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NaNoWriMo: To Write. Or Not to Write.

The pros and cons of meeting an arbitrary goal.

Key points

  • Growth and development rely on two things: stress and endurance.
  • NaNoWriMo provides a much-needed sense of community for writers who often work in isolation.
  • We never grow if we only attempt those things that ensure our success.

We’re midway through November.

That means some writers are halfway through NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writers’ Month.

Have you heard of NaNoWriMo?

Have you participated?

The idea is that during the 30 days of November, writers across the United States and worldwide commit to writing 50,000 words.

I know lots of people who successfully participate.

But I also know many people who find the constraints of the challenge limiting, artificial, arbitrary, and counterproductive.

I have never successfully won NaNoWriMo. (To win, you have to meet the challenge. It’s the honor system.) No one really checks.

I usually give up after a couple of days.

It’s not that I’m a quitter.

November is a hectic time of the year for a college professor. I don’t have the mental, emotional, or physical energy to maintain the grueling schedule of 1,667+ words every day for 30 days.

Last year, I publicly committed to participate. I registered on the NaNoWriMo Web site. I announced my intention on Instagram and Facebook with a countdown of the five days leading up to November 1st.

But after maybe 3 days, I quietly resigned myself to not going ahead with the challenge.

There’s an old expression that my husband often uses: "Fish or cut bait."

Commit to a task. But if too many insurmountable obstacles get in your way, sometimes the best way to progress is to stop, untangle yourself from the hindrances, sever your connections, and relocate.

This doesn’t mean quitting.

It means reflecting on your tactics, tools, and goals and reassessing.

Yoda articulated a similar message with "Do or not do. There is no try."

Try implies you’re doing your best, and you resolve to accept the outcome, whether it’s success or failure.

But did you know that failure is a great teacher?

Almost every (maybe all) successful person endured failure before they achieved success—Walt Disney, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Stephen King. And there are many, many more.

Our public schools fail our students because they don’t tolerate individual students’ failures. Public education thrives on the statistics of excellence, not the learning rates of progress.

American psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck has spent decades developing the growth mindset theory. “Too often nowadays, praise is given to students who are putting forth effort, but not learning, in order to make them feel good in the moment: ‘Great effort! You tried your best!’ It’s good that the students tried, but it’s not good that they’re not learning” (Dweck, 2015). In other words, she believes we do a disservice to our young people when we say, "Good job. You tried. Way to go."

We must help students acknowledge that some things are hard. But with effort and perseverance, we can learn.

Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky offered a different learning theory with the Zone of Proximal Development or ZPD (McLeod, 2019). He theorized that optimal learning occurs when the student attempts tasks that are not too easy or hard.

What will you tackle this week?

  1. The first step: Know yourself as a maker.

  2. Next: Look at the masters in your field.

  3. What skills did they need to complete the task?
  4. Finally: Create a series of lessons for yourself. Push yourself to try something new.
  5. Books, courses, tutorials, and YouTube videos provide countless resources to support your growth as an artist/creative/maker.
  6. Be willing to fail. And try again.
  7. Push yourself out of your comfort zone.
  8. Challenge yourself, but don’t reach too high. Just high enough.

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo and miss a day, you’ll have to up your word count the next few days to catch up.

If you skip too many days, the necessary word count soars from the impractical to the impossible zone.

Finally, is writing practical if you only write to meet your word count?

That’d be like throwing paint at a canvas to cover it with color.

Or cutting fabric to move a project from planning to production. Just so you can log the hours.

Or braising carrots and onions for a stock without actually making stew.

That could be the impractical side of NaNoWriMo for me.

The rate of word production feels artificial.

For thousands of writers, the challenge fits well with their daily or weekly word count.

It develops a community based on a common goal.

NaNoWriMo provides a much-needed sense of community for writers who often work in isolation. Knowing others are toiling at their keyboards simultaneously motivates more production.

Like the instructions on a bottle of shampoo: Lather, rinse, and repeat.

The writing habit required to win NaNoWriMo benefits the creative with its regularity. Once you know you can get up an hour earlier to get in your writing time, you will be inclined to continue.

I have a friend who writes a book a month. Really! And she’s been doing this for over five years. Impressive, to be sure.

Could I do this?

Not yet.

Could I train to do this?

Absolutely—if the goal to write a book a month aligned with my other life goals.

I’m sure you’ve heard of SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

NaNoWriMo is all those things.

Try this:

Choose an icon for your writing genre.

What is their daily practice? (specific and measurable)

What can you do each day for your own practice? (attainable)

What do you want to achieve? And why? (relevant)

When will you finish? (time-bound)

Next, learn about their background, their history, and their failures before they achieved success.

We never grow if we only attempt those things that assure our success.

Write your book, your essay, your memoir.

Get out there and Do Your ARt!

Our world will be better, and you’ll benefit, too.


Dweck, C. (2015, September 15). Carol Dweck Revisits the 'Growth Mindset'. Education Week.

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