Ponderances of Steve

November 25, 2011

How I Quit and Unquit NaNoWriMo

Filed under: Writing — Steve LeBlanc @ 3:19 pm


I’d had a few days of abject depression and defeat, having given up on my #NaNoWriMo novel. Why? Because I was getting too upset about the theme on which the novel was built, namely that there is some benevolent reason for all the really bad crap in history. All that bad stuff I was looking at to create the backstory was getting me really worked up. On a good day, any one of those issue will put some stress on me. But these were not good days. I was not able to add enough words to my chapter to make my word count for two days in a row. And I was doing all sorts of research to find good sources. The effect was to trigger lots of upsetting issues on a bad week, pushing me into overwhelm.

So just stop, I thought. Just give up the #NaNoWriMo contest. I won it last year, so it’s not like I don’t know if I can do it. And besides, I don’t have that many people rooting for me this year. Less than a handful would even notice if I never finished. I was even disappointed at the lack of support from my twitter followers when I’d post my word count. So go ahead. Quit. Much as I hated to quit this one, it was best for my mental health. It was the right thing to do. When my chiropractor (one of the five people who knew) asked why I quit, I replied simply that I didn’t like the ending. It was concise and accurate. I could not think of an ending to the story I was building that I actually liked. I knew it had to be a big ending, but I couldn’t make it work. For me, that lead to running out of words.

So I put it away. I worked on the forgiveness of self. I tried to explore the peace of having nothing urgent in my life that needed doing. It was challenging and required some effort not to fill the space with busy work and distractive stuff. Just rest. Just relax. Just forgive.

But I kept returning to the the story in my mind, looking for some ending that would be more palatable, more believable, one I actually liked. It was not done with the intention of finishing the novel. It was more the automatic workings of my brain to solve the puzzle. And if perchance I could find a decent ending, then maybe I would return to writing it. Someday. I’d love to finish the competition, and the novel, which are two very different things. I only needed 8,000 more words to win the 50,000 words required in the competition. But the novel needed another 30-40,000 words. And if it turned out to be a good novel, worthy of getting published, that would be fabulous.

So after a dreary day, with an early bedtime, interrupted by neighbor’s TV she’d fallen asleep on, I woke on the fourth day of not writing with something of a clear head. I started to get some idea kicking around that might work, but nothing concrete. I dashed off to do some errands and the ideas began to crystallize. I was not sure I could fix it, but at least I had a place to start. I had words to write.

It was turning out to be a smart day. And it was not likely to last long. I needed to use it wisely. After 4 days, I had unquit NaNoWriMo.

It is worth noting that I had violated the primary purpose of #NaNoWriMo, which is to write with abandon, without concern for how the story works. When we removed the pressure of perfectionism and seriousness, we are free to write more. And writing more teaches us to write with abandon. As usual, I took it far too seriously. Last year, I was wise enough to agree to try to write 50,000 words of a bad novel. Sure it was flawed, but I learned a lot last year that made this novel better. Still, I need to learn to write with abandon.



  1. “I’d had a few days of abject depression and defeat, having given up on my #NaNoWriMo novel. Why? Because I was getting too upset about the theme on which the novel was built, namely that there is some benevolent reason for all the really bad crap in history.”

    The intro to “Quit and Unquit” caught my eyes and moved them along through the rest of the article, captivated by this concept as the underlying theme of the novel. Why is it that us humans get into the notion that there is a “good” and “bad”? Why do we need a benevolent reason for anything? If life is so crappy that we need to justify our continued agreement with it by continuing to exist, then what is the point in wasting so much energy? Why not just make a decision it is all good, all bad, or neither and love life, hate life or stop living?

    I suppose the answer lies in the possibility that there is not an “original cause” in the creation of the universe, in any given situtaion and not in our human constitution. Contributing factors makes us humans a conglomeration of conflicting ideas, as this article’s title indicates: “QUIT AND UNQUIT”, and in it’s dilemma of an original benevolent cause.

    Given our human nature as complex and given to jedgment of “good” and “bad , the nature of events asas governed by purpose or chance, and the unknown origin of the universe:

    Why didn’t the author just TAKE A BREAK from writing for a few days and save himself a lot of wasted energy and grief?

    Comment by cheri dyer — November 27, 2011 @ 6:27 am | Reply

    • @cheri What do you mean “unknown origin of the universe”? Speak for yourself, newbie. As for “Why do we need a benevolent reason for anything?” well, that’s the point of the novel. And I choose to believe that it is so, at least on a good day. But choosing to believe and working it out are two different things, and in this case, important to the novel. And to my mental health.

      But I loved your last question, Why not just TAKE A BREAK? Because I could not actually take a break, knowing I had to return at some time. In my head, I had to quit, knowing I didn’t need to return ever. That way I was free to return if I wanted. I’ve left jobs when I just needed a break. Seems to have worked well for me. I’m not saying it’s a healthy way to do it, just that I like it that way.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Comment by Steve LeBlanc — November 27, 2011 @ 8:15 pm | Reply

  2. I had a week this month when I was sick and uninspired. I feel your pain. Glad you restarted too.!!

    Comment by gordmcfadden — November 27, 2011 @ 7:57 pm | Reply

    • @gordmcfadden It’s good to feel heard and to know I’m not alone. I’m sure lots of others go through this, especially in #NaNoWriMo, but I didn’t see any. I’m glad we both got back on the horse. Thanks for chiming in, here.

      Comment by Steve LeBlanc — November 27, 2011 @ 8:19 pm | Reply

  3. Good Job Steve! Way to go!!!!

    Comment by Robby — November 30, 2011 @ 9:35 am | Reply

  4. @Robby,
    Thanks Robby. Hey folks, look, it’s my brother, world famous guitarist, living in Las Vegas. Check out his site. I am glad you caught this article. I still have another 10-30,000 words to go to finish this novel. We’ll see if I can keep up this rhythm. But the good news is I just won #NaNoWriMo with 50,627 words. All in November. Even wrote another scene this morning for another 1,000 words or so. I have a lot of work to do, mostly in moving around chapters that I wrote out of sequence. But I like how it looks. I am so grateful for the competition. I’d never have done it without the structure.

    Comment by Steve LeBlanc — November 30, 2011 @ 1:41 pm | Reply

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