Yesterday I consoled two friends who failed to write 50,000 words in a month. Just as I finished comforting one, the other IM’d me. After three hours, I think I ran out of patience. It’s for the hysterics I both witnessed and heard about yesterday that I’m writing this today, to reminded you that National Novel Writing Month is imaginary and you’ll all be fine.
There are a few dozen professional authors with whom I speak regularly. None of them were doing #nanowrimo the way it’s intended. Most didn’t do it at all; I didn’t either. A few used the community aspects and inspirational messages to psych themselves into getting as many words as they could for their own novels – most of which, I think, are going to finish at double or more the 50,000-word goal line. This is how they pay their bills, and they just wanted progress on hard projects.
I frame this in terms of what they did to ask you something simple: what did you want out of this thing?
Did you want a publishable book? Bullshit! Almost no one in the history of almost everywhere has ever written a decent novel in one month. Maybe Stephen King, maybe once, out of a career headed for triple digits.
Did you do it for camaraderie with other writers? Then it only matters how you bonded. And good news: those people are still around, so you can still talk to them, encourage them, and share your work with them.
Did you do it to start writing again? Then you did, and if this art form expressed something from within you that nothing else reaches, you probably ought to keep going. Maybe writing this, maybe something different, maybe something shorter. Maybe December is your Short Story Writing Month, where you nail a smaller thing that squirmed out of the novel, to feel that you can conquer an idea. Or maybe you just keep pace until this novel itself has an end.
Did the high demand stress you out, wreck your outline, or otherwise leave you unable to work effectively? Then start over with a more generous time table. There are eleven months before the next November, and many talented people will be writing during those, including every single professional author I know. It is actually legal to keep writing today. You have my permission.
Look: 50,000 words in a month doesn’t make you a novelist. Unless you were contracted to someone for a manuscript by today, you haven’t failed at jack shit. You will only fail if you don’t embrace what you wanted out of this before you die.