Why I Keep Losing NaNoWriMo (And Why I Just Can’t Quit It)

Remember last October, when I made 31 posts about prepping for NaNoWriMo… and then promptly lost NaNoWriMo? I do. And you’d think I would’ve learned from that experience. But, no. This year, I got all jazzed up about it again, did some prepping for a new book idea, hammered out about 30,000 words, and then dropped the ball. So what is it about NaNoWriMo that just doesn’t work for me? Why do I do great for the first half of it, and then just… quit? Case in point:

NaNoWriMo 2018


NaNoWriMo 2017

NaNoWriMo 2016

I mean, look at 2016! I was doing amazing! It seems like there’s no way I could have lost, and yet I did. I’ll admit that 2017 was a bit more of a mess, because I started out writing one novel and then ended up jumping to another halfway through (because I was a NaNo rebel, and I didn’t care about breaking the rules, damnit). But this year I really thought I’d gotten my shit together. I’d done a little outlining, but not too much. I had a solid story idea with pretty well-defined plot beats. I was excited about what I was writing. So what went wrong?

The only conclusion I’ve been able to come to is so simple, I can’t believe I didn’t see it sooner. I mean, it really isn’t rocket science. And that conclusion is this: I’m not a fast-drafter.

Seriously. That’s the long and short of it. I’m just really not a fast-drafter. I’m not the kind of person who can sit down at a computer and bang out 1,667 words a day, at least not without getting burnt out. The fastest I’ve ever written 50,000 words is three months, and that draft was a hot mess. And I really, really don’t like to write hot-mess first drafts, because that means more editing and revising later. So, with that being the case, it’s no wonder I’ve lost every single NaNoWriMo I’ve ever attempted.

But why did I think I could be a fast-drafter? Where did this unmerited confidence come from? I guess I’d just been working under the assumption that, since other people had done it, so could I. Because, I mean, writing works exactly the same for everybody, right? (That was heavy, heavy sarcasm.) This is actually a problem I’ve run into a lot lately. I keep thinking that, because something works for other writers, it has to work for me, too. And if it doesn’t work for me, then I’m the problem. Since NaNoWriMo works so well for other people, the fact that it doesn’t work for me means that I’m doing something wrong. But, no. That’s not the case at all. And, you know what? I’m sure that some of you have had the same problem. Some of you may have also lost NaNoWriMo one too many times, and you’ve probably wondered if you were at fault. But I’m here today to say that it’s not your fault. You may just not be a fast-drafter, and that’s okay.

So does that mean I’m never, ever going to participate in NaNoWriMo again? No, I’ll probably do it again next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. I’ll also probably participate in every single Camp NaNoWriMo, too.

“Why would you do that?” you’re probably asking. “If NaNoWriMo doesn’t work for you, what’s the point in doing it?” And that’s a valid question. But, I mean, despite the fact that I’ve never won NaNoWriMo, that doesn’t mean I’ve ever really failed, either. Because, as I’ve seen a lot of people on Twitter saying: Whether you get 10 words written, or 50,000 words written, you’ve still written something. And I think that’s a really good point. This year, I wrote about 30,000 words of a brand new project, which is awesome. Last year, I wrote a whole lot of words for two projects. And the year before that… I mean, look at that progress! Just look at it!

So, yeah, I may never hit 50,000 words in a month. I may not be a fast-drafter. But, at the end of the day, NaNoWriMo gets me writing. It gets me writing every day, and it gets me excited to write every day. I may have to start molding it to my own individual writing needs, so that I don’t burn myself out anymore, but as a whole I think NaNoWriMo is a great resource that can help a lot of writers get started on the projects buzzing around in their heads. And, even better, it can help to connect those writers to a community. That, to me, seems like the biggest victory of all.

What about you? Do you participate in NaNoWriMo? What’s your experience with it been like? Make sure to let me know in the comments down below!

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Let’s Talk About Writing – Creative Writing Degrees: Yay or Nay?

When you go to Google and type in “Are creative writing degrees…”, the very first auto-fill that pops up is “worth it?” And, it’s a legitimate question. If you’re going to go to college and spend tens of thousands of dollars on a higher education, you want to make sure you’re getting some bang for your buck, right? Because the last thing you want when you leave college is to feel like you not only wasted your money, but your time. I get it. And, having gone through four years of college to graduate with a BA in Fiction Writing, I feel pretty damn qualified to help you make that decision. So, with that said, let’s get started.

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Don’t Let the World Bring You Down

The best thing I’ve ever done for myself is getting off of social media.

I know, it sounds crazy. How can an aspiring author exist in this world without social media? How can they live without scrolling through the bookstagram tag or retweeting helpful threads written by agents? If they don’t stay up-to-date on the publishing world every minute of every day, how will they know if it’s the right time to query their debut novel? I wondered all of this at first, too. I believed the lie that the modern professional had to spend hours of their day on social media, or else they weren’t going to get anywhere. But I’m here to tell you that it simply isn’t true.

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Let’s Talk About Writing – The Shiny Thing

A little over a year ago, I wrote a blog post titled “The Allure of the Shiny Thing” in which I discussed how I was struggling to write one novel because ideas for a million other novels were vying for my attention. The phrase had been one I’d learned from a professor at Columbia College Chicago, and at the time I was adamant that pursuing the shiny thing was the worst thing I could possibly do. However, recently I actually did give in to the shiny thing. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

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Let’s Talk About Writing – Dust Off Those Vocal Chords

The title says it all. Dust off those vocal chords, because today we’re going to be talking about the benefits of reading your writing aloud!

“But Leighton,” you say, “why would I have to read my writing aloud? The whole point of reading is that it’s done silently.” To that, I say: Tell that to the audio book listeners out there. No, but seriously, this advice that I have to give you has nothing to do with whether your book will be read aloud someday or not (which, it totally will). It has to do with making your book the best it can be. That may also seem confusing, though. Like, how could reading a manuscript aloud make it better? Well, it helps in a few ways. Allow me to enlighten you.

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Let’s Talk About Writing: Cutting Your Manuscript Down to Size

Today we’re going to be talking about one of the most dreaded words to a writer: “Cut.” The word that makes us quake and hug our manuscripts tightly to our chests. “No, please, anything but the cut!” we cry. No matter how much we hate the word “cut,” though, I think we all realize that sometimes there’s just no way around it. Some things just have to be cut.

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Let’s Talk About Writing: Taking a Big Ol’ Info Dump

Info dumps. They plague the writing community, and nobody is immune. Amateurs and professionals alike can find themselves with a bit too much information to give, and when that happens the test of a talented writer is whether or not they can get that info across without leaving it in a messy pile at the reader’s feet. And that’s why I’m here! To teach you the best practices for avoiding the info dump, or for polishing up your info dump when you find there’s no way to avoid it altogether.

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When Great Ideas Collide

This is a phenomenon that has only happened twice in my life now, but MAN do I love it when it does. Basically, what happens is that I’ve been kicking a few ideas around for a while, with one that’s really been drawing my attention more than the others. Still, whenever I try to write it, I can’t seem to get words down, or at least not many. I tend to not even make it past the first page. Then, one day, I suddenly realize that combining a few of these less-developed ideas with my big idea is exactly what I need to make this story work. And then BLAMO! I’ve finally got something I can work with!

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Let’s Talk About Writing: How Much Power Is Too Much Power?

Let me set the scene. The main character steps up to his final showdown with the Big Bad. It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for. And as the battle starts, the Big Bad immediately gets a leg up on the main character, knocking the weapon from their hand… Except, wait, why is that a problem? The main character has telekinetic powers and can just summon their weapon back into their hand. In fact, why do they need the weapon at all? Can’t they just toss the Big Bad around with their powers? It isn’t like the Big Bad has any powers of their own, or at least not any more than the main character. Really, where’s the tension? This final battle kind of blows. Let’s go get Starbucks instead of watching this shit show…

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The Pressure of Finding the Right Agent

Hey guys! How’ve you been? That’s good, that’s good… Oh, me? Ah, well, to be honest, I’ve been pretty stressed. Why? Well, let me tell you why. It’s because I’ve been dedicating hours of my life to doing copious amounts of research on literary agents. It’s been a long and arduous process, one I’m hoping will pay off in the end, but I’m not going to lie. It’s taking quite the toll on my poor little brain. Because it isn’t as easy as you may think. Not if you’re me, anyway. It’s funny, because in most areas of my life I have the most Type B personality one could have. But when it comes to writing–and, in the same vein, researching literary agents–I’m a Type A fiend. The type of Type A that my Type B side would hate very, very much.

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