Mission Accomplished: What I Learned From Winning NaNoWriMo

imageI did it.

Four weeks ago I accepted the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge. The goal was to write a 50,000 word novel during the 30 days of November. I’d heard about it just a couple of days before the month started during an NPR interview with Chris Baty, with the guy who started it in 1999.

I crossed the 50,000 word goal line just before midnight on Saturday, November 29th. I uploaded the text to nanowrimo.org in order to validate my word count and was immediately forwarded to a screen that read CONGRATULATIONS! in giant letters. While it felt good to get that kind of instant feedback from the site, the personal sense of accomplishment feels even better.

Now that November and the challenge are over, I thought I’d share a few personal observations about the process of goal achievement.

  • You have to set a big goal. This may seem counter intuitive. After all, if you set a goal that’s too big it’s easy to get discouraged and assume defeat before you even get started. But I think the bigger danger lies in setting a goal that’s too small. Goals that seem small invite procrastination. It’s easy to put off something that seems easy to accomplish. Knowing that 50,000 words would not be easy meant that I had to start right away. Just getting started is often the hardest part of reaching any goal.
  • You have to make forward progress every day. I knew that if I let just one day go by without working on my novel, I would never finish. Allowing yourself to rest is like giving yourself permission to quit. Newton’s first law of motion applies to goal achievement. A body at rest tends to remain at rest. So I made myself write some every single day. Sometimes it was only a hundred words or so, but moving forward actually keeps you moving forward.
  • Your work isn’t finished when the goal is reached. I achieved the official goal of writing 50,000 words; but my story isn’t finished. I still have a few more scenes to write before I can call my book complete. That means I can’t stop. As long as I have more story to tell, I’ll keep writing. As long as you have more to give, you still have work to do.
  • You learn more about what you still have to learn. I’m a better writer (I think) than I was a month ago; but I know I can get better. There are elements of my story that are rough and characters that need more development. So once I get through the first draft, I have to go back and refine several parts of the narrative. I’ll research the parts that gave me trouble and work on them so I can improve.
  • You start to thrive on the challenge. I have come to relish the sense of accomplishment I feel when reaching a personal milestone. That’s why I keep giving myself goals like this – to see how far I can stretch. It’s been said that the day you stop growing is the day you start dying. After this project is said and done, I’ll be looking for something else to test myself with.

If there’s a goal in front of you that you’re trying to reach, let me encourage you to keep going. If you don’t have one, set one. Make it big and do something to move you forward every day. Otherwise, your story will never be told. And, to paraphrase the NaNoWriMo slogan, the world needs your story.

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