It’s not quite the last day of November yet, but I already know I’ve failed NaNoWriNo. I’m at about 15,000 words in my novel and with just one day left, I know I’m not going to make it to that 50,000-word mark. And that’s okay.
For those that don’t know, NaNoWriMo, aka National Novel Writing Month, is a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. Roughly, that equates to writing about 1,600 words a day for 30 days. Not an easy feat for any writer, no matter how seasoned.
This is the fourth year I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo, and guess what: I’ve never “won.” But for me, NaNoWriMo isn’t really about winning or losing. It’s about setting a goal and striving to achieve that goal, whether you make it there or not.
If you’ve ever set a goal and failed to reach it (and really who hasn’t) you’ll understand the disappointment and sadness that comes with losing. But instead of focusing on what I haven’t done, I want to focus on what I’ve already achieved.
Yes, I am a Nanowrimo loser. But I now have a 15,000-word start to my novel and if that isn’t winning I don’t know what is.
Here’s what I’ve learned over the last month:
Stop Making Excuses and Do It Already
Failure is an inherent fear. No wants to fail. But here’s the thing. When you do fail, it doesn’t feel as big of a deal anymore. Whether we do what we set out to do or not, the important thing is making the decision to start.
That fear of failure can be a powerful force. It can stop us in our tracks and convince us that it’s not worth starting something, no matter how bad we want it. That’s certainly been true for me. I’ve wanted to be a writer my entire life. And not just any writer, but a novelist. But in my 26 years, I have not written one novel. Why? Fear. Fear that I’m not good enough. That I won’t be able to do it. Fear of rejection. And fear of if I am able to do it, what will happen after?
Fear is paralyzing if we give it all the power. That’s why we have to be strong enough to look fear in the face and say too bad, I’m doing it anyway.
Want to Be Good? Commit.
People don’t just wake up one day and suddenly they’re a spectacular writer. Yes, natural talent does play a part, but it’s not enough. If you want to get really good, like truly professional-level good, you need to practice.
There’s no way around it. No shortcuts or easy paths. You have to stop making excuses, sit down and do the work. If you want to be a great writer, you need to write every day. Make it a habit, and the writing will come easier and easier.
To succeed in NaNoWriMo, or come close to succeeding, you need to write every day for 30 days. You have to make the commitment and prioritize your writing.
If you’re doing something day in and day out, you’re only going to get better. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the mood or waiting for your muse, you still have to do it. Even if it sucks, the practice will still help you in the long run.
Nobody’s Perfect – Especially Writers
Perfectionists do not make good writers. That’s because no matter how hard you try your writing will never be perfect. There will always be some comma missing, or passive voice or an awkward phrase or something else you’ll want to correct.
But if you get so hung up on the little details, you’ll never get anything done. In Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules of Writing, he says, “Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.”
Just like fear, striving for perfection can leave you paralyzed and unable to complete anything you start. The thing that sets successful writers apart is that they actually finish what they start.
Because NaNoWriMo challenges you to write so much, perfection isn’t really an option. You need to just write and write and not worry about how good you are or even whether your grammar is correct.
I haven’t finished my NaNoWriMo novel yet, but this isn’t the end for me. I’m going to stay committed, keep writing daily and finish what I started. I suggest you do the same.