In Defense of Overachievers: Why My Word Count Shouldn’t Discourage Yours

As most people who are reading this know, November is National Novel Writing Month. This is the time of year when novelists all over the world get together and try to write 50,000 words before midnight on November 30th. What everyone might not know is that there is also a smaller subset of people on the NaNo forums who call themselves overachievers. For these people, hitting 50k is no longer a challenge. They set their own personal goals at more than 50k. I’ve been a part of this group of people for the last two years, and in that time I’ve seen goals ranging from 50,001 all the way up 1 million, and I’ve seen people reach those goals (yes, including the million).

Sadly, over the past two years I’ve also seen several posts, both on the forums and other places online, where people accuse overachievers of cheating. I saw one Reddit post today where someone flat-out said that they just assume that anyone who says they wrote 50k in 24 hours was lying.

I know many people who succeeded in writing 50k the first day, and I was really offended for them and for myself. I didn’t write 50k, but I attempted, and I will be attempting it again next year, and I know the same haters will be around then. These are the same people who complain that overachievers exist. They say that overachievers don’t get the point of NaNo, that we ruin it for the rest of them, that there’s no way we can really write what we say we can do. These arguments hurt and annoy me for several reasons. I’ve been thinking about them all day, and I’ve finally decided to write about it.

The naysayers claim that no one can write 50k in a day, or in a week.
They claim that no one can write that many words in such a short amount of time.
They claim that even if you can write that much, there’s no possible way it could be any good.


Every year around this time, people get online and start bashing NaNo. They say that writing 50,000 words in a month is stupid. They say that you can just write “the” 50,000 times and be done, so what’s the point? They say that you can’t possibly write anything of any quality by writing so quickly so fast.

So why is it that writing 50,000 words in a month is a reasonable goal but writing 50,000 words in a week is so absurd? Why is it okay to write 50,000 words of crap but not 500,000?

And why on earth does it matter to anyone else what my word count is? Why can’t we all just accept that people write at different speeds and have different writing processes and different responsibilities?

Some people have different amounts of time they can dedicate to writing. Some have jobs and/or school and/or kids and/or other social responsibilities. They may have a very limited time to write.

Some people have different writing speeds. Someone who can write 100 wpm is probably going to hit 50k before someone who can only type 20 wpm.

Some people have different levels of dedication to NaNo. I spend most of my free time writing. Others hang out with friends or watch TV or read or go online or hang out in the forums. A friend of mine doing NaNo said to me yesterday that she could probably be an overachiever but that she would miss hanging out in the chat room. Does that mean she’s a worse writer? Of course not! It just means that she gets more joy from the chat than I do, so her priorities are slightly different than mine.

Some people have different writing goals/processes. Some people want to get published and are going to spend a long time writing a decent first draft that won’t take ages to edit. Some people (like me) want to get published but don’t bother trying to write a good first draft. They just try to get something down on paper because they know that the second draft will be a lot easier to write. Still other people have no intention of ever being published and are writing just for themselves or friends or people online.

My point is that everyone is different. We all have different goals and backgrounds and abilities. My writing 50k in four days should by no means make anyone else feel bad about their goals and achievements. No one should be discouraged by my word count, just like I’m not discouraged by the people who are going for a million. I just acknowledge that I can’t type that fast and then sit back and watch them race each other for the million. I find others who are going for the same word count I am (or just those who are really supportive), and I write like hell.

It’s just hard when you wake up at seven, happy and excited to write, and then you see a post calling you and your friends cheaters and liars, just because you can type faster than they can. I know it’s my own fault for looking at those forums, but it still hurts, especially when I try so hard not to offend other people. I don’t post about my word count in other forums. I posted once in the shoutout thread, yes, but that’s what it’s there for. Other than that, I only post in the Overachiever’s Thread.

Because, yes, we give ourselves on thread to comment in. People going for 50k get the entire rest of the forums to write whatever they want. We give ourselves one thread where we can go and talk and encourage each other without offending/discouraging anyone else. Last year we also had a single thread in the NaNo Ate My Soul thread where we could complain about not meeting our goals. One thread. And people were complaining about how we shouldn’t be allowed to have that because we were ahead of them and it wasn’t fair and whine, whine, whine.

I understand what it’s like to struggle to write 50k in a month. I failed two of my first three years. I failed both Camp NaNos this year. But you know what? Not once have I ever blamed my failure on someone with a higher word count. And not once did I try to make someone else feel bad because of their word count.

Am I saying that no one on the NaNo site is lying about his/her word count? No. I’m just saying that I know a lot of overachievers, and I believe every single one of them. And, believe it or not, these people do not get to a million by introducing characters who stutter or by repeating the same sentences several times. All of those “dirty tricks” to reaching 50k? Those are usually used by people who have trouble hitting 50k, at least in my experience. We might not fix all the typos as we go, but we don’t intentionally write words that we know we’re going to delete later. At least I don’t, and I know a lot of other people don’t either.

If anyone is reading this and is still unconvinced, let me leave you with one last thought: I can’t run a mile in less than ten minutes. I never have been, not even when I was younger and in slightly better shape. I tried as hard as I could, and I could still never do it. And running a mile in less than seven minutes? Forget about it. That was crazy talk.

So I guess this means that no one can run a mile in less than ten minutes. Right?

Posted on November 6, 2012, in NaNoWriMo, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. I love this post, and applaud you. While I don’t participate in the overachievers thread really, I am definitely one myself. My goal for every NaNo officially is 60k in the 30 days, but I always get further. In August, I did 103k. In 23 days. I know from experience that those with the time and the mindset will get to their goals. Those goals are individual though, and shouldn’t be judged the way you’re talking about. Besides, to me, the point of NaNo isn’t to compete with other people, but against myself, to see what I can do if I push myself.

    • I wish there was a “like” button for comments. πŸ™‚ Exactly! The goal is to compete with yourself. I mean, if looking at other people’s word counts inspires you to push yourself harder, that’s great. But it should never make you feel bad about yourself.

  2. the last 3 nano’s I’ve taken part in I have written over the 50k, not by choice, just because by the time that I had finished the 50k I hadn’t finished the book. Now, at that point I wasn’t really on the forums and I didn’t realise that there were this people who were even madder than myself and were trying to hit the word count in a DAY!

    I had great respect for these people (for all that I thought they were mad). I didn’t realise that there were these people who thought it was all a lie. I had no reason to doubt them, so why should I?

    And then, this year, I am unemployed and able to write over 10k on the first day, but then I started to worry because people were complaining (not at or about me, just around me) that overachievers were complaining about their word counts, and at that point I realised I was one of them. I felt BAD because I had so much time on my hands in order to do my writing.

    I have then had to point out time and time again that my goal this year is NOT the word count, it is to finish the book (I failed to write this back in 2009, so I’m determined), so not hitting a word goal is still an issue for me because I still have a lot of chapters left to write.

    I’m glad that there are overachievers, to be honest, because it shows what someone is able to do if they are determined, and I always do hope that the people who say that they manage to reach the insane sounding word counts do actually manage it because I believe everyone who says that they do. (at least partly because I know there are people who don’t believe me either)

    • I completely understand! I actually overachieved last year for the first time because my goal was to finish the novel – and finishing ending up taking 100k. πŸ˜€ I have a word count goal this year, but I really want to finish three novels (two that I’m starting this month and one that I failed to finish for August Camp). I have a hard time forcing myself to write first drafts, so I have to take advantage of NaNo while I have the time.

      And I’m the same – I feel bad for having so much time. I’m constantly feeling like I have to apologize for my word count. I think that’s why the overachiever haters bother me so much – because I try to make everyone feel good about their word counts, no matter where they are, and I don’t get that same consideration back.

      But yeah, I don’t know anyone who’s cheated. There’s no point. You don’t get anything for winning. We do this for ourselves.

      Good luck with finishing your novel! πŸ™‚

  3. This is a great post! I was a super overachiever my first year, a little less the next, a little less the next, and now I’m trying to beat my original records. The way I see it, NaNo is all about challenging yourself, and if 50,000 words isn’t a challenge, then you should definitely shoot for beyond that.

  4. No, no, no…it doesn’t mean people CAN’T run a mile in less than ten minutes, it just means the people who can must use steroids or something…

    Seriously, though, mad props. I may write over 50,000 this year – I didn’t intend it, and if I don’t get much above 50,000, that’s fine, although I might – I’m definitely ahead by several thousand words despite being sick yesterday and only writing like 60 words. Am I insanely jealous when someone reaches 50,000 by November 13? Yes. But I don’t hate them or blame them for my not getting there. That’s lame.

    Write on!

    • Hahaha! Steroids. I love it!!!

      But yes, there should be a difference between being jealous and blaming someone. I’m jealous of people who write more than me, but I don’t try to bring them down.

      Great attitude. Good luck with your novel! I’m still laughing at the steroids thing. πŸ™‚

  5. Hey now, my cabin mate and April fellow ML. πŸ˜›

    You’ve always been a great and encouraging person…even if I haven’t known you for even a year yet. πŸ™‚ Sorry about all the flack. I didn’t even see you this year until I was reading all the overachieving ballyhoo that was going on during Nano.

    Let me come clean though. Usually whenever I hear someone who posts a word count in the six digits, I have a knee-jerk reaction to call shenanigans. Not to their face, but more in a water cooler kind of way. There’s always talk at a Nano TGIO or whatnot where you hear someone talking about huge word counts seen by “some people in the forums” as I think the most common phrase is. I’m not the kind of person to say anything’s impossible, but it could be impossible for me to do; like your tale of no-go on the mile in ten minutes.

    Those times, I usually say it seems highly dubious, but anything can happen. Two words: why not? I know my word count could ALWAYS be higher, but I also know I amble away from the task; sometimes for noble reasons, but not always. I get more fun out of helping people along the way than sticking to my own story’s woes.

    What you left out of your post was the fact you are a Nano Municipal Liaison: which means your job is to be the rainmaker when any one person in your region is trying to write from the dust bowl. One-by-one. That’s pretty insane. You also have to make each year of NaNoWriMo the best-ever year for the region…and the best experience EVER for someone brand new. That’s a rough undertaking. I know you are a super person who would not abandon her flock, so it takes a whole different mindset to pull off what you did this year.

    It’s easiest to dismiss naysayers without spending a word. I was hoping people saying stuff weren’t in your region…but more in the “follies of the internet” classification. Maybe the biggest question to answer back to the ne’er-say-wells would be, “Did you work your very hardest for your word count?” 99% of us would have to say no. Nano even has the “procrastination station” as part of their message boards. Talk about the odds in favor of the house (just kidding). πŸ˜‰

    So why is it people cheer at the end event if you pulled off your novel in the last week, yet people want to hurl tomatoes at the person who pulled their novel off in the first week? I guess it’s human nature.

    Late as it is to reply, chin up. Now rewrite, edit, and polish that novel. Or just finish it…if you didn’t yet. You’re awesome. Keep it up!

    • Thanks! Although one thing that I should mention first – I’m not a NaNo ML. I was for Script Frenzy because no one else wanted to do it, but we have three great MLs for Atlanta (or at least we did this year – not sure how many are coming back next year). However, I was in charge of the Adopt-a-Newbie program, and I often worked with the MLs, so I guess I sort of was an unofficial assistant ML for a while.

      I used to have that same reaction when someone mentioned an extremely high word count. Then I became one of those people (although, really, my word count pales in comparison to some of them), and I realized that people can do way more than I realized. Sure, you’re always going to have a random person who lies about his word count (we had someone in our region who claimed to have like 999,999 on the first week), but for the most part, I think people are telling the truth. I mean, you don’t get anything for winning, really, so the incentive to lie is less than it might be otherwise.

      But thanks for the encouragement! πŸ™‚ I know I’ve always tried to be encouraging to others. I think that’s part of why it upset me so much when I was first told that the word “overachiever” was discouraging to others. It was like the person who said it was saying that I couldn’t possibly still encourage people while using the word. But you’re right – not everyone tries as hard as they can, and that’s fine. Like you said, you’re often more concerned with helping others than you are about your novel, and that’s great if that’s what you like. We definitely need people like you. And I liked the joke about the procrastination station. πŸ˜€ It’s so true! I wonder how many of the people who called me a cheater spent a lot of time in that forum. Haha.

      Anyway – thanks again! And I actually do have a novel to edit right now, so I should probably do that. πŸ™‚

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