Redefining Success – A brief Camp NaNoWriMo Roundup

Camp NaNo has come and gone, and the final numbers are in:

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I won!

57,311. There were about 3,000 words I forgot to track near the end of the month. Overall, I should be happy with these results – 57,000 isn’t anything to sneeze at, 60,000 is an incredibly solid number.

However, I’m not happy with that performance. At all. And that’s a problem, and the problem isn’t with camp, but how I’ve been viewing things.

Successful Failure

So back in January I started a tracker to keep track of my words throughout the rest of the year. My goal was 2,000 words a day, which gets me to just shy of 750,000 words. My stretch goal was 2,700 words a day, which got me to just about 1,000,000 words for the year.

1 million words a year is doable. It’s absolutely doable. I hope that with practice, I’ll be able to reasonably meet that goal.

But I wasn’t hitting that in March or April. I was feeling like I failure only getting around 60,000 words both moths.

But – and this is why I love Camp NaNo – most of the people in my cabin were hitting word counts around mine and they were celebrating it and congratulating me. These are people whose writing I respect, and they were happy with word counts that put them close to what I managed. Why wasn’t I happy too?

The problem is, I set that as a stretch goal, then started treating it like the actual goal. The number I determined to be my maximum performance became a number that, if I wasn’t meeting, I felt like a failure.

This was compounded by the fact that in January and February I had some really good runs. Two days over 8k words in a single day in January, and week vacation from work in February. In January, I came just 8k words short of my stretch goal. I finished February eight thousand words ahead of where my stretch goal was. One day in January was particularly exciting at the time – I hit 10,000 words. I started thinking if I can do this every day, I could finish a novel in half a month, then spend the next month and a half editing it, and have a novel done every two months.

You can see why this might not be a good mindset.

Coming off that heady thought, March happened. I got sick, I had my birthday, my sister’s birthday, a friend’s birthday, and two cousin’s birthdays. Then April happened and I got really sick, a nasty one-two punch of strep and flu, and got assigned a project at work that had me working 10+ hours a day.

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These aren’t the numbers I’m looking for

Now, those are things that can definitely reduce free time to write, but they’re also excuses. The real problem was, because I wasn’t hitting my stretch goal, I started getting frustrated. I started having anxiety. I’d sit at my computer for hours, wondering why the words weren’t magically appearing on the page and thinking if I just scowled hard enough, they’d apparate in front of me. I’d play video games for ‘just a bit’ to relax some and hope it would help me write, and those ‘just a bit’ sessions ended up being 3-4 hour long marathons. This, of course, didn’t help with the anxiety and created a feedback loop. Then in April I started watching Game of Thrones to “relax” from the project, and that ate up a ton of my time.

I developed a toxic relationship with my writing.

I think every author goes through this at some point in their career. Probably multiple points. Writing is like working with your significant other – you love them, but friction is bound to emerge.

Shifting Goalposts:

The problem was the stretch goal. You’ll notice that, even with all that, I was still hitting my real goal, and that’s a good goal. A solid, realistic goal based on what I’ve been able to do historically. Hell, I’m still, for the year, about thirty-four thousand words ahead of what I need to be on track for my real goal.

So I’m changing the narrative. My goals are being renamed and adjusted. 2,000 words is the goal. 1,000 words is minimum, it’s the “there’s no reason you can’t at least manage this every day,” since 1,000 words is about what I can do in a thirty minute writing sprint. I can find 30 minutes a day to sprint, no matter what. Even if I have to break it up into 3 10 minute sprints, I can hit that without problem.

I think this is going to lead to a healthier relationship with my writing and how I view success. It means that as long as I get the bare minium in, I can feel okay with my success. It means my “ideal” state isn’t pushing myself harder than I’ve ever done before, but rather actually what I can write on a good day.

I originally set the stretch goal so high because I wanted to counteract the impulse to stop writing as soon as I hit that goal. Based on how many days I’ve had in the 3, 4, and 5+ thousand word ranges…I don’t need that as a motivator. What I need for motivation is to know I’m doing well enough by my standards.

Here’s how my March and April look before the change:

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Eeeeh…

Here’s how they look after the change:

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I also changed 0’s from angry red to blank because the way the human brain responds to color is interesting and exploitable.

The numbers don’t change. The number of days I can look at and feel proud of what I accomplished did. The goal with this change is also to eliminate those 0 days. On most of those, what happened was I’d sit back and think “I can’t manage two thousand, seven hundred words today. I’m failing if I don’t, so what’s the point of trying?” Or they were days I’d sit at my computer, trying to write and feeling the pressure of how hard it was going to be to get to that goal weighing down on me and just find myself unable to write because of this pressure.

This change is going to help me look at things better, but I’m also going to change how I view the numbers. The real, primary goal is to not have any zero words day in May. Five hundred words, not even hitting my minimum, is better than zero. One hundred words is better than zero. Ten words is better than zero. Any number is better than a day with no progress.

I’m hoping that gives me a healthier view of my own progress. I’m sure I’ll still have those huge days that make me fist pump the air. I’m sure I’ll still have days where two or three hundred words is all I can manage. But I think this will be overall much, much healthier for me than how I was looking at things. I’m already feeling better just for having typed this out.

I’ll let you know how it went in June.

Want to see what these words result in? Get your free book here!

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