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How to Abandon your NaNoWriMo Novel without Humiliating Yourself

hacksWarning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.

Most people who start NaNoWriMo never finish their book. They get busy, they run out of steam, life gets in the way. It happens. There’s no shame in that.

You, on the other hand, have been crowing since August about saving all your ideas for November and that this book will blow everyone away. “This is my year, baby!” you said. “I’ve got so many ideas! I’m gonna crank this thing out, edit it in December, get an agent by February, ink a deal by May, and lord it over my friends the rest of the year! Whoo!” Well, all that big talk has led to a plot that’s basically cribbed from Gremlins 2, and what you thought was a fleshed-out protagonist is the same snarky “tough guy” you use in all your stories, but with a different hair color. To finish by November 30, you’d have to write 2700 words per day, which is technically doable, except the very thought of spending one minute more on this bookwreck makes you want to set your desk on fire (possibly while still seated at your desk). If you bail out now, though, you’ll look like a flaky loser (which is totally what people will think because EVERYONE is very concerned with YOUR BOOK in particular).

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Here’s how to pull the ripcord on your NaNoWriMo project and not look like an idiot.

Wrap things up early

By which I mean, just stop writing and then lie about it. “Oh, the book? Yeah, I wrapped that up by Thanksgiving.” People don’t have time to read all the books they’ve paid money for; who’s got time to read something you haven’t had time to edit yet? Oh, that’s right–you promised the second coming of To Kill a Mockingbird, and you may have friends who want to see how it turned out (or, more likely given that you’re the sort of person who reads this column, you have a rival who wants to see you crash, burn, and have a cheap funeral). If you absolutely must present your work to someone, stop writing where you are, then have your character say something self-reflective while looking at a lake. When people don’t get the ending, just say, “It’s kind of an experimental novel.” Then, give them the side-eye and say, “Not everybody’s supposed to get it.”

Announce that your book has grown into a trilogy

“Whoa,” you’re saying, “that sounds like a lot more work.” Well, yeah. But all of that work is in the future. Who cares what happens then? If people start asking how your trilogy is coming along, I’m sure you’ll think of something. It’s the classic writer’s trick of raising the stakes, except involving your own time, reputation, and mental health.

photo by amanda lohr

Kill all your characters

I’m not suggesting that everyone in your book dies in a plane crash or a meteor strike. That’s just a messier version of the hackneyed “And then he woke up!” ending, and no one wants that. No, you’re gonna hunt down every character in your book and murder them one by one. You’re going to take your time. You’re going to punish them for not being more interesting. The line between writer and sociopath is a blurry one at the best of times, and you’ll be surprised (and possibly alarmed!) at how easily your mind conjures ways to torture your cast. Who knows? You may find it cathartic to cleanse your book of these failures of human imagination, and depending on your rage level, you may surprise yourself and finish the book after all.

Real-life emergencies

Sometime life intervenes and you’ve got to shuffle your priorities. Even your most hateful haters wouldn’t begrudge you “temporarily pausing” your book for, say, getting food poisoning. Alpha Move: Say you’re looking for a new job because you got fired for working on your book during work hours. “The muse, she’s persistent,” you’ll say.

Ditch your life

Move away, buy a sailboat, start a new life. New You couldn’t care less if Old You looks like a quitter. Then next year, write your NaNoWriMo novel about that!

Do you have an exit strategy for your NaNoWriMo project? Share it in the comments!

About Bill Ferris [2]

After college, Bill Ferris [3] left Nebraska for Florida to become a rich and famous rock star. Failing that, he picked up the pen to become a rich and famous novelist. He now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and looks forward to a life of poverty and ridicule.