Is NaNoWriMo detrimental to my writing habits?

Last year, I just barely hit the 50K word mark to “win” National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). It was the first time I’d won, and it felt like such a great achievement.

However, I also experienced NaNoWriMo burnout for the first time.

It took until late April before I was ready to finish writing the story I’d started. I also wound up trashing nearly half of what I wrote during the month of November.  The first draft was finally finished in May.

Since April, I’ve had several consecutive months where I wrote over 50K words. Prior to November, I was unsure if I wanted to participate because it felt like the new normal to get at least that much in a month. But when that special month rolled around, I got pulled into the excitement and was determined to “win” again.

Which I did. I won with over 67K words. That’s an impressive extra 17K words over last year.

However, most of those words are worldbuilding and planning for a series of paranormal romance books that I have yet to write. The intent was to write the first draft of Book 1 during November.  That didn’t happen. I was very distracted by the worldbuilding and creating the characters for later books.

Much of the 67K words will not be used in an actual draft.  It was just brainstorming and outlining possible avenues for plots and inciting incidents. 

Does that mean I failed? 

The spirit of NaNoWriMo is to write a book in one month. So, yes. I failed in that regard.  This means I have both “won” and lost two NaNoWriMos in a row.

For last year’s NaNoWriMo, I barely squeaked in a “win”. For this year’s NaNoWriMo, I “won” with nearly a week to spare, and I continued to write after winning.

Well, I wrote for the rest of November. But the first week of December has been dry of words. 

The dearth of words and miniscule story progress is frustrating. Especially since I have more than 6 months of continually and habitually creating words.

I feel burned out again.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

But why?

I didn’t struggle to write the words during NaNoWriMo.  I have had several months with more words, so why should November’s aftermath be so bad? 

Is it because I was working on a new project, and it felt like taking a step back?

Since I haven’t completed my second draft of my YA Fantasy story, by focusing on an entirely new project and going back to the brainstorming and planning stages can make it feel as if I am not making progress.

When you cannot see that what you are doing is making a difference or at least progressing, it can contribute to the feeling of burnout.

Is it because I was hyperaware and focused on NaNoWriMo, and I didn’t allow myself to think of other things? 

When NaNoWriMo rolled around, I spent a great deal of time hosting my own live writing sprint sessions, attending those hosted by others, and watching update vlogs on how everyone else was faring with their writing.

My “work” mode and my “entertainment” mode were all filled with the idea of NaNoWriMo. I essentially did not give my brain a break from the idea of writing a new story in a month.  Not even in my down time when I would normally watch YouTube Videos to separate my brain from my story world.

And of course, when you do not allow yourself a break or a different activity to refill your creative well, this can lead to burn out.

Photo by Ono Kosuki on

How can I fix this problem?

There is no quick fix, nor one real answer.  But I have started refilling my creative well with other activities while I attempt to get back into my writing habits.

I have been doing a bit of art for my 2021 bullet journal.  I have played a few of my favorite computer games. I have listened to more music than I have in the last few months, although much of it has been holiday music. I have been reading both web novels and books on my TBR shelf.

I have put aside the project I was working on for NaNoWriMo, which was my paranormal romance series planning.  I have decided to give myself a one month break from it, and I will pick it back up in January.

In the meantime, I will be shifting gears back to the YA Fantasy and trying to finish the second draft and send it out to beta readers.  I am hoping that by seeing the story improve and moving forward with the process of getting feedback from others, the book will feel like it’s progressing.

 This leads me to an important question: Is NaNoWriMo really worth it?

2020 has made sure that November isn’t really all that special anymore.  NaNoWriMo was started to give people an extra push, a kick in the seat of their pants, to take time away from their usual patterns of behavior and shift to writing.  But so many of us have been writing since March or April of this year thanks to Covid-19, that November might seem like a normal month.

Plus, part of the appeal for November is the writer meet-ups.  But we’ve also had these online since the spring.  So again, November has lost its special sparkle thanks to this strange year.

But if I hadn’t been writing all year, would NaNoWriMo still have all of its magic sparkle? I’m sure it would.

For those without an established writing routine, it becomes a month-long experiment to revel in the imagination and finally get the story world and characters on the page.  It might be the one time in the year where a person gets to focus solely on their writing endeavors, and for that reason, NaNoWriMo is still a wonderful thing.

For those of us who already have a writing routine, NaNoWriMo can still be special. With the added hype of NaNoWriMo, new and old writers flock together, and you can either create a new writing group or expand your already existing one. It’s a chance to talk about your work in progress and the writing process with other writers (enthusiasm and squealing are allowed).

Will I participate in NaNoWriMo again?

While I might participate in the events, I think my focus is shifting from the quantity of the words to the completion of the stages.  I want to be able to finish each draft, finish the read throughs, the edits and revisions, etc. and get closer to publishing the book.

This is actually part of my 2021 focus: completion.

Did you participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo?  Did you find it different from years prior? Are you experiencing NaNoWriMo burnout? How are you combatting it?

Let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading!


Jules the Dawdling Writer

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