo. πŸ™‚ So yes, you’ll demolish them all.

                    • And yesterday I wrote 3,889 words, despite being groggy and having a hazy mind. I activated beast mode.

                    • Beast mode. Lol. That’s great! Unleash the beast and you get 3,889 words, never mind that you were feeling unwell. Congratulations! πŸ˜€

  9. I slightly disagree that it’s good at whatever level you are at. If you have already written a couple of novels and have the discipline of writing every day, or having a good reason not to (between novels for example) then NaNoWriMo is just a bit annoying and artificial. I started a couple of years ago, thinking I’d complete a novel I’d started a couple of summers before, and that it would be good discipline etc. BUT within a day I realised that I had more urgent and compelling work to do on a re-write/edit of my second novel That said, I do think it’s a wonderful idea for new writers to plunge themselves in and get critical mass, since apparently most people normally give up around the 11,000 word mark. Any way, good luck to those of you who are doing it, hope you all learn lots of useful things.

    • Hey there!

      NaNoWriMo is designed to be a community to encourage writers to keep writing. No matter how long you’ve been writing for, professionally or just as a hobby, a community of like-minded people is always a huge factor as to how successful you’ll be.

      Yes, many of the writers doing NaNo are newer writers. I think that more experienced writers are missing out. It’s a great chance for them to take more of a mentorship role, and still have that community. Mentoring is always a phenomenal opportunity to grow.

    • Kristin Lamb is a published writer who participates in Nanowrimo, and here’s what she has to say about it (and fast writing in general): How Writing Quickly Can Improve Your Storytelling.

      I’ve been participating for nine years, and I’ve learned a lot by writing fast. Sometimes I plan, sometimes I don’t, though I’ve learned that some sort of planning, even if it’s only a basic summary of what I want the story to be, works better for me. I plan to win this year for the tenth year in a row. The event still excites me! πŸ™‚

  10. As I said in another comment, this is my tenth year participating in Nano, and I’m happy to say that I’ve won every year! πŸ™‚

    I started out pantsing a story. I knew nothing about the characters, and for me, that just doesn’t work. On day four, I switched to a story I’ve been wanting to rewrite for a long time. I know the characters well, and I have an idea of the changes I want to make from the original. It’s not all perfectly lined out, but I’m keeping track as I go by summarizing each chapter after I finish writing them. It helps, and it gives me a place to add notes about changes or new people or places I’ve mentioned, etc.

    I’m currently keeping a running tally of my total Nano word count, which includes the earlier story, and I’m keeping one for the latest story, which is the count I’ll go with at the end of the month. I want to write 50K of THIS story. πŸ™‚

    Right now, my novel’s at 21,141. The novel I switched to is at 13,281 I’ll be caught up by the end of today. πŸ˜‰

    • I love your determination, Lois! And even after switching stories you’re working on, you’re still sticking on schedule. That’s impressive, and really encourages me to stick with my project!

      That’s an interesting approach to add notes after each chapter. I usually jot them down in parentheses in the middle of the story, haha!

  11. Not this year, but I won three years in a row, and didn’t quite make it the fourth year. That didn’t stop me from finishing the draft, though. So even if you don’t make the 50K, keep going until your draft is done.

    • I totally agree! Don’t give up on the 30th after putting in all those hours and effort! πŸ˜€

    • Great advice, Diane. I’ll be doing that this year. 50K isn’t “winning” for me. A finished first draft is “winning” for me. We’ll see what date that ends on πŸ˜‰

  12. You’re right, Ben: I read every post (with great enjoyment, I might add), though have yet to engage. Amending that right now.

    I’m in a prime place in my writing process to participate in NaNoWriMo – I’ve mostly finished my novel outline and I just started writing the first draft. But I’m thinking that the pressure won’t be beneficial for me (even more since I would already be a week behind).

    That said, I’m reading a book, “The Clockwork Muse,” by Eviatar Zerubavel, that details how to create a writing schedule that fits your life and holds you accountable to your own deadlines. Sort of like a personalized NaNo. I’m going to try and give that technique a go. Highly recommend the read for anyone who’s tackling a big writing project.

    • Hey Aliza, great to hear from you! And it means so much that you’ve gotten value from this blog. Hope you come back and comment in the future! πŸ™‚

      You cannot escape advice from me when you’re in the comment section, just an FYI. I will try to help you, even if you’re not asking for help.

      It’s a problem I have.

      If you’ve already started your first draft, I’d encourage you to pace yourself at the same word count per day as people from NaNo are doing.

      Technically, I’m not doing NaNo. I am not entering my word count into the calculator on the website. But I have a calendar with the daily word counts and I’m tracking with everyone else who’s participating. It’s great because you know there are thousands of people giving up other things like TV, reading, hanging out with friends, etc… to hit that word count. And that sense of community helps drive you. So I’d encourage you to not feel like you have to catch up for the 10 days into November and hit 50K words by the 30th, but just write 1,667 words a day from now and and keep pace with everyone else.

      It’s always good practice to write quickly, write every day, and to do it consistently. There is no downside to that healthy writing exercise! πŸ™‚

      • I like that.

        I’m not used to writing without looking back, so this is new territory for me. First drafts for previous projects of mine only became first drafts after the fact – when I’d realize that whatever I was working on needed an overhaul.

        I’m approaching my current book with much more planning than I’ve ever done before: researching, outlining, and anticipating multiple drafts. There’s freedom in knowing at the outset that I won’t be held to whatever I first come up with. Even so, it’s tough to shut down my inner censor. Here’s hoping that the more I write quickly, the quicker I’ll write πŸ™‚

        • I totally get that, Aliza. I’ve shared this in previous blog posts, but I’d recommend that you look into: https://typewriter.llllll.li/

          I used it for the first week of NaNo to break down my perfectionist/control-freak tendencies. I write in that tool for an hour or two, then copy/paste it into my word document, and do not look back. If you re-read, only re-read one page (at MOST), just to get the same atmosphere you cultivated in your previous writing session.

          And that’s good to realize that there’s always multiple drafts. For now, use your outline as a guide, and write like crazy. πŸ™‚

          What are your goals? Do you have a deadline when your draft will be done/word count per day?

          • Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll definitely check it out!

            As for goals, right now the most important thing for me is to honor the writing schedule I created for myself. I’ve set aside blocks of time for every day of the week, and I want to keep to it. Basically “show up” consistently and let the novel follow.

            I would like to set a deadline, but only once I get into the rhythm of things. I have about 23 chapters/sections sketched out, so once I finish the first one, I’ll be in a better position to gauge what might be a realistic deadline.

            Appreciate the questions, you’ve helped me solidify my intentions πŸ™‚

  13. This is my first year, and I’m three days behind. All was going well until Friday. I had to grade an enormous pile of essays over the weekend. I’d put them off to begin the writing challenge and then lost three days.

    I don’t want to quit, but I am feeling discouraged. I have very limited time to write. Any advice on how to organize my time and/or find the discipline needed to finish? Perhaps this is ridiculous for me to try at this time!

    • Hi Teresa, thanks so much for being open and asking for some help. First off, as of this morning, I was three days behind as well. Now, I’m two days behind because I wrote over 3,000 words to catch up.

      The first thing I would do is examine if you do really want to write a book. This might sound absurd at first, but really ask yourself — is this really what I want? When I’m on my deathbed and I think back on my life, will me never finishing this book haunt me? If the answer is yes, then you need to do whatever it takes to finish that book. You owe it to yourself.

      You have the capability of finishing the book. Take this opportunity as a chance to prove to yourself that you can complete this book, if for nothing else. Restoring your faith in yourself is worth it. Authors far less talented than you have written novels during NaNo. Authors with far busier lives have also done it. I’m not saying that to minimize your situation, I’m telling you that to say: if this is something you NEED to do, then you can do it.

      As for discipline, it comes down to putting in the work. Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard. To do that, you need to say no to anything else that distracts you during your writing time. If you need to wake up at 5am to write, then do it. For me, I just am not having a social life this month and I’m writing from 7-10 every night. If there’s something I cannot get out of in the evening, then I stay up until 1:30am until I hit my word count (and I work 9-5). I also am having my friends hold me accountable. I raised the stakes — so if my self control fails me, and it will, I know that losing money will drive me when I don’t WANT to write in the moment.

      You will never reach a place in life where writing is easy, it’s easy to find the time, and it’s easy to say no to other things. It comes down to the question: do you want to write a book? If yes, then do whatever it takes despite lack of motivation. Do it without motivation, and keep doing it every day whether you’re motivated or not.

      Does that help? πŸ™‚

      • Thanks, Ben. Yes, your response helps. I appreciate every word.

        I looked back at what I posted. Eek! What a whiner I am! I suppose the novelty has worn off, and I am feeling the struggle. πŸ™‚ You are correct. If I want to write this book, I will. As it happens, I do want to write it. The idea has been simmering in my mind for quite awhile. So, I will continue. . .

        I enjoy reading your posts. They always make me think and often make me laugh!

        • I’m convinced most writers (myself included) are romance writers. Because we romanticize the idea of writing. When it’s fun, it’s easy. When it’s hard and it’s a struggle to get the words out, that’s what separates the romantics from the people who just crave finishing that book.

          I’m glad it helped you, Teresa, and I’m so glad you enjoy the blog! How many words will you write today?

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