Here we are ten days into NaNoWriMo. Ten days of working hard, struggling sometimes, finding your flow and losing it again. Some people are already posting “I won NaNoWriMo!” banners. Others feel totally at sea. And numbers are flying all over the place—wordcount totals, daily wordcounts, number of writing days missed.
Just as numbers lend themselves to a mistaken sense of orderliness, they lend themselves to mistaken comparisons. It’s very easy to think that someone who’s written 20,000 words is in some way a better person than someone who’s written 10,000 words. It’s very easy to forget that those progress meters are not all there is to life in November. It’s very easy, in this atmosphere focused on numbers and “winning,” to get jealous, and anxious, and insecure.
If the green-eyed monster is sitting on your shoulder, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Every manuscript is a unique work of art. We set up competitions and awards and lists of the year’s best books and all those things, but fundamentally, books can’t be compared to one another, because art is itself. Focus on your book, on your craft.
- NaNo is between you and you. Other people happen to be doing their own self-directed NaNos at the same time. This is coincidence. You have chosen your goal—the 50,000-word standard goal, or another—and your progress toward that goal is yours.
- Don’t let the similarity of goals trick you into thinking that everyone who does a 50k NaNo is the same. Everyone brings different things to their NaNo. Some people prep beforehand; some go in cold. Some people have day jobs and family commitments and chronic illnesses; some are free of drags on their energy and time. Some people have a dozen books under their belts; some are just starting out. If this were a competition—and it’s not—the playing field would not be remotely level.
- It is totally okay to step away from places where other people are discussing their progress toward their goals if being in those places makes you feel bad or makes it hard for you to keep working toward your own goal.
- If you want a writing career, this is great preparation for the career-writer world, in which someone else is always getting an award or landing a deal or hitting a bestseller list or turning out sixty books a year or being reviewed somewhere major or being a keynote speaker or otherwise doing or getting a thing that you wish you were doing or getting. So just as writing your NaNo “book” helps you learn how to write professionally, having feelings about other people’s NaNo progress helps you anticipate the experience of being a professional writer. How will you face that challenge, now and in the future? How will you get around it or past it, or ignore it or argue with it, or do whatever you need to do to keep writing?
- Keep writing.
That’s all pretty standard anti-insecurity stuff and you may have already tried it and found it’s not enough. So instead of staying with the concept of competition—because arguing with it still buys into it to some extent—let’s talk about collaboration.
In the fanfic writing community I’m part of, sometimes we talk about stories as being like cake. Someone will come into chat and say “I had a story idea but I see someone already wrote it” or “I feel like the audience for this is so tiny” and the rest of us will chorus “MORE CAKE.” Because even if someone else baked a delicious cake, there is no such thing as too much delicious cake! And even if very few people appreciate the unique flavor combinations you come up with, those who do will be so thrilled to find something tailor-made just for their tastes.
I especially love this metaphor because it focuses on the glee not just of making but of sharing, and the delight of the reader getting to savor the story. It is the antithesis of counting and comparing. Who cares how much cake you’re making, or what kind of cake it is, or how much cake anyone else has made? Your cake is MORE CAKE and more is better. Every word you put down is worth celebrating, because any word anyone puts down is worth celebrating. And it keeps you focused on your goal by reminding you of what comes after—no one else can enjoy your cake until you finish baking it.
If you think of NaNo projects this way, suddenly NaNo becomes collaborative rather than competitive. Everyone is going to make so many words until November is full to the brim with them! And no matter how many or how few words you’re writing, no matter how quickly or slowly you’re progressing, you’re doing your part.
What you’re making is going to be incredible. Other people are making incredible things too. How beautiful, how joyous! What an amazing thing to be a part of. Let that amazingness excite and encourage you, all thoughts of competition forgotten. Every word is one more word than there was before. Every word is a win.