Thoughts on the overachiever term

Some of the links in this article contain anti-high word count feelings. Click with caution, high word count Wrimos.

In the NaNo community, the term “overachiever” has come to mean those who exceed the 50,000 word goal in November. Some people who identify with this term go on to write a few thousand more, while others write a few hundred thousand more (with one or two going for the elusive million). With people writing so much, there are those with lower word counts who feel bad because their counts are smaller or call these high word counters out for cheating or whine because it’s only day eight and how are some people at 50k already? Why, just this week I got my first ever cheating accusation [anti-high word count] from a poster who’s known for making attacking posts. Three people in that thread have seen me write in person, so I’m just gonna let that roll off my back like a Swiss duck.

But has the anti-overachiever attitude always existed? Yes, but not quite in the same way.

I’ve been around NaNo since 2002 (as long as the forums existed), and I struggled for the first few years, writing over half the book in the last week my first year to win. The (admittedly far fewer then, though the word counter did go up only to 200,000 words) people with high word counts astounded me, but they were motivating. Maybe I could write that much one day.

There wasn’t a dedicated thread (that I can find, anyway) for people intentionally aiming above the 50k goal, no matter what their end goal, until 2008. Yes, there were threads for specific word count goals above 50k such as for those aiming for 100k, but there was no unified thread where anyone shooting for a goal over 50k was welcome. The 2009 thread is lost to the land of deleted webpages, but considering the 2010 thread is called Overachievers III, there’s a 2008 thread for those increasing their word goal (both started by tiakall), and I remember posting in such a thread in the first year I wrote far over 50k, it’s a safe bet a thread existed in 2009 as well, and the term overachiever appears to be a self-identified term adopted by the overachievers.

I can’t dig through the 2008 thread since the Wayback Machine didn’t archive it, but we can now safely say the term “overachiever” dates back to at least 2009. [Update: At least 2005, actually as syaffolee pointed out–jonzzing refers to the folks going for over 50k as overachievers. Of course, this term might not have been a commonly used term until 2009.]

Okay, enough about the past. Let’s go to the present.

The overachiever thread still exists and has grown by leaps and bounds as more people decide to go for more than 50k or for 50k in less than thirty days. A Wrimo who chooses to overachieve may be inspired by us or have a book that’s going to be long or have two ideas. And of course the whining about high word counts has increased, but that’s partly (mostly?) because of more people showing up to do NaNo. Maybe I’m just fortunate to only associate with awesome people, but I haven’t gotten any flack about writing a lot until this year when someone called me out specifically, linked earlier. Some of my other overachieving friends–no, most of them–have. And that’s saying a lot.

Lately there’s been talk about changing the term overachiever to something friendlier. Words have meaning, after all, and the term overachiever might imply that those aiming for 50k or under are underachieving. This isn’t the case at all. I haven’t seen a single overachiever make someone with a lower word count feel bad; all word counts are worthy because those are words that weren’t there before. And a few folks aiming for far above 50k (Zette, for one, who has written far over 50k a year for years) have rejected the term overachiever because of what it implies. But here’s the thing: the flack isn’t necessarily against the term overachiever itself. Some of us who exceed 50,000 words and therefore have to start wtih a high word count do post elsewhere. I do, though I post less as the month thanks to being busy with writing and non-NaNo things.

So what about a new name, as @mattkinsi and @chomskyrabbit were discussing last night on Twitter? It’s a well-intentioned debate, and Tiakall and Cosmam and Raquelin and Chomsky and Quix [related links on the overachiever term] have already beaten me to the post. But no matter what we call ourselves, we as a group (and honestly, just about anyone ahead of quota) will get negative reactions outside the overachiever thread. Changing the name won’t make a significant difference because such changes take time to make their way through and that change won’t affect the reactions from Wrimos who are behind or who don’t like the high word counts.

One thing to remember in all this: NaNo is what YOU make of it, no matter your word count. Someone else’s word count doesn’t make your word count any less valid or any less of an accomplishment.

And now I figure out how to work these 800+ words into my novel.

10 replies on “Thoughts on the overachiever term”

To me, the term overachiever implies that people writing 50k are achievers which isn’t a negative thing at all. When I look at all you amazing overachievers I feel very much in awe and like I could never write what you do although I have completed 50k in ten days, had 10k days, never finished NaNo down to the wire of day 30 and other symptoms of being close to an overachiever. To me, there’s an untouchable status. People to look up to, even if I have little hope of being one. I follow your efforts in awe and applaud you every year. You’re no threat, just amazing typists and story writers. Go achievers, whether over or not!

See, I used to view overachievers in the same untouchable way, probably because the daily 1667 was a struggle in my early years. Now that I am exceeding 50k regularly I have friends who are doing so by even more, and they astound and inspire me. And I never thought the term was a negative one either; it just shows that there is a required 50k to win NaNo and well… some folks choose to go beyond that.
And go Wrimos!

Great Job!  I am an overachiever in this one thing and this one thing alone.  Well unless you count having 6 kids. 🙂  The first year I did Nano in 2006, I will admit I thought people who were writing that much had to be cheating.  I quit almost before I got started.  Then in 2007 and realized that it was only 1667 words a day.  Anyone could put butt in chair and write 1667 words, heck I had read poems longer than that.  No, I had written poems longer than that. So I set out in 2007 to win and I did.  I barely got that 50k but I got it.  Then in January of 2008 my father passed away at the age of 55 having never seen me achieve my dream of becoming a published writer. 
Suddenly becoming a member of the overachivers club wasn’t just something I thought would be neat, it was an drive I couldn’t deny.  Who else was going to die before I got published.  I can answer that question, at the end of Nano in 2008 my grandmother died. Since then there have been a total of ten deaths in the family if you count mine and my husbands families.  I’m still not published. But, I am that much closer.
I weeded out the stories that would never go anywhere. Found a store that I wrote last year and worked on again during camp nano that just won’t go away.  It gets better every time i write it.  It’s different every time I write it.  But, it is constant and I have faith that this one will eventually get published. It will be a series so I am not even going to think about submitting for publication until I have finished the second book.  I just don’t write fast enough to turn out books the way most people who write more than one book with the same characters do. 
Am I an overachiver? You bet ya.  Do I think that takes away from other people? No.  If you don’t intend to become published or your happy getting our novellas published in books that share space with another or three novella’s then go for it.  Write what you feel comfortable with.  But, that doesn’t change the fact that last year I almost tripled the number of words nano asks for. 
I did it without using Dragon or any other voice recognition.  I did it with arthritis in my left hand elbow nagging at me the entire time. I did it with Dyslexia.  I did it.  This year, I will make 150k.  My book will be better than it was last year, and hopefully by this time next year it will be ready for me to move on to book two. 
Don’t take my overachiever status away from me. I earned it.  I worked hard at it.  If your wasting your time accusing others of cheating then well.. That’s time you could have been writing. Time you could have spent improving your own word count.  Get over it.

@ladykelien Bravo! And it sounds like you’ve been through a lot of challenges in order to overachieve. I agree with you on the calling folks out for cheating bit. Don’t people have better things to do like oh, write?

Someone saw the debate and although that person does not want to be part of this discussion, she still sent me a personal email about the subject.
Here you have a part of it and I think is the most important part:
“I hate to say it, but this is most likely the reason I don´t really want to do the Nano challenge. There is a lot of drama as you say. And the ´overachievers´… just the term takes all the fun out of it for us ´regular´ people. I don´t want to be an overachiever and they frankly discourage me to even take part of the challenge. My view, is that I wish there were no terms like this. I wish everyone would just be participants and nothing more. If we were all equal… Get it?”
This is not the first email that I’ve got of that kind and it won’t be the last. This is the point of view that I’m trying to get across.

I’ll admit to having been someone who raised a skeptical eyebrow at wordcounts of 50k on day one or two. However, I’ve never considered people with high wordcounts to be a threat to my own ability to complete my own writing – that’s on me, not anyone else. When I started doing NaNoWriMo, even 50k seemed like such an unreachable goal. However, every year I write,I get more words, and the last couple of wins have been not insignificantly over 50k. I don’t think I’ll ever write a million words in a month, or even 50k in a day, but I don’t want to take away from those that do. I will cheer on any nano-er, no matter how many words they write.
Also,I don’t believe the term overachiever to be particularly heinous. As a teacher, the connotation to me is exactly what it appears to be for you folks: people who have a desire to exceed the minimum requirements for an assignment.

I’ve had some concerns, especially in recent years, with the trend towards ‘overachieving’, though not actually because I object to people doing it. It’s within the rules (far more so than Zokutou/rebelling) and while we all know some truly desperate individuals are achieving staggering word counts by writing unsalvageable drivel, which I would think is against the point of the event and a waste of time besides, I wouldn’t assume that writing a lot of words in a short time frame means it will be unsalvageable drivel. I know that when I’m in the flow of my story, 3-7K a day is feasible and comes out quite intelligibly, and I’m not a fast writer.
Having said that, one incident in particular on the forums in recent years disturbed me. A young girl aiming for a number of words I frankly wish I could reach in a year was describing ‘techniques’ to deal with hand pain while writing – not an existing condition, but something that had clearly been brought on by the continuing exertion of writing so much. I had expected to see at least one response early on that pointed out perhaps continuing without seeking medical advice was a bad plan, but if that response existed, it wasn’t the immediate one. It seemed that everyone was either too intimidated to make the point or genuinely didn’t see it. It’s the same sort of vibe that stops me from reading the overachievers’ thread these days. I love the high word counts, but some of the praise is just a little too starry-eyed and lacking in intelligence.
I guess my point is that overachievers taking away from the NaNo experience of others is actually the result of those other participants allowing that to happen, whether it’s by paying too much attention to (and getting upset by) what others are doing to the detriment of their own work, or becoming part of a culture of ridiculous sycophants. The fact is, we all have different goals in mind even within the context of NaNo. Some people want to be published and some don’t, some are focused on word count, others just want to finish the draft within the month and others want to get things right the first time around and not have to rewrite. In the context of NaNo, word count is really all you get to see, but that doesn’t mean we can’t spend more time sharing and celebrating all the other factors that make achieving any words awesome for each of us. The overachievers certainly aren’t going to care if they aren’t fawned over to the degree they are now – at least, the regulars who show up for the community and the love of achieving really out-there word count goals aren’t. There will still be a lot of people saying, “I couldn’t do what you do”, but maybe with a better appreciation of how great it is that they wrote words towards a novel while sick, or that they used it to help them through depression, or that they kept writing around job commitments when some might have given up. I think as writers, seeing the bigger picture is always of value.

@Kami I agree with you on much of this, but I would like to point out that anytime someone says I can’t do what you do my answer is why? If you really want to you can.  I don’t have an unreasonable goal for someone who really enjoys writing.  6k a day.  My husband just writes to entertain himself, not feel like he is being totally ignored in November and who knows why else, but he works 60 hours a week and will win Nano again this year if this chest cold he has developed doesn’t get the best of him. 
If he can do 50k working 60 hours a week building airplanes where he doesn’t have the luxury of writing when the boss isn’t looking, those that do have the luxury or who are like me and work at home or are the stay at home parent can do what I do.
My husband is not a fast typist.. It is remarkable how slow he is  But, he will make it.  For me it’s just 6000 words a day.  We write more than that in blog posts and emails a day.  Just change your focus for a month.  Anyone can do what we do.  I use that fact to encourage those who would like to do, it to do just that.  Go for what you want to do.
I don’t see my word count as being something to admire, I see it as being something I can accomplish for me.  BTW I will have that 150k by the 25th when the winner prizes go live because as fate would have it, the 25th is my birthday.  What better gift could I give myself for my 40th birthday than to write a full length novel that simply needs a bit of editing and polishing before being sent for consideration for publication?
I am a walking billboard of encouragement. If I can do this, so can you.  If I can home school now four kids, was 6 when I started nano, help them do their own stories for the young nano program, pretty much on my own because their father is gone so much.  If he can write 50k working like he does, then you can too.  Put your butt in the chair stop worrying if you need a comma or a period and just write.  That is what the rest of the year is for.

Writing a half a million words in a month is like eating a hundred Peeps in fifteen minutes: it’s possible, but it’s nothing to aspire to. And the result is guaranteed to be a godawful mess.

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