Fail. Fail Harder. Fail Better.

NaNoWriMo is over. I failed to win. I failed, but there are lessons in failure.

I set out to do a few things aside from writing 50k words. I wanted to learn to turn off my internal editor when I needed to, so that I could write first drafts on the computer. I wanted to write something longer than I’d written before, previously around 6,000 words. I wanted to get a better understanding of novel structure. Those things, I succeeded at.

In the end, my efforts stalled around Thanksgiving. I was at 28,264 words and I realized that I would need almost 4,000 words/day in order to hit the 50k mark and that wasn’t going to happen without some kind of herculean effort that, frankly, wasn’t worth the payout. I’d already done what I set out to do.

I blogged quite a few of my observations through the month. Mostly, they had to do with novel structure. That’s my biggest takeaway. For all of the novels I’ve read, the thing I’ve thought the least about (consciously) is structure. I used to think that the difference between short stories and novels was simply chapters being collections of scenes but it’s a bit more complicated than that.

What I wrote was, in many ways, a very detailed outline. It helped me flesh out plot and structure and characters. I figured out flaws in the story I had in my head and discovered some really cool things lurking in the shadows.

My next steps are doing a reverse outline of what I wrote. Chapters are out of order, pacing is a jumble, key scenes are missing, and there’s still 80k words to be written.

I personally find it difficult to write when I know a story isn’t working. I averaged almost 1,500 words/day, which was better than I do longhand but the quality suffered. It left me with another failed attempt at NaNoWriMo, but I feel better about this effort than any of the previous. Fail or not, I’m better for having tried.

Adam Israel
Author ꞏ Genealogist ꞏ Software Engineer

My interests include genealogy, cloud computing, and all things open source.

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