Failing to Win – A NaNoWriMo Tale

the 2021 NaNoWriMo tee, resting on the text of The Treachery of Rainbows

What you are about to read may upset you or at the least, annoy you. I get that. I’m ok with it. If you are the kind who is very strict about the rules of a thing, I am about to discuss something that is counter-intuitive, given the nature of the thing being discussed.

I am speaking, of course, of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo (or just ‘NaNo’ as some are apt to call it). In the simplest of terms, it’s a challenge. Writers and other masochists take on the mantle of writing 50, 000 words towards a novel in the month of November. 30 days. 50,000 words. 1, 667 words per day. That is the challenge. The is the goal. Those who cross that threshold are winners.

I first joined the challenge in 2013. I suppose that is when I first thought that I might have the affliction of ‘being a writer.’ I guess I knew before that, but that was the year I wanted to let the world know that I wanted to be a ‘real’ writer (whatever that is).

This year marks the eighth year that I have signed on for the challenge. In these eight years, I have only hit the mark of 50,000 words in one month two times. The first of those was the first draft of “The Treachery of Rainbows.” That book, through many revisions came out last year–5 years after the NaNo in which I first conceived it. The second was a draft of a book that has yet to see the light of day beyond that November first draft. It may one day find life anew under the revisionist’s pen, but for now it sleeps in a drawer.

Other years I have tried. Some years coming closer than others to that elusive 50,000 word goal. To winning NaNoWriMo. This is one of the ‘closer’ years. After this is posted, the word count for the month will be approximately 35,000 words. If you are better at math than I, you will no doubt surmise that I have to pen roughly 15,000 words between now and tomorrow at 11:59PM. A 15,000 word day might be possible. I don’t know. I have never had one. In fact, this day-hitting just over 4,000 words will be one of my more productive word days.

Shouts of ‘loser’ would be fitting at this point in the tale, were it not for one single fact. Of the over 500,000 participants in NaNoWriMo this year, not a single one is my competitor. This ‘challenge’ has the goal of fostering community. And it has another goal – to get one in the habit of writing.

Todd, will you hit your goal? Will you win NaNo?

Excellent question. The answers are no, but yes.

You see, I will quite likely NOT hit the goal of 50,000 words this year. Technically, I won’t win NaNoWriMo.

However, I don’t consider that failing. For in each of these days in November I have still written. Something has made its way to the page. Some days those words are barely a mumble. A poem. A thought. But they are words at the least more words on the page that were once in my head. Other days this month I have hit the daily goal, even surpassed it (again, I should hit around 4,000 words this day). Tomorrow I shall write (or perhaps will still be writing as the clock passes midnight).

And that will be 30 days of writing. In a row.

And that, my friends, is winning. Not officially. Not according to the NaNoWriMo site. But winning none the less.

After a year of falling back into the pits of the imposter syndrome. After a year of not knowing if there were words left in me beyond poems and journal entries. A year of having so many ideas listed in notebooks that seem like a foreign language when I sit to take them beyond the idea stage.

After a year where the energy to be even the least bit creative seemed ever elusive, I will take 30 days of writing. 30 days of writing toward a goal. Each word written on each of those days beyond the one before it is a step toward the win.

Did I order the ‘NaNoWriMo Winner’ shirt at the very beginning of the month when I thought I might still hit 50,000 words? Of course I did. I had every intention of winning NaNoWriMo (and I wanted to make sure I could get a shirt in my size–it seems only M’s or L’s are left at the end of the month). Will I hit the 50,000 words? No, not likely.

Will I still wear the shirt with pride? Yes. Because it says “NaNoWriMo 2021 Winner” not “Person Who Wrote 50,000 Words In A Month.”

And for me, the writing of words each day makes me a winner. So, yes. I will wear the shirt. Not to pull a fast one and pass myself off as something I am not. Not as a snub to the many fine writers who did hit their 50,000 word goal, but in celebration of 30 days of writing. 30 days of again feeling like I can wear the word ‘writer’ without feeling like I have to somehow prove why I am (or am not) one.

A friend, and fellow writer, once reminded me that a rising tide raises all ships in the harbor. So, however you find the words, however you need to tell your story–please, do yourself a favor. Tell the story. You may think nobody else needs your story, I assure you–there is someone out there who will find a light in your story. Someone will find a way out of whatever hole they might be in, because of your story. Be it a poem, a photograph, a song, a novel, a drawing–it will speak to someone.

And the beautiful thing is, you may never know who that person is. And you don’t have to.

You just have to tell your story.

That makes you a winner, too.


2 thoughts on “Failing to Win – A NaNoWriMo Tale

  1. 50,000 is such an arbitrary number. A person can write 5,000 words of pure gold or 150,000 words of complete garbage in one month. If you’re happy with your output, then you’re a winner.

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