on not “winning” NaNoWriMo

I didn’t “win” at NaNoWriMo this year. I’ve never actually won. The closest I came was in 2008, when I wrote 38,000 words of what would become my “practice novel”. It was the first time I’d ever tried a NaNoWriMo, and I came reasonably close. But in the end, I didn’t make it. I trunked most of that novel, not because it didn’t “win”, but because it was hopelessly flawed in the way first novels usually are. But looking back on it now, what I had would become the history that my other books are built on. I took pieces of each of them—a name, a conflict, a personality—and fed them to other stories. Like reincarnation. Let’s call it a “belated win” maybe?

This year, I made about 17,000 words, which is… well, no better than an average month for me, lol! But I am THRILLED with my work. No, I didn’t “win”, but holy crap did I write some good stuff this month! Check this out:
– I finished the “new first draft” of Windows, which I’ve been meaning to get to for about ten years
– I sacked one novel (In Real Life) that I discovered and admitted wasn’t working (RIP my dearies)
– I decided that Leila’s story, while brilliant and complex and really pretty solid, was not material for NaNoing. It’s closer to 2nd draft status than 1st (and really, how is that not good news!?).
– with the rest of the month, I absolutely fell in love with another story that just started pouring out of me (Outshine), so now I have two small but hopeful releases for the future, and one big, huge, beefy novel that is really not in bad shape.

The 17,000 words I got are filled with humor and insight and heartbreak. These are not throw-away words. These are keepers! In my eyes, I couldn’t have won harder.

What I love about NaNo, and why I still keep trying to strive for those magical 50,000 words that I’ll never actually reach, is that it pushes me. After a long, lazy summer, I need that kick in the pants to jump-start my writing season. The wild abandon of it is ripe for discovery. For testing things out that might fail (like one of mine did), or might rise spectacularly like I never expected (like another of mine did!). I love that all my writing friends are writing fiction at the same time, like we all pool our energy into the collective creative genius.

Winning (as in reaching the 50,000 words) is a fun goal, but it doesn’t really matter if you make it or not. A lack of 50K does not make one a “loser”. If you only reach 17K or 25K or 32K or 47K, those are still your words, and that’s still a lot of work you’ve accomplished which you will use in the future.

I will NaNo again next year, and chances are I won’t “win”, again. It doesn’t disappoint me anymore. The way I see it, good work is good work, no matter how big or little.