The last time I tried to write a 50,000-word novel over the course of the month of November was 2010. This was about four months after leaving Wizards of the Coast and should have been the point at which I had the most time and intellectual freedom to do it. I got up to 3683 words then.

This year I started out on the NaNoWriMo path as part of my efforts to actually do some of the exercises I’ve suggested to other authors. And though I’ve had mixed results on those other exercises, this one I really felt I had a handle on.

I have an idea I like, a protagonist I already know, and a completely workable outline drawn together as part of another of those exercises. I was ready for action. I really was. So then what happened? Why is it November 24th and I’ve written a sum total of zero words of Bella Lucky and the Monsters of Methone?

Go ahead and think of these as “excuses,” because they are, but let’s see if I can pry any wisdom out from the cracks between one excuse and the next.

In my 2010 failure analysis, I said that I had hoped to finish another book I was working on by the end of October but hadn’t, and had trouble starting the NaNoWriMo book with that other one still unfinished. That’s not a terrible excuse, as excuses go. There is a certain “flow” you want to get into on a novel, and interrupting that for the sake of an exercise like NaNoWriMo isn’t necessarily a good idea. This year, though, all I have really to finish is a short story that really wasn’t holding me up, so that wasn’t it. I was mentally free to start in on Bella Lucky and the Monsters of Methone. I just didn’t.

Five years ago I also offered the excuse that November is a crappy month for this kind of thing. The days are too short, energy ebbs low at year’s end, there’s a holiday in there. Here in the Pacific Northwest at least it tends to be gloomy and dreary. I said I thought NaNoWriMo should be moved to July. But now I think June would be better.

There, see? It’s not my fault. It was poorly scheduled.

Five years ago I worried that maybe I’d let November go by without my writing 50,000 words because there was no guaranteed money at the end of it. But then there’s very rarely any guaranteed money at the end of any writing project like this. I’ve written books “on spec” before, and easily 50,000 words worth of short stories in a month just for the love of the game.

But this year, unlike my still-living-on-severance self from 2010, I have a crap-ton of paying work, mostly edits and ghostwriting, that demand my attention. When you put that demand together with a very expense private art college’s demands for tuition you end up with a father who has to balance “wouldn’t it be fun to do this” with “this will pay the mortgage, this will keep the lights on, and this will pay the tuition bill.”

And this ultimately was this year’s “excuse.” I have to get paid—I have to do for me and mine.

But here’s some good news:

I’ll be over that short-term financial hump by the end of the year, leaving me looking forward to a January in which I get to catch my breath, a February and March in which I figure out how to pay another small short term bill, then . . .


I’ll write the rough 50,000-word version of Bella Lucky and the Monsters of Methone in April.

Just see if I don’t!



—Philip Athans



About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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4 Responses to NaNoWriMo: FAIL (AGAIN)

  1. C.M. Simpson says:

    You didn’t ‘fail’ NaNoWriMo. You just paid attention to what needed to be done… and then you rescheduled the fun like any other growed up. Life happens. Let us know how November in April goes.

  2. Niina says:

    I’m not sure if you’re aware or did you happen to pick those months (April and June/July) by accident, but April and June are Camp NaNoWriMo months when people can set their own goals (or go for the standard 50k) and then write with others. So if you start writing in April but feel stuck or would like to talk to others who are doing the same, I suggest you check out the Camp program. Good luck with the story!

  3. Pingback: LET’S GET ORGANIZED | Fantasy Author's Handbook

  4. Pingback: VOTE FOR MY NaNoWriMo IDEA | Fantasy Author's Handbook

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