On Overachievers

There is a debate right now (and it is friendly and well-intentioned, so debate is the right word) about what the group of people who plan to write more than 50k during NaNoWriMo are supposed to call themselves.  The term that has come to stick is Overachievers, which is used in both of the spaces that we call our own – one thread on the forums, and a chat room that I started to give us more space.

I have heard that some of the dislike for us is caused by this name we gave ourselves, and that changing the name might help things out.  There is resistance, though, mostly in that we don’t feel like a very respected or included group within NaNo, and most of us have already given up on using 90% of the forums in deference to the reactions doing so would cause.  There are people on both sides with good arguments, and like normal, I side step things and am on neither side.

My opinion?  I think that changing the name is a good solution to something that isn’t the problem.

This is my sixth NaNo, and will be my fourth victory as soon as I can validate.  My first two years were abysmal failures in which I didn’t even realize that NaNo had forums, let alone that there might be value in me using them.  I didn’t know anyone else that did it, and was not part of the community.

On November 1st, 2009, having never been to any forums during the regular season, I wrote just over 10,000 words.  I won on Day 6 of that year, and was an Overachiever before I knew what the term even was.  And, being new to NaNo as I was, kept posting in the forums.

And got flak for it.

Since then, I’ve quit posting in the forums so much.  It’s not that I don’t love them or their sense of community, it’s just that I try to be sensitive of other people’s feelings and don’t want them to feel like my posting is to make them feel bad.  And yet, no matter what I say, no matter how supportive I try to be, there are always people that dismiss me, tell me I shouldn’t post, imply that I cheated to get where I am, or say that I must be writing crap.  Except in the one forum thread we have, I don’t self-identify as an Overachiever and don’t use the term, but people still respond the same way.

Last year, I made the mistake of trying to post in the Ate My Soul forum, because NaNo had eaten my soul.  I was feeling discouraged, like a bad writer, and was having trouble writing.  There is a week last year that I wrote under the NaNo minimum goal every single day.  And yet I was run off from that forum as soon as I got there, by those who felt that, since I had won, I couldn’t feel bad about anything, ever, period.

But there is something else that I noticed, and why I went on this long personal tangent (other than the catharsis of complaining):  those same people were saying the same things to those that were ahead of them, whether or not they had won.  It wasn’t the Overachievers that they reacted poorly to, but those that were doing better, those that had written more.  That’s what they responded poorly to and what they were upset by, and changing what we call ourselves doesn’t help that.

I’ve also heard that the term has connotations of bragging, and implies that the opposite of Overachiever is an Underachiever.  Importantly, I see just as many or more people bragging that aren’t trying to write more than 50k, and I have always thought of the Overachiever as a slightly self-deprecating term.  It reminds me of that kid in class that always does all the extra credit, brown noses the teacher, and is the first to answer every question.

But importantly, the issue here isn’t with the words in particular.  Any other word that we could think of, it sounded like the Overachievers were writing more than those who were going for 50k, people would take offense at, because it isn’t the words people are upset about, it’s the numbers.  Some people are upset that someone else writes more than them, and they’re not even always upset at Overachievers for it.  Changing what we call ourselves won’t really fix that issue.

The solution here, in my opinion, has more to do with a focus on the fact that NaNo is a personal challenge, that no amount that anyone else writes, more or less, changes what NaNo means for you one iota.  It’s about you writing your words, your story, and if someone else writes more or less that doesn’t make them a better or worse writer than you, period.  A reminder that everyone struggles, everyone has difficult days and slow parts to their novels, and that we are all here over a common struggle to write.

Everything else is just details.

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8 Responses to On Overachievers

  1. Pingback: Thoughts on the overachiever term | Sushi Writes About Things

  2. mattkinsi says:

    Since I’m the one who instigated this round-

    I don’t see it as a total solution either, and if I ever implied such on the twitter than either something got lost in translation or I didn’t explain myself clearly. Of course there are going to be petty people jealous of word counts, just like there are people jealous of people’s heights or computers. There’s a certain segment of any population that won’t be satisfied with whatever they have, and covet other’s folks things.

    With that said – the word overachiever still had connotations as a word in of itself. It implies there are underachievers and that overachievers are somehow over the regular folk doing 50k. This is a related discussion, not a causal discussion. The term ought to be changed not because it might stop getting overachievers flack, because it just ought to be changed. Connotations matter – we’re writers, what words we pick to describe ourselves we often agonize the most over.

    This issue I brought up on the twitter that sparked today *is* about words and labels. It’s not intended to be a discussion on how to avoid getting hate messages about word counts or about why they’re wrong to do so (and let me unequivocal – it’s absolutely wrong for folks to hate on others for word counts.)

    But anything that can come off as we’re better than thou is something that should be changed.

    • cosmato says:

      I guess I have different connotations on the word Overachiever, but I’ve also never thought of “Underachievers”, really. Others might, though I’ve also not heard them say it, understanding they might not to me.

      But my problem with all word suggestions, thus far, is that any word implying more is going to have people complaining that we’re better than thou. Marathoners versus pacers? Wow, one of those is going a lot further, and pacer sounds like a slow trotter, not very exciting. Overpacer has that word “over” again, and that makes group A sound like they are over/better than group B. Words have meaning and connotation, but any word to describe people that write more than 50k in the month will have that connotation of more to it that is bad.

      Which is why I don’t think that addressing this is going to do much. I could also just by cynical about it, and I’m not categorically opposed to new terms, I just don’t think I’ve heard of one that does much better.

      • Alexandra says:

        Horse terms. I gave them and explained them as well.

        A pacer applies to all types of people. Their style of racing is that they stick to the original pace, before giving the bang they need to win. Many of the first-timers are crap-scared that they’re going to fail. They get behind their goals, they try to do their best and then come Nov 30th and they discover they have that bang in them and they blow past the original wordcounts.

        Marathoners are these horses who can run for a long time. They’re not necessary fast! In fact they can be a lot slower than pacers – they’re just going for a longer distance.

        Pacers are actually these horses (and let’s call us humans too) going for the Classic distance (in that case, 50k) while Marathoners are going for the longer distance (whatever we decide on) Hence why the terms that I used.

        Peace out for now. I have to go to work.

        • cosmato says:

          For horses, it makes sense, and is a good fit. Most people don\’t know that (I didn\’t, but now will!), so I was commenting on the connotations of the terms as they would be heard by a general person.

          What we really need, if this is going to do any good at all, is a term like \”Rebel\”. It isn\’t rule breaker, or cheater, and has good and bad connotations to render it mostly neutral.

          • Sushi says:

            But such a term should come about organically if it were to exist. The term overachiever is a self-identified one, and any new term should be as well.

            (And sorry, Matt–I’m with Tia’s post on that part of the topic.)

  3. Pingback: On the word “Overachiever” | In This Topic

  4. raq says:

    “I know you can overachieve, and I know you can underachieve, but can’t you ever just… achieve?”

    “I think you can in Europe…”

    The problem isn’t the word. It’s other people’s attitudes and related vocabularies. They want to complain and feel validated for it, so they’re not going to remember that ‘over’ and ‘under’ are both optional prefixes and that ‘achieve’ is perfectly legitimate AND accurate for those going for 50k. They’ll automatically take the most dramatic route and expect to be coddled for it.

    This bit of wisdom brought to you by 10 Things I Hate About You.

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