“You get to decide what success means in your writing life.” –Sage Cohen
Today is the last day of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2016. I participated this year, having set a goal of 30,000 words. This is my fifth novel manuscript, but in so many ways I still feel like a beginner. Every writing project is different, and you learn something from each one. You build on what you’ve learned and strengthen those skills.
I fell short of my goal by about 4,000 words, but I wrote most days, and I’m overall pleased with what I accomplished:
- I established a new routine of a near-daily writing practice on top of other work, self-care, and family;
- I figured out how to overcome what I saw as blocks (“can’t write at work”) by just sitting down and doing it;
- I let myself trust in the process. While many writing guides and teachers urge you to map out a plan for your novel ahead of time for NaNoWriMo, I didn’t do that. I am writing historic-biopic fiction, and so I did have a lot of material to work with, and had previously written a screenplay with the same material, but I realized that this version of my project was calling me to do something else with it. I let myself dive in and do something less traditional, something more intuitive, something that called on me to break free of a pre-existing structure. Since my project was also heavily researched, I also had to learn to trust that I’d done “enough.” (I did do a little research along the way, and had books close at hand, but there comes a time when you have to trust that you’ve done enough);
- I learned to forgive myself for the days I planned too much or didn’t get to the writing. I looked at whether I was unrealistic or I had let other things get in the way, and learned from that.
Overall, I feel this month was a success, in that I laid down a solid foundation for my novel, and ultimately I think that’s the point of NaNoWriMo. Having accountability check-ins with a Facebook group and an online writing partner was really helpful in moving me on, as well as the encouragement and support of people close to me. Mostly, again and again, I’m reminded of how key it is to believe in yourself.
My writing guides were also really helpful here. I re-read portions of Heather Sellers’ Page after Page, reminding me to cultivate love for my writing and to not just see it as something I had to get through. I’ve also been reading Sage Cohen’s Fierce on the Page: Become the Writer You Were Meant to Be and Succeed on Your Own Terms (Writers’ Digest Books, 2016). I have to credit her for the idea for this post–that I can decide what success means for myself, and that I don’t need an external measure. While NaNoWriMo is great for providing structure, accountability and inspiration, ultimately it shouldn’t be a stick you beat yourself up with–it should be a prompt to get you writing the book you want to write, and I’m thankful that it’s been there for me to do that. So thanks, Sage, Heather, NaNoWriMo and my Facebook writing partners. Maybe I’ll see you again next year!