I’m very proud of my flops, as much as of my successes. — Francis Ford Coppola
I’m going to be writing a lot about failure this week because we are staring down the end of NaNo, and I know there are some folks at this point who are struggling mightily. I will say what other folks have probably already told you: keep writing. Every word you write is a word you didn’t have on October 31. While “winning” ends at midnight on November 30, there is no time by which you have to stop writing.
For many years, NaNoWriMo has used the phrase “30 Days of Literary Abandon.” The idea is to set yourself free for one month, give yourself permission to write an utterly shitty first draft and just go with the flow. The point of writing a particularly shitty first draft is setting yourself up to fail spectacularly, to write something that you know, when you finish, is not going to be publishable immediately and may not be publishable for a while as you smooth out rough edges, fix the cracks, and perform an earthquake retrofit. Don’t worry about quality in these last eight days — just write. Trust your mind to lead you where you need to go and write. Do sprints, get yourself a prompt to get the juices going, challenge yourself write a certain number of words beyond what you’d normally write in a give time. Just let the story happen.
You’re not alone in your struggles. I’ve had a few NaNos that have not just resulted in my not making 50,000 words, but have been miserable experiences for one reason or another. I’m still proud of doing them, though, because those have usually happened where my writing and my life was at a very low point. I’m proud because I sat down at the keyboard when I had every reason not to do so. I’m proud of the effort because doing that, remembering those moments when the writing was good and felt right, helped me come back from serious dry spells. It wasn’t easy, but it was a baby step.
We learn something from everything we do, success or failure. Many times, it’s the failures that hold the greater lessons because they give us signposts about what roads we shouldn’t go down, warnings that the bridge is under construction and we need to take a detour. Our failures help us not make the same mistake twice in the same way.
If you’re close to winning, celebrate because you’ve earned that right and congrats to you. If you’re struggling, plan to celebrate December 1, 50,000 words or no. You made it through the month and even if you fell short, you didn’t give up. That’s a hell of a lot more than some folks ever do. In the weeks ahead, as you gain time and distance, you can look back at the experience and see pointers you can pick up. After, it’s not really too early to start thinking about what you plan to write in 2016.