NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is a challenge in which participants aim to write a 50000 word novel within the month of November. I had vaguely heard of it, but never thought to participate until two friends announced that they were doing it and that I should too. Within a couple of hours, I had thought of a concept and several of the characters, and eagerly awaited the 1st of November.
In this post I discuss my experience, and how it relates to the ideas of success and failure.
50000 words is longer than any story I have finished. It is an ambitious goal for a single month, never mind my track record. I did not ever truly expect to reach 50000, but I told myself “a 2% change of success is 2 better than a 0% chance!”
The first week was excellent. I wrote every day, and had an average words per day close to the target. Momentum then died down a little, but progress continued at a respectable rate for a while. Around day 12 I realised my complete plot would wrap up in a maximum of 25000 words. I decided this was fine and that I would consider it a success if I managed a finished first draft by the end of the month, even if it was half the official goal. After this, progress slowed. In part I can blame university work eating up my time, but mostly I was just not able to overcome writer’s block and motivational issues. I did not produce a finished first draft, and my final word count graph looked like this.
So did I fail?
I did not achieve the official goal defined in the challenge, and I did not even reach my own far smaller personal goal. With that considered, the simple answer is a clear “Yes.”
But simple answers do not do reality justice. I may not have achieved what I wanted to achieve, but I did more than I ever believed I would. In all honestly, I expected to reach no more than 6000 words and then give up forever and never come back to this story. From this perspective, it was far from complete failure.
In the middle of the challenge I felt a lot of negativity over the growing divide between where I was and where I was supposed to be. This negativity arose from viewing my slow progress as failure and forgetting the success of the the previous two weeks. Focusing solely on what I had not done brought nothing but the feeling of being overwhelmed. On other days, I thought about what I had accomplished, and my lack of progress felt justified by the fact that I had already exceeded expectations. Each of these mindsets was counterproductive. One considered failure too harshly, and the other considered success too strongly.
Looking back on the challenge as a whole, I do not consider it either a failure or a success. I have landed somewhere in between, and I am happy with that. By wishing for what something could have been, we can lose sight of what it is. My NaNoWriMo project is not the finished first draft that I wish it was, but it is more than I have written within any individual month in the past. It is proof that I can accomplish productivity if I have the inspiration. I showed myself and my friends what I can do when my I put my mind to it. This is something to be happy about, and the fact that I did not achieve my goals should not ruin that feeling. Instead, it should be a message to myself saying, “You’re getting better at this. Next time, you can succeed for real.” Without my NaNoWriMo experience sending me this message, this blog would likely not exist.
On the other hand, the last two weeks are proof of how ineffective I can be if I fall into the wrong mindset. However, I know what that mindset was and why it was ineffective. With that in mind, I should be able to fight it off more effectively in the future.
In many situations, there is no black and white divide between success and failure. Things we do generally have elements of both. The healthiest mindset is one which takes into account all of these elements, instead of getting caught up on individual ones. If I try harder to maintain this mindset through difficult times in future projects, they might turn out far more successful than NaNoWriMo did.