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How to totally fail NaNoWriMo (other than not writing)

Updated on October 29, 2014

There's a lot of ways to fail at NaNoWriMo

As we get closer and closer to November, it's hard not to notice all the chatter on the web about writing a novel in 30 days. A lot of that chatter is piles of articles on how to do it, how to "win" it, and how to join the ranks of those who have managed to get from Day 1 to Day 30 without incident.

This is the opposite of that sort of article. This article will show you a variety of ways to NOT win NaNoWriMo. You can take it at face value, or you can switch it up and take it as the satire it's intended to be and do the opposite of all these "tips" I'm about to lay on ya.

The easiest way to not win NaNo, of course, it to not write. But anyone can just not write, so if you're going to fail better, you'll have to be more creative in your failure.

Failure through attitude

Attitude is a good way to fail at anything, really. Have just the right attitude for failure when you go in, and you're sure to accomplish your failing with speed and certainty. Here's some ways you can fail through attitude while attempting NaNoWriMo:

  • Have an attitude about the whole thing to begin with. Make sure it's the sort where nothing is good enough, and nothing is cool enough, and you're, of course, way above all this.
  • Go in thinking that this is just a dumb thing that everyone is doing.
  • Go in thinking that you'll just breeze through it without any problems, and definitely without any issues at all--issues are for less cool people.
  • Go in thinking that it should be easy, especially if you've only written really short things like blog posts and flash fiction, because that's sure to trip you up.

Another good way to fail through attitude is to decide, early on, and with a whole lot of despair, that there's no way you're anywhere as cool as all these other people who do this every month.

  • If you decide this too early, you'll just not be writing, so be sure to actually develop this attitude after a few days. It's okay to go in with this as a sneaking suspicion, and then to wallow in it and obsess over it until it makes you unable to write anything.
  • If you can manage to both fear you aren't good enough AND assume you're better than anyone else, that's the most effective way to fail through attitude!

The frankly awesome NaNoWriMo coat of arms.


Failure through organization

Organization is a good one, because it can help you fail in multiple directions! It's a super-versatile way to fail.

  • Over-organize, so that you either spend so much time maintaining a perfectly orderly desk that you don't have time to write, or so that you become paralyzed when even the slightest thing is out of place, and it bugs you like a pathology until you absolutely have to fix it and screw today's word goal!
  • Under organize so that you can't find a damned thing when you need it, lose all your notes (or, better yet, don't even take any), and also lose your pages. If you can manage to keep writing for a while after that, you're sure to have segments that don't actually match up, are super-inconsistent not only in plot, but in facts, tone and even names, and fizzle right out long before Day 30.

Ain't that just the truth, tho.


Failure through habit

Make sure you have a really sucky writing habit before you go in, and be sure to not ever really get that you have to modify that when you do a really super-intense thing like NaNoWriMo. Don't get up earlier or stay up later, and if you do, make sure you're wasting potential writing time, because that is an amazingly effective way to not get your words done.

Make sure you're in love with the idea of a Muse, and spend a lot of time waiting on inspiration to strike like lightning from above, instead of plugging away like everyone else. You, of course, have the attitude that you know better than that already, right?

Other useful habits for failing NaNoWriMo:

  • Don't ever do something silly like checking rules, counting words, or verifying perameters before you start.
  • Don't get into the habit of hard work or starting on time.
  • Definitely don't get into the habit of follow-through! Who knows what could happen to your life if you start finishing stories!

There is also, of course, the option of Having Vices. Nothing will help you fail as quickly as wasting your mind with drugs, drinking, violence, or zoning out.

Lifestyle is also a big part of failure through habit:

  • Never get enough sleep, or always get too much
  • Sit for long hours in one position, and don't move around enough
  • Schedule yourself to within an inch of your life so that you can have time-consuming meltdowns when things go just a little over
  • Eat poorly because everyone knows a well-nourished brain is a functioning brain, and you aren't having anything to do with that

Failure through inspiration

There's a couple of ways to work this one.

  • The above-mentioned constantly-waiting-on-inspiration.
  • Not having any inspiration at all--just sitting down on Day 1 without even the start of an idea that you can work on.
  • Having too much inspiration, so that it's physically impossible to settle on one story, and then even when you think you HAVE settled, you actually just go a few days and then switch to a different story without even seeing if the original is going to work.
  • And you can also start with one idea, and then just let it fizzle out after a week or two, and decide that, of course, that's going to be the only bolt of inspiration you're ever going to have, so it's not like you can brainstorm more ways to keep the story going, or figure out twists you can throw in or anything.

The most important thing, though, if you're going to fail through inspiration, is to go in with a pre-existing idea that inspiration is only random, and only comes from outside of you. Definitely don't put in any work figuring out what inspires you or how to generate inspiration for yourself; make sure you're a passive victim of your own artistic tendencies so you can wallow and brood and convince yourself no one understands, not even you.

Failure through isolation

Make sure you believe early on that anything artistic requires you to function in a vacuum, and definitely don't do any of those community things like:

  • Going to write-ins or holding Google Hangout write-ins
  • Finding other writers on any of a million forums for stuff like this
  • Talking about your story to people around you

All that stuff will just encourage you to share the weight of the effort, and to make friends that will be doing things similar to what you're doing. Who wants that? No one likes getting feedback and support and, like, inspiration from other people. Ew.

Failure through criticism

This one is especially effective for not getting any words done.

  • Criticize yourself
  • Criticize your habits and your dedication
  • Criticize your work until you can't write anything new without first going back and changing everything you've already written
  • Criticize other people
  • Criticize the exercise and the purpose of the whole thing
  • Criticize every single thing you can think of, before, during, and after even attempting to write, until you're so clogged up with criticism that you can't even.

Of course, don't even start to find ways to get around or to silence your inner critic. Don't bother learning to support and encourage other writers. Definitely don't learn to support and encourage yourself.

Make sure you don't even try to run with this one


100% Ignore anyone who tells you:

  • Keep a notebook on you at all times, with a pen or pencil that works
  • Make a page for keeping notes, details, plot stuff you need to remember later
  • Plan out characters and the major plot points before November 1, but don't overplan
  • Be flexible, because things will change as you go
  • Bank your extra words early, so you have more flexibility later
  • Participate in writing sprints and NaNo challenges to keep up morale
  • Put all your stuff in one folder so you can find it
  • Have an idea of the end before you start, even if it's just really general
  • It's okay to hate what you're writing, so long as you keep writing
  • It's okay to write out of order to avoid the hard parts, so long as you note what the hard parts are so you can go back to them later
  • A finished draft, no matter how messy, is better than no draft at all

Are you going to do NaNoWriMo this year?

See results

And, of course, there's your own, personal, individual ways to sabotage yourself

How do you work best? Don't do that.

What do you think you're writing? Don't write that--or try so hard that you totally miss the actual thing and mess it all up.

Are you uptight? Make sure you do all the things that make you so uptight you might shatter.

Are you chill? Make sure you focus so much on being loosy-goosy that you forget to write, and then forget to keep writing.

How do you fail at NaNo?

Here's some more tips:

  • Stress out big time about the almost-1700-a-day word goals, because that's a really effective way to handle them. Don't even think about how this article is already, basically, about as long as a day's writing, and how easy that was.
  • Make sure you worry constantly about how long it's taking you to write. Are you taking too long? Are you going to fast? How fast do famous people write?
  • Compare yourself to everyone, especially people who have been writing MUCH longer than you have. That's a great way to fail.
  • Pick only one way to write, and refuse to write any other way. It's more effective if you pick something arcane, like, "I'll only write in calligraphy in this one book". Definitely don't scribble on every scrap of paper, in the note app on your phone, and in between customers at work.

Definitely don't look at these books


Submit a Comment

  • samanthaholloway profile imageAUTHOR


    4 years ago from St Augustine

    B. Leekley -- I'm doing the opposite of this, and as of yesterday, I was about 3k words ahead! I hope you're doing well, too!


  • B. Leekley profile image

    Brian Leekley 

    4 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

    I hope that you are not following your own advice and that you are nearly a third of the way (as of 11-8-2014) through writing over 50,000 words of the first draft of a novel. I am not doing NaNoWriMo this year because I have a lot of revising to do to what I wrote in past years.


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