One Dutch Editor, One Nomad Writer

Why Do People Apologize For Failing The NaNo Challenge?

NaNo Challenge and Self-Care

With the NaNo challenge coming to a close, a lot of people are celebrating their win. Another large group of participants doesn’t make it to the 50K goal. And you know what? That’s fine. If you don’t make your NaNo goal, that’s fine.

Once more; it’s okay. Really.

Since the halfway point, the number of writers who quit NaNo has risen. And most of them apologize to the #WritingCommunity for not making it while there are many reasons why people don’t complete NaNo. You could have a busy time at work, a sick relative, your laptop crashed. The NaNo challenge is simply not compatible with your writing process, or your mental health is not compatible with the stress the challenge gives you.

Now, this isn’t because of NaNo but it is the most recent, most centered thing people apologize for on Twitter. Some writers apologize for taking a hiatus from social media or whenever they can’t be active for a while or spend a day offline and need to catch up on their notifications.

I have to ask myself. Why?

You don’t owe Twitter anything

Where do we get the idea that we always need to succeed and always need to be active? You don’t owe Twitter anything. If your followers can’t accept that you have a life beyond Twitter and writing, then why be on the platform at all? Communicating about being offline for a week is one thing, but you don’t have to grovel for your followers to not unfollow.

Twitter doesn’t decide your life

If you want to grow your platform, then it is a good strategy to tweet at least three times a week and interact. But that does not mean you are obligated to do so. The #WritingCommunity does not keep a secret sheet of attendance, nor does it get to decide your life. Least of all do you owe it apologies for not finishing a challenge.

Social media should not cost more than it gives you

Having a healthy relationship with social media is important, but most of all, every writer should have a healthy relationship with themselves. The stereotype of a mentally tormented writer that needs to suffer before they produce their Best Work Ever, that’s insane. Writing is not equal to suffering. And social media should not add to that.

Writing should bring you joy. No matter if you have time to write 30K a week or 300 words, writing or handling your social media accounts should not make you feel bad about yourself. And like social media, a challenge like NaNo shouldn’t make you feel bad, either.

Challenges are not meant to be won

For me, challenges used to be about proving to others that I was better than I assumed the world thought of me. My motivation came from the outside world, not from within me. During therapy, I changed that view:


A challenge is me trying my best to see how far I can make it.

Because of that shift, I will keep working on my book until the last day at midnight, to get as far in the book as I can. Even if that means I have about 60K left to work on in these remaining four days.

Challenges are meant to challenge us. By that very definition, it should be a struggle to complete. We shouldn’t always reach our goals within the set time. Challenges drive us to improve on our current best, it’s about raising the bar. In order to do that, we have to try our best, experiment with what works, develop more effective and helpful habits. And even if we don’t complete the challenge, we walk away with more self-knowledge about what does and doesn’t work for us. And in that sense, it’s impossible to lose a challenge.

So how do I set a realistic challenge for myself?

Personally I hate the SMART goals and having to write them out, because they force me to be realistic and precise about what I want to achieve. Then again, I know that setting them works wonders for my productivity and sense of accomplishment. So I translated the terms of SMART to four questions I asked myself before NaNo started;

  1. What do I want to gain from this?
  2. When will I be satisfied?
  3. Why will that be enough for me?
  4. Which circumstances allow me to bow out without feeling guilty?

Being well-prepared for a challenge is half the work. If you don’t overcome a challenge, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Instead: reassess, change your goals for the next time, and celebrate what you did achieve.

If you made it to 30K, that’s 30.000 words more than what you started with. That’s still one thousand words a day! And if you never got started, you learned that NaNo may not be the challenge for you. But whatever you do:

Don’t set yourself up to fail

It’s so easy to get swept up in the hype, but if you know up front that 50K is not feasible, pick a different goal. Setting it to 25K is just as valid, as long as it’s a challenge to you. That’s one of the most harmful things you can do and won’t help you get anywhere. 

So don’t apologize if you didn’t finish NaNo. You struggled, you learned, and you improved your craft. The things you learned over the past month will help you get to the next goal post, and from there on you’ll reach your goals easier because of this NaNo.

Keep it real(istic), and hope to see you next week.

In the meanwhile, if you want a professional set of eyes to go over your NaNo draft, you can contact me for my services at Vanir Editing.

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