NaNoWriMo 2020 is over, and I’m sitting by the fire, taking things a little easier. I finished my rebel goals and wrote 50,127 words in November, which means I won Nano. I’m purposely not putting an exclamation point on that sentence though, because exclaiming that I won Nano feels weird to me. Here’s why:

  • Winning was not my real goal (progress was).
  • As fun as it is to gamify writing, the point is to focus on the fun of writing and to challenge myself—not turn it into a competition.
  • And most of all, what about the people that “lost?” 

I know that there are a lot of people out there who tried to win Nano, but didn’t write 50,000 words. Some of those people are totally cool with not winning. But others are feeling bad about it, maybe feeling like they lost the game of writing.

It can be hard to control those feelings of failure when you’ve set a goal for yourself and failed to meet it. I have done this many times. I expect I will do it again. But I’ve also learned a few lessons in the losing trenches. 

  • Maybe the goal I set for myself was unrealistic. This is so common when learning something new. When you’re a beginner, you don’t know enough to accurately estimate the work required.
  • Maybe I got caught up in the general excitement and signed up without understanding what I was getting into, or making room in my schedule for it.
  • Maybe I’m not a fast writer.

The point is, that none of these things make someone a loser. Just the opposite. By trying, a person starts the learning process. They may learn that they don’t want to write after all, or that they’re not ready to pursue it right now, or that they love writing and want to make more room in their lives for it.

Whether I “win” or “lose,” I try to be kind and persistent with myself. This week, the week after Nano ended, I’ve gotten little writing done. I set some goals for December, which are quickly looking unattainable. But it’s December. In our family, there’s Christmas to celebrate, as well as a birthday. And there’s a new year to plan for. And there’s family time and down time and time off to attend to.

I set my December writing goals knowing full well I would be distracted by life. Because of the holidays, I’m giving myself extra room to play. I’m okay with not getting six more scenes written. But on the days I can make the time and focus on writing, I have a goal to work towards. 

Incremental progress. That’s the magic behind being kind to yourself. Instead of wasting time feeling bad, you notice the little pockets of time where you can write. You use your hours of high energy to do the work you care most about. You may not write 50,000 words in one month, but you’ll write something. And little somethings add up.

my Nano word count—notice how small the purple bars look

Here’s the chart I used to track my progress during Nano. I love this chart. I like the colors and the juxtaposition of shapes. But most of all, I like what it says about incremental progress. The purple bars show how many words I wrote each day—the incremental progress I made. But look at the big blue area! (This deserves an exclamation point :o) ) The big blue area is what all those little purple bars add up to. You can literally see the magic of incremental progress.

So if you’re working on a project that requires long term commitment, be sure to be kind to yourself. It will help you be more persistent. And maybe find a chart that will show how your little bits of work are turning into magical progress.

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