NaNoWriMo 2020: A Retrospective

[image description: official nanowrimo 2020 banner graphic featuring the top of a cartoonish orange castle with a medieval tower on either end, each with a conical red shingled roof topped with waving white triangular flags and a crenelated wall between them, with the words: “nanowrimo winner 2020” in orange block letters against a deep purple night sky alight with white stars and multicolored fireworks.]

Well, I did it! I somehow won NaNoWriMo, despite all my procrastinations and mini-vacations and a few major distractions! Just barely, though… by the skin of my teeth. 10,008 words with 14 minutes to spare. I felt like my fingers were gonna fall off. This was because the night before, when I should’ve been writing I was hanging out with my sister listening to music and celebrating the beer delivery we’d gotten on Friday. As you might know from reading my past NaNoWriMo updates, I apparently type, on average, around 26 wpm. So when I woke up at around 2pm on November 30th with a killer hangover and saw I still had to write almost 6,000 words in less than ten hours, I was almost ready to throw in the towel. Almost… but to get this close and not win?

[image description: meme depicting actor wallace shawn as vizzini in the film the princess bride laughing maniacally with the caption “inconceivable!” at the bottom of the image in all caps.]

So I set to work, pausing only to brew myself a cup of strong black coffee. But before I continue the story of how I won, let’s take a look back at my progress… and lack thereof… over the course of the month.

[image description: screencap of infographics from the nanowrimo website featuring two different line graphs, one showing the participant’s overall progress from november 1 to november 30 and the other showing their daily word count.]

As the line graphs above indicate, I started out pretty well. The graphs don’t show word counts unless you hover over one of the points ascribed to a particular day, so I’ll just tell you that on the first day I wrote a total of 2,592 words, and on the second only 623. But then I made up for that by writing 3,556 words the next day, and on the day after that I didn’t do so bad with 2,208. But by the fifth day I was well into my first slump. The excitement and enthusiasm had worn off. I only wrote a total of 102 words that day, my second worst day of the month in terms of wordage (to be fair, that also happened to be the first 24 hours of an unpresidented 96-hour election night). After that it was pretty much up and down, a daily fight to make up for lost time and then slacking off so that I had to do it all over again.

The word sprints helped, as did the infographics displayed on my status page on the NaNo website, although at one point I realised I was reading one of them wrong:

[image description: two nanowrimo progress wheels showed side-by-side. one of them reads: 21,939 slash 50,000 total words. the other reads: 1,242 slash 2,093 words needed today.]

The progress wheel on the left shows that by then I had written 21,939 out of 50,000 total words needed in order to win. Nothing wrong with that. But on the right the progress wheel says that on that particular day up to that time I had written 1,242 out of 2,093 “words needed today”. It took me a while to figure out that that was assuming I’d met my daily goal every day before then. It didn’t account for how far I’d fallen behind, so for a while it seemed to me like I was doing better than I thought. But once I realised my mistake, the progress meters on my status page became essential to ensuring that I didn’t let myself slack off so much that catching up again would be impossible. Though I often came close to doing just that.

The 26th of November was my lowest point, with only 91 words added. But that was because I was cooking all day in between watching the MST3K Turkey Day Marathon, and I had wisely anticipated this, so just the day before I had written 5,684 words, a personal record that would only be broken by my final feverish race against time to the finish line on the last day of November. It was that earlier spurt ahead, in fact, which ultimately saved me. I realised this even as I was hammering away at my keyboard during the literal eleventh hour. If I hadn’t done that, and given myself that cushion right before taking nearly an entire day off, I never would’ve made it. It’s a matter of mathematics. Even if I really push myself, and also resign myself to writing gibberish, my typing speed is 33 wpm, tops.

That being said, looking back now, considering that I’m out of work and still quarantining, with little else to do, there was really no reason I couldn’t have written at least 4,000 words a day, at least on most days. But I’ll be blogging more about the psychology behind that in the future. As it was, during the final nail-biting hours of NaNoWriMo, I was stressing out, typing like a madman, wishing I could take a break to do something else, like playing video games or watching TV, swearing I would never do this to myself again, and yet somehow all of a sudden strangely inspired. Maybe this is the sort of thing I need after all.

Also, I realised something about LibreOffice that I was previously somehow unaware of. During these crucial final writing sprints I would periodically pause in my writing to anxiously check my progress by clicking Tools > Word Count on the top menu bar, but for whatever reason in the midst of my last desperate race for the finish line my eyes happened to alight upon a heretofore unnoticed status bar at the bottom of the page that showed, in real time, what page (of total pages) I was currently on, and lo and behold, also how many words the document currently contained!

[image description: homer simpson of the simpsons cartoon series doing a facepalm and saying: doh!]

But as Ray Bradbury said, “jump off the cliff and learn how to make wings on the way down” (please don’t literally do this, kids; it’s a metaphor). At least I serendipitously stumbled on this information just when I needed to, otherwise I might’ve succeed in slowing myself down just enough to ultimately fail.

No, not fail! That’s a bad way of looking at it. I’ve seen some of you who didn’t win NaNo this year using that word and you need to stop right now! Believe me, I understand where you’re at. I’ve been there. If I looked at it negatively before I won this year, I was a three time NaNoWriMo loser… four if you count Camp NaNoWriMo. So congrats to every one else who won, but those of you who didn’t, please pat yourself on the back for what you were able to accomplish this year, and don’t ever give up on your project. Just because you couldn’t write 50,000 words in 30 days last month doesn’t mean you can’t still finish that novel (and if you really enjoy self-torture, there’s always next year).

Coming Soon: Excerpts!

Published by striderlee

Dungeon Master, homebrewer, foodie, bibliophile, and fantasy author. He/Him

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