How to Turn a NaNoWriMo Loss into a Long-Term Win

NaNoWriMo Participant 2017So here we are in November, and a whole load of overly optimistic (or overly crazy) writers around the world are heads down writing like mad for NaNoWriMo. Chances are you know lots of people doing it, but if you don’t know what it is, National Novel Writing Month challenges you to write a 50k word novel in just 30 days. Yes, you have to be a little bit crazy to try it.

I’ve been that crazy six times already. But I’ve only hit that magical 50k three times (since having children, I’ve not managed to come anywhere close!)

As many people as you know doing NaNoWriMo, you’ll probably know just as many who decry it as a joke. An event that promotes terrible writing (by encouraging quantity of words over quality). And they’re right. It is more than likely that your NaNo novel will be terrible. As all first drafts usually are (especially when written in a caffeine-fuelled blur of just 30 days). But what does that matter? Your first draft never sees the light of day.

Many, probably most, NaNo novels will never find their way through to publication, and are destined to languish on hard drives, abandoned and forgotten. But there is light at the end of the literary tunnel here. Let me tell you about one of my NaNo stories.

In 2011, I hit NaNoWriMo with a story called The Bottle Stopper. It was about a little girl, eight years old, living in the care of her abusive uncle. She was blind, because he had blinded her. She worked in the back of his apothecary shop, bottling his ‘miracle medicine’, which was, in actual fact, nothing more than river water and a sprig of lavender. I won that year, penned 50k words. 50k awful words. 50k words that sat on my hard drive for years.

In October 2015, I published The Bottle Stopper. It certainly wasn’t the 2011 version, nor was it any of the other three versions that had followed. It’s still about a girl, but she’s 17 now, and she can see perfectly well. The abusive uncle is still there, and she still bottles his medicine. Beyond that, it bears very little relation to the original.

But that idea, those characters, and that conflict carried through to the book as it is today. It may have taken another four years, but that book was finished, and published. It also contained a whole supporting cast of characters rescued from other unfinished books (some of which were written for NaNo). The Bottle Stopper is the first book of The Paper Duchess quadrilogy.

So what I’m saying is this: a good idea never dies. Even if your NaNo novel is utter trash, the ideas are salvageable. The characters can be resurrected. And the story can still be played out. Some day. And my terrible NaNo novel evolved into an entire series. So a loss at NaNo doesn’t need to be a loss forever. It can, in time, become a great big win.

Insecure Writer's Support GroupThis post was written as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. If you want to visit the other IWSG member blogs, or sign up yourself, you can do so here.

18 thoughts on “How to Turn a NaNoWriMo Loss into a Long-Term Win”

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! I’m sure you’ll have something you can use. Besides, even if you only write 20k words, it’s 20k more than you had before, and that’s nothing to be sniffed at! Best of luck.

  1. It’s wonderful to hear you turned your NaNo experience into a novel. Even though the first draft went through many revisions, you had the idea and the bones in tacked.

  2. I love your “big picture” NaNo perspective! 🙂
    Good luck to all those ‘overly optimistic (or overly crazy) writers around the world’.
    NaNo is not for me. Though the community buzz is awesome!
    Happy IWSG Day!

  3. Good for you! Wishing you all the best with this year’s NaNo. It’s not for me, but I admire anyone who tries it.

  4. Very cool. I’ve had a few NaNo projects I worked on long after NaNo was done, but for the most part, the rush of doing NaNo didn’t work out so well for me. Although last year, I wrote a short story during NaNo and it was published just a few days ago in an anthology.

  5. This will be my first NaNo project. I’m not expecting to hit the magic number. I am slow, I overthink, and the idea of the ‘crappy’ first draft is a concept I reject. It’s why I’m slow. However my goal for NaNo is 2 things. 1) write faster and worry about the words less. 2) try to complete a story less than 100k in words. We’ll see how I do at the end of the month.

    Good luck to you this month!

    1. Good! Even if you only salvage a character, or a scene, or a line of dialogue, there’s always something. And, so often, projects just need resting for a while. Best of luck!

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