3 Lessons about Deadlines, Courtesy of NaNoWriMo

I did it! I pushed through, striving to make the goal of fifty thousand words by the deadline.

Even better is I got there with eleven days to spare.

Wednesday was the day I finished. I could feel the goal approaching, I could taste the victory. Instead of fighting the urge to give into the feeling that I was too tired to write, I was energized. It was one of those times when writing is a joy. The words just tumble out, I get caught up in the scene and feel like my characters are my friends and I’m just telling their story.

How great is that? I was sure Thursday would be another good writing day, I could pump out three thousand words. Maybe I’ll even be able to finish the whole novel by the end of November.

Didn’t happen.

I sat down at my desk and was overtaken with a sense of lassitude, like I had gone on vacation. I felt no desire to write, no inclination to even open my manuscript.

Finally, late in the afternoon I made myself try. Once I got going, I was able to produce almost 2000 words.

So what happened?

The NaNo deadline was motivating, that much is clear. When I was working toward it, knowing some external party had set the goal and I couldn’t change it, I did my best to soldier on, even when I didn’t feel like it.

As the goal drew closer, and I grew more confident that I would reach it, I became more motivated to try harder.

Once the NaNo goal was met, all I had left was my fuzzy hope that I would finish the novel “some time in early December.”

So I realized I learned three things about deadlines:

1. When someone else sets them and they are clear and specific, they can be motivating.
2. When I set them, and they are vague and moveable, I don’t take them seriously.
3. If I set deadlines for myself, they need to be hard and specific, as in “I will finish this novel by December 6.”

So there it is, for the record. I will finish the first draft of Consuming Fire by December 6.

Some others I know have given up on NaNo, saying they can’t make the word count or they feel like by writing fast, they are writing junk.

I feel for them on the first, as last year life got in the way and I wasn’t able to finish.

The second, I’m not so sympathetic to. My first drafts are always sterile he did this, she said this, with very little in the way of detail or polished prose.

But that’s what the first draft is for. Establish the structure of the novel, then go back and bring the characters to life, draw the settings and breath life into the story.

So for me, NaNo has been motivating and a good way to get that first draft written. What about you? I’d love to hear about your NaNo experience in the comments!

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