How to lose with style

While we’re not quite halfway through the month, we are at the end of the second week of NaNoWriMo. By this time, we’ve identified three groups.

  1. People who have way too much time on their hands. Devoted individuals who are already over 30k, and asking on Twitter what they should do with the rest of the month. Let’s not dwell on these bastards.
  2. People who have put in the extra effort every day, but carefully meted it out so that they didn’t burn out. Now they are watching the little black line on the NaNo Stats page, making sure that they can keep up with the pace.
  3. People who are lost. These are the people who are looking at 10k words, seeing that they should be nearing 25k, and saying, “There’s just no way.” If you’re in this group, I’d like to talk to you.

Okay, you’re boned. You’re looking at the stats, your schedule, and you know it’s just not going to happen. That’s cool. Understand that it’s a fact, don’t get mad about it, just let it sink in for a moment.

Now, that’s a fact staring you in the face. The question is, “What will you do about it?”

If you think there’s no choice, and you just have to give up, that’s fine. It’s entirely up to you if you want to do that. But consider how you’ll feel about it six months from now. You’ll look back on this and say, “Yeah, I didn’t get the whole story written, but I got 10k, and that’s a really good start. I wonder why I didn’t build off of that 10k?”

Because here’s the thing. Whether you like it or not, those words are written. You’ve made an effort. It’s out there, now. You’ve invested, you have the small tendrils of something. You can waste that if you want, but you have to realize that you are actually wasting something you invested yourself in.

So, what’s the alternative? We already decided there’s no way you can win, right?

Well, not quite.

Option 1 – Amp it up

If you’re at 10k on the 12th (when I posted this), then you have 18 days left. You have 40k words left to write in 18 days. That’s a lot of words, more than you started out with, but at the same time, it’s not impossible. In fact, it’s around 2200 words per day.

Imagine you get up 20 minutes early and sneak over to the computer to write. Now, I’m not the fastest typist, but I can get 500 words in 15 minutes. If you can do that, you start the day off with a 500 word lead. Say you get an hour lunch break. Eat at your desk (just for this month) and take the first 15 minutes to write. Now you’re looking at 1000 words, and you aren’t even home from work yet. When you get home, tell the family that you need just a few minutes to write before dinner (another 500), then, just before you go to sleep, you take a quarter hour to top off the day (2000 words by now, minimum).

It’s not easy. I won’t kid you. It sounds easy to say “15 minutes here, 15 minutes there” but it requires a lot of willpower and stamina. At the same time, you knew that when you started, right? Now it’s just a little bit more willpower and stamina. In fact, it’s really only 15 minutes more each day.

But okay, let’s say that you’ve seen how it’s gone so far, and you can tell you just won’t be able to find the time. This leads us to:

Option 2 – Don’t win

I know. What’s the point of being in the race if you’re not trying to win? And besides, what’s the difference between failing and just giving up?

What I’m recommending here is that you recognize the difference between not winning, and quitting. You’re a writer. Let’s face it, you wouldn’t have 10k down if you weren’t a writer. So to decide to quit cold turkey is nuts. Imagine that you’ve already lost NaNo, or imagine that you’ve already won it. It doesn’t matter because either way, you’re going to keep writing. It’s what you do.

So, instead of worrying about getting 1,667 words per day, just keep trying to put words down. Keep updating the NaNo website, keep cheering on your friends. Use NaNoWriMo as a chance to work on your own writing habits. Make writing a habit for yourself. Screw the deadline, and keep writing.

Imagine you get to December, and you’ve “only” written 40k words. . . that’s forty thousand freaking words! That’s a novella! You can hold your head up high with that, and call yourself an author.

But I’ll let you in on a secret. If you keep writing until you get to December 1st, you won’t stop with 40k. You’ll have the habit, and you’ll want to finish your story. You’ll write until it’s done, and you’ll have something monumental to tell people about. You will be a novelist.

So, even if you’re not going to win, you can’t lose. . . as long as you keep writing.

BTW, this blog post is 891 words long. I wrote it before work. It can be done.

– Brand Gamblin is a two-time winner of NaNoWriMo, and author of the sci-fi novel “Tumbler“, available through Amazon.

Flattr this!


  1. YES! See? I knew there was a reason to follow you! Thanks for writing this up. I think a lot of NaNos need to hear this.