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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?