Why Quitting NaNoWriMo Hurts More Than Just Your Writing

by David Safford | 8 comments

You’ve probably been told: It’s National Novel Writing Month, or “NaNoWriMo!”

3 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Quit NaNoWriMo

Whether you’re already participating, or watching on the sidelines, you probably know that the goal of this movement is to get writers to draft a 50,000-word novel in just 30 days. In case you hate math, that’s a devilish 1,666 words per day.

3 Reasons Why You Shoudn't Quit NaNoWriMo

Writing a novel in a month is a wonderful idea.

But it’s hard for a multitude of reasons, and the temptation to give up and just “do it over time” can be really appealing, especially as we approach Day 4 of the journey.

I know it’s hard.

But quitting, or choosing to simply abstain, is the worst thing you can do right now if you have a passion for writing.

Here are three reasons why.

1. Quitting Builds Muscle Memory

Quitting provides a shot of instant gratification. It eases the burden and seems to be the solution to a long-term problem.

But giving up builds muscle memory. It is an active decision requiring only passive action. These passive choices get very comfortable over time, and our muscles—both physical and mental—get very used to it!

Think about quitting a diet or an exercise regimen. Both choices require the lack of an action.

Yet continuing the diet (choosing to shop for, cook, and consume healthier meals) requires conscious choices, rebuilding the muscles in your mind, stomach, and body.

The same is true of exercising. Muscles are broken down and rebuilt over a long period of time, due to conscious choices. But if you choose not to exercise, the muscles still learn, and getting back to the gym only gets harder over time.

Whether you quit NaNoWriMo or not, you are teaching your muscles. Make sure you're building muscles you want to live with!

Don't quit. Because the “I’ll-Do-It-Later” muscle will never write a novel, never build an email list, never pursue guest posts and podcast interviews, never do readings or appearances, and never go all-in on the dream of writing and sharing that gift with the world.

2. Abstaining Feeds the Critic, Not the Artist

Have you ever read someone’s story and thought, I could do better?

But then we sit down and try, and realize that it’s not as easy as we thought.

This is the duality of Critic vs. Artist. When we sit by and observe, we are not investing in our Artistic selves. Rather, we are giving the Critic his day, allow him to safely watch and judge others, over and over.

Here’s a great diagnostic for whether or not you are giving in to the Critic: Do you frequently say cynical or pessimistic things about other people’s work? Do you see the negative in everything?

If the answer to either of those is “Yes,” then you’re probably spending too much time on the sidelines.

So stay in the game, or get in while the month is young. Jump into NaNoWriMo today if you’re not already. Recommit if you've started to falter.

And don't worry about reaching the 50,000-word goal! What is your goal? What is your dream? Don't care about what everyone else will think of you—they aren't living your dream.

Besides: Critics worry what everyone else thinks. Artists focus on telling a great story.

3. Your Choices Reveal Your Character

Many will quit or abstain from NaNoWriMo because “I can’t get to 50,000 words,” or “Novels aren’t my thing.”

This reveals a great deal about one's character, because excuses are an easy escape route.

When people let arbitrary rules dominate their artistic lives, they doom themselves to wishing and chasing rather than sharing and community-building.

Perhaps your art is poetry. Why not commit to writing thirty poems, one a day?

What if your medium is flash fiction? How about three pieces per day, totaling ninety in just one month? You could publish that, no problem.

Or perhaps you’re the nonfiction coach, eager to launch a blog about something that fascinates you. Write and publish a post a day. Gather momentum. Share it everywhere. See what happens.

We can't let the “rules” of NaNoWriMo become excuses to quit or disinvite ourselves from risky, rewarding opportunity.

Real artists, those who are wild about telling stories and sharing them with people, don't let excuses hold them back. They bend excuses to their will and transform them into challenges. And challenges are thrilling because they always make us better.

Don't let excuses be your escape ramp. Don't flee from the truth that your artistic future is truly in your hands, and your hands alone.

Don't worry about NaNoWriMo's 50,000 words. Find your 50,000 words, whatever they may be.

Remember the Point of NaNoWriMo

According to NaNoWriMo’s Mission Statement, the goal of the event is to “provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page.”

It’s not about publishing a bestselling masterpiece.

It’s not about taking advantage of your “one shot” at greatness.

It’s not about impressing your friends or writing community.

It’s about creating. It's about community, encouragement, building, and finding our voices, within a word-requirement that will test our resolve to fulfill our calling.

NaNoWriMo even acknowledges that this isn’t just about writing—it’s about YOU, and who you are “off the page.”

Something magical happens when we commit to our passion, hustle, and sacrifice for the goal of telling powerful stories that transform us into better people.

It's something life-changing, too: We mature, and transform into the people we long to become.

Remember: NaNoWriMo isn’t about the word count, or the final product.

It’s about your soul.

Normally, we welcome comments responding to the post. But today, please only post work from the Practice. Commenting on someone else’s writing is a LOT easier than committing to the goals of NaNoWriMo, and I'll admit that I often choose to comment rather than to complete the actual Practice. So please only post Practice, which I will do too!


Today's practice comes to you in two parts.

First, take fifteen minutes to work on your NaNoWriMo project, and share it in the comments. If this is your first day, don’t worry about saying so. Just write. Just begin a story. If you can’t think of a story, begin a memoir project, starting with an early childhood moment that began to form your self-identity.

Then, add a brief note about your NaNoWriMo project, identifying if it is a novel, short story collection, poetry collection, flash fiction collection, and so on. Give your fellow writers the freedom to forge their own creative path forward, rather than succumbing to the fear of “not doing it right.”

When you're done, share your writing in the comments.

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You deserve a great book. That's why David Safford writes adventure stories that you won't be able to put down. Read his latest story at his website. David is a Language Arts teacher, novelist, blogger, hiker, Legend of Zelda fanatic, puzzle-doer, husband, and father of two awesome children.


  1. David H. Safford

    They arrived at a 70s-era office building where Scott was already mowing. Andy leapt from the truck and made up his mind to make up for his mistakes and murder every weed in sight with all speed and fury. And for the first few hours of the day, he was successful.
    But after lunch, Scott got an angry call from a client and sent Tim off to remedy the problem, leaving Andy alone and already exhausted.
    And that’s when he screwed up.
    It happened at Maudy Browne’s home, a manicured Eden that she insisted be mowed by push-mower, as the riding mower “raped her beautiful lawn,” she often said. Flower beds and paths were everywhere, a maze of green and purple and yellow. Andy scurried along the edge of the house, swinging the weed whacker like a mine detector, until a violent WHAP-WHAP! pierced his ears, and he killed the motor.
    “Oh no,” he moaned.
    For the egg-shell painted siding of Maudy Browne’s house was now slashed and maimed before God and man, and Andy wanted to hide.

    *** This is from a short story collection I’m assembling for my family. It’s based on one of the worst summers of my life as “the weed-whacker guy” for a landscaping company. While I’ll probably only write 20,000 words, my goal is to draft 4 brand new short stories before December. What’s your NaNoWriMo goal???***

    • Christine

      Sounds interesting. But I won’t hire him! 🙂
      I think you have the same inclination as I to OD on “and” and “but”. I find myself taking out about half of them when I edit.

  2. Christine

    “Who’s that?” Joy nodded in the direction of the girl marching down the opposite sidewalk.

    Darlene scowled. “Her name is Sandra Marie Martins. Everybody calls her Sandy Smartly, ‘cause whatever she does, she does in a hurry. And of course everything she does is important.”

    Joy turned her gaze toward the tall teen stepping briskly along. Her blond hair done up neatly, blouse ironed, shoes polished; no doubt about it; the girl merited her nickname.

    Joy ran her fingers over the fence pickets as they walked down the sidewalk. “My Aunt Patty told me she hired Sandy to mind the children while she was working in her market garden back in spring. She said Sandy’s nice and very dependable and I should get to know her.”

    “Don’t bother. She’s a snob. She gets oodles of money to spend and is always buying new clothes and stuff. To her the rest of us are just peasants.”

    Joy turned to Darlene,taking note of her friend’s grungy top and messy hair. Joy could believe Darlene and her family wouldn’t be in Sandy’s league at all. Nope.The well-heeled teen probably did turn her nose up at the rowdy and obviously dirt-poor family in the shabby old house.

    Yet Darlene was a snob in her own way, if she could only see it. Joy wasn’t going to be the one to enlighten her.
    You’ve got some really great thoughts here! As to the critic: yeah, I see that in myself. A kind of inner frustration makes me want to knock someone who has succeeded — but not PERFECTLY!
    As to my WIP, yesterday I was frustrated because I got way off track with my scene — but then I realized, “It’s okay to get “way off track.” Write it anyway. Then write another version. It all counts. That idea freed me up a lot.

  3. Anastasia Silviek

    Is it to late to join NaNoWriMo? I really want to join!
    I started on this
    The last thing I remember of my friend Johannes, was an intense look of fear on his face. His ocean blue eyes fighting back tears, fists clenched and his body shaking. Trying to hold his own as his father leaned in with an equal look of terror written on his face. His hands on his son’s shoulders. He was shaking; his voice was sharp as a knife, and grave, as the silence around them. He whispers in Spanish, “Son we need to keep quiet, we can’t go back home, please, God only knows what would happen to us.”
    The father releases his son and throws himself against the wall, his head looking at the ground while his whole body is shaking violently; he had barely caught himself from collapsing on his son. Johannes returns his father’s pain stricken look, eyes wide in anguish and terror, and then he softly says, “I love you dad, I’m scared too. I don’t want to go back either. I am scared of what would happen to us.” Then he embraces his dad, and with an anguished look on his face, and reassuringly says, “We will be ok, I promise dad.” Then he walks down the long, empty hall, looks over his shoulder, leans against the red brick wall and lets out a heart wrenching sob. His body starts to shake, his head looks down at the white tile floor, his tears leaving a puddle. Then he whispers a soft and broken prayer.
    I saw everything unfold, while hiding behind a staircase. I was trying to repress my own tears. That was eight months ago, on a cold February day, and after that day I never saw Johannes or his dad again.
    I had only known Johannes for three weeks, he had come as quickly as he had left. We had first met at an orchestra rehearsal. He was a cellist, from Gilcrest Arizona. He was fifteen years old, about my height, with jet black hair, a sharp jawline, tan skin and stunning sapphire blue eyes. We were the first two at rehearsal and I had been practicing the Odyssey, by Soon Hee Newbold. It was one of my favorite pieces. The music had spoken to me of an epic journey on a massive ship sailing across the deep blue ocean.
    In the beginning of the piece imagine that your hair is flying behind you and a smile is on your face as you smell the salty air, and feel the crisp ocean breeze on your face. Then as you reach the climax there comes an ominous twist and things start to escalate. It’s mysterious and dark, like a rough and stormy ocean during the dead of night. Yet in the peril and pain there is something so breathtakingly beautiful. Towards the end of your journey there is the same excitement as when you took off, and a nostalgic feeling as you head back from our epic journey.
    I was easily lost in the notes, and I was off on my adventure. Then Johannes, walks up to me, and grabs my shoulder from behind. His eyes sparkling and full of joy. “I love that song, it’s so friggin’ beautiful!” He squealed in delight, and then he asked if he could play with me. I had smiled and said “Yes.” Then Johannes lets out a high pitched “Really? Thank you!” Then he hugged me, and ran off to get his cello and music. Then we were off! We started playing the piece, the silent room filled with the notes from the violin and cello blending together to paint this “Epic picture.” Soon, other students came in the room and joined us, and the small cold room was filled with the thrilling symphony of the Odyssey.

  4. Rman

    Here is an excerpt from my NaNoWriMo project – remember this is first draft, I have not even done a spell or grammar check of any kind, this is raw and needs a lot of work – It is the end of the first day of a kayak endurance race from Dubrovnik, Croatia to Sarande, Albania. It is a murder/mystery story. It is one of two WIP, it will be some be ready for publishing some time after my other WIP which has just returned from my beta reader. 🙂

    Fanni was pulled off the water by the other rescue boat about 8:30PM, it was becoming too dark and they had a light on the last four competitors. They insisted on making it in. The rescue team knew it was going to a long race for these four if this is their best and it is only the first day, but they are here until they call it quits or make it in.
    The Beach had campfires all over it and it helped spur the four women on. They were greeted by a smaller crowd, that quickly grew in support of them for finishing. All the Seniors were there except for Amanda who kept to herself in her Cabana tent that she paid to have set up at each location for her. No one said anything, but everyone thought it, What is wrong with that women? As always the ones finishing didn’t notice, they were overwhelmed that anyone actually cheered them in. The first day was officially over and no one had dropped out of the endurance race, yet.
    Jennifer closed the store and had Agron drive her’s, Fanni and Josh’s tents and equipment to the first stop, he would meet them at each stop. Fanni had this large heavy box she had him load onto the trailer. He had no idea what was in it, but was glad she told him he didn’t have to unload it, she would take care of getting what she needed out of it at each stop. Agron was curious, but glad because some of those spots he couldn’t drive all the way to with the trailer.
    Dinner was almost over and the beach noise would soon die down, the race began at 7AM and the competitors needed to recoup as did the rescue and support crews, maybe more so for them. Fanni would be on the first rescue boat and they would leave ten minutes before the race began. They would wait at the first waypoint buoy, the last rescue boat would pick it up and become the first rescue boat the next day.

  5. gurdeep kaur

    It happened at Maudy Browne’s home, a manicured Eden that she insisted be mowed by push-mower, as the riding mower “raped her beautiful lawn,” she often said. Flower beds and paths were everywhere, a maze of green and purple and yellow. Andy scurried along the edge of the house, swinging the weed whacker like a mine detector, until a violent WHAP-WHAP! pierced his ears, and he killed the motor.


  6. Karamjit Kaur

    It happened at Maudy Browne’s home, a manicured Eden that she insisted be mowed by push-mower, as the riding mower “raped her beautiful lawn,” she often said. Flower beds and paths were everywhere, a maze of green and purple and yellow. Andy scurried along the edge of the house, swinging the weed whacker like a mine detector, until a violent WHAP-WHAP! pierced his ears, and he killed the motor.




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