On National Novel Writing Month and Playing the Long Game

IMG_0686-2The beginning of December marks the end of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for many writers. For those of you who don’t know, writers participating in NaNoWriMo make the goal to write 50,000 words in a month (aprox. 1,666 words/day). I am definetly a goal-oriented person, so you can see how a challenge like this might appeal to me. However, I am rewriting my book, not writing a first draft like most people in the challenge, so the 50,000 word goal didn’t really make sense for me. Still wanting to join in on the comradery, I decided to challenge myself to simply work on my rewrites every day.

Before the beginning of November, I had been following a somewhat successful schedule of writing from Monday-Friday each week. Some weeks I was super diligent and other weeks I was not. Many weeks I found it difficult to get started again on Monday, so I was curious if my write-everyday-November plan would help get rid of that slump. I didn’t really have any hard and fast rules to my rogue-NaNoWriMo challenge; the goal was simply to write more.

I’m surprised pleased to say that I was fairly successful in meeting my goal to write everyday in November. A few nights, I only jotted down a few sentences in my note-taking app before bed, but in my mind that still counted, because it kept the flow going. In fact, I did most of my writing before bed, squeezing in some time before the day was over. And I always, ALWAYS, left the writing a little bit unfinished every night, so I knew exactly where I was going to start the next day. This little, daily experiment definetly showed me that it’s always possible to make time for the things that are important to you, no matter how busy you are.

However, November was not all productivity and writerly bliss. One day I worked all day, helped with a library fundraiser all evening and then fell into bed when I got home, so I didn’t write that day. It was tempting to give up after a perfectly reasonable but still missed day. It’s amazing how quick I was to want to give up on my goal after encountering this slight hiccup, but luckily I forced myself to ignore the break and keep writing.

I think I was able to do this because I was more focused on the end result of producing work than the action of writing everyday. If my goal was just to complete the action of writing every day for November, then yes, I failed. But my goal was to write every day, so that in the end I would have a larger body of work. If I had simply stopped when I had failed the superficial goal to write everyday then I would have certainly failed the big-picture, long term goal to get more of my rewrites completed.

There’s a real danger in getting caught up in these superficial goals like writing everyday, finishing a novel in a year or even writing 50,000 words in a month. I’ve seen many of my fellow writers get discouraged to the point that they have stopped writing, because they did not meet the superficial goals that they set for themselves. They feel like failures, even though their attempts still produced half-written stories or poems, stored away in computers and notebooks. That doesn’t look like failing to me.

When it all boils down, all writers should have one foundational goal that we are striving towards: write more. Or even more simply: create stuff. If superficial goals and fun challenges, like NaNoWriMo, help you write more, then go for it, but don’t feel like a failure if you don’t accomplish the superficial writing goals that you assign to yourself and perhaps even more often, are “assigned” by other people and our collective writing culture. If you’ve written, then you’ve won; you’ve succeeded. Words on the page are always a success, even if you wish they had come faster and in greater volume. Take heart in that and allow it to help you expand your writing practice in ways that make sense to you. Play the long game.



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