Writing as a challenge

If you like challenging yourself, I bet you’ll be interested with upcoming NaNoWriMo.

For 15 years now, November has been the time of the National Novel Writing Month, a literary challenge where you have 31 days to perform a 50,000 words novel. 50,000 words is about the length of Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World, and it’s considerer the minimum for a novel. Writing one in a single month is committing yourself to write at least 1667 words of fiction each day, 7 days a week.

If you have ever wanted to write a novel but never started because you were afraid of the task, be happy: NaNoWriMo was created by and for people like you. Last year, the challenge gathered more than 250,000 people, making it de facto the biggest writing challenge in the world.

I’ve tried and won NaNoWriMo 4 times from 2010 to 2013, and I’ve decided no to do it this year. I really recommend you to try it though for you’ll learn a lot of things about yourself.

My first NaNoWriMo was by far the hardest. I had put an incredible an useless pressure on myself as I could not imagine losing. I wrote the 50,000 words in 19 days but it left me physically and mentally drained for months. After November the 20th, I was unable to open my editor without being about to vomit, and it wasn’t because of some really trash scenes.

This first victory was very important, if not elegant. When you give yourself a challenge it’s important to get the appropriate result. If your challenge is to write a 50,000 words novel and you do it, your challenge is successful. Don’t blame yourself for not finishing your story or having 200 pages of pure unreadable crap. Finishing your story or writing the next Nobel prize were not the challenge you initially setup.

The 2 following years were much easier despite starting badly. Impostor syndrome striking back, I had spent 2011 convinced winning NaNoWriMo was pure luck. I did not put myself as much pressure as the year before and it helped me a lot. Truth was I had nothing to prove to myself or anyone anymore.

That second victory was not as important as the first one since I had already won the first time. When giving yourself a challenge it’s important and helpful to mark multiple stages so you get that feeling of achievement from time to time. A 31 days challenge without those stages can look like a long tunnel with no end, and it can be discouraging. Most people losing around me lost because they could not keep with writing daily, even a few hundreds words so they eventually stopped on day 20 or 25. The reason why they broke their writing pace was because the challenge was too big. It would have been easier for them sliced in small sub challenges.

It seemed like winning NaNoWriMo was becoming a nice yearly habit. Until last year where it was painful again. I had a hard time finishing, hated what I was writing about and spent every single day hoping for December. I didn’t care about NaNoWriMo anymore because it was no more the challenge it used to be.

Every year came with its lessons and 2013 had the most important one. Whatever you add to make it harder, whatever the way you do it for the second, third or fourth time, a challenge is a once in a lifetime achievement. Once you’ve done it, it’s not a challenge anymore.

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