Why I’ll Never Participate in NaNoWriMo Again

If you’re not familiar, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Every year, hundreds of thousands of writers join together in one common goal: write the first draft of a novel (or at least the first 50,000 words) in the month of November.

Since 2011, completing at least one NaNoWriMo competition was a dream of mine. After writing two novels over the span of several months, last year I finally felt up to the challenge. I was right. Last November I wrote 50,014 words of This Dread Road, the third and final installment in my new adult women’s fiction trilogy The Bennett Series.

I was so proud of myself. Not only had I finally managed to complete the challenge, but I had done it during the same month my husband and I purchased a new home and moved.

For several months post-NaNo, I was convinced that every writer should participate in this challenge every single year, no excuses. But when I (finally) finished revisions on This Dread Road, I can look back and say with all manner of certainty that NaNoWriMo, while well-intentioned, did me far more harm than good.

Immediately following the challenge’s end, I experienced a horrific period of burnout. I never stopped working on This Dread Road because I was determined to see it released before year’s end, but there were several times I was tempted to call it quits. While the first half took me just over a month and a half to write, the second half took more than six months. For a long time, I didn’t care about the story anymore. Working on it — at times, even thinking about it — was painful and tortuous. I stopped worrying about whether I’d get it to my editor in time to publish it by December, and started worrying whether I’d get it to her at all.

Stella Maris Catholic Church — Sullivan’s Island, SC

In March, my husband and I visited South Carolina to celebrate our third wedding anniversary. That trip forced me to relax and rejuvenate, and also afforded me the opportunity to experience some of the real-life places (like the church pictured above) that play into the plot of This Dread Road.

It took another month after that trip to Charleston, but I finally finished the first draft. I was so happy when I typed THE END, so eternally grateful for NaNoWriMo. If I hadn’t written that 50,014 words in November, how much further behind schedule would I be?

But when I started the revision process, I was horrified by what I found. Those first 50,014 words were essentially useless — filler words, unnecessary characters, subplots I never took the time to flesh out. I could almost chart the ups and downs of my exhaustion by merely reading that first half.

I had to rewrite the first twenty-seven chapters. Twenty-seven chapters.

I don’t necessarily wish that I didn’t participate in NaNo last year. It was a fun experience. I enjoyed the camaraderie and solidarity with other writers. It was like finals week without the stress of grades. And you know what? I got a lot done. Had I not taken part in the challenge, I probably wouldn’t have taken a break this past summer to redesign all three of the covers for The Bennett Series. I wouldn’t have been able to let the time we spent in Charleston influence my descriptions. But most importantly, I wouldn’t have learned a valuable lesson:

What works for others doesn’t necessarily work for me.