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You Don’t Have to Win to Win

It was exactly 7 years ago that I started writing my first book, Telling Lies Online.

I had wanted to be a writer for years, and had even attended several regional conferences that were sponsored by my local chapter of the RWA (Romance Writers of America). The first time I went, there was a session that dove into detail about choosing the right paper to print your manuscript on for submissions, if that gives you an idea of how many years I’m talking about.

It wasn’t until my early 40s when everything came together.

In 2015, the self-publishing movement was picking up steam. I had the chance to listen to a presentation in Boston from a romance author who had gone from a mid-list “nobody” who was let go by her publisher partway through a series to an indie phenomenon who had recently celebrated her first seven-figure year. I was inspired! I joined some indie-focused groups through social media that were recommended to me, and that was when I first heard about NaNo.

Now, at this point, I had never written a novel. Or even a novella. I’d written extensively in grad school, and during my career in marketing, but that was all nonfiction and communication based. Nothing creative, (unless you count making a journal about industrial fish farming sound “interesting” in a marketing brochure). But I really wanted to, and here was this challenge to write a novel in a month. I was intrigued.

Now for my confession. I didn’t win.

I came close. I think I had a bit over 40k words, which for someone who had never written anything like that before wasn’t too bad. But here is what I learned:

  1. Writing every day is like drinking 8 glasses of water, or going to the gym, or anything else you know you should do. It doesn’t just happen. You have to set reminders and make yourself accountable. You need that friend who will ask you if you did it, or that gold star you give yourself in your journal if you reach your word count that day. Yes, I bought actual gold stars.
  2. Sometimes, you won’t reach your daily goal. You might not even reach your monthly goal. I ended up on the road for Thanksgiving that year, and let me tell you, typing in the car is not conducive to high word counts (no, I was not driving at the time).
  3. When November 30 came and went and I did not “win” NaNo… the world did not end. I woke up on December 1 and I still had most of a first draft of a novel. And I kept working on it. I finished it, and sent it to a beta reader. I made changes. I sent it to an editor. I made more changes. Finally, on February 1, 2016 (that’s three months later, in case you were keeping track), I published my first book.

This year as I settle into the first NaNo I’ve had a chance to participate in since 2015, I have a bookshelf behind me with 20 books on it that I wrote. There’s a space for book #21, which has just been sent off to the editor and will be coming out before Christmas.

My goals are different this year. I am taking an existing manuscript and completely reworking it into the start of a new series. But in other ways, the goals are the same. Challenge myself. Grow as a writer. Find and give encouragement along the way.

If you’ve been thinking about doing NaNo and you just aren’t sure, all I can say is DO IT. Even though November 1 has come and gone. So what? Start on November 2 or 3. Write 50k, or 30k. Or 10k. Whatever you write this month is more words than if you didn’t do it at all.

To keep myself accountable, since it’s hard to track words when you’re editing an existing work, I will be keeping track of how many days I sit down to work for at least an hour on this project. I will be joining the IHS weekday morning sprints on zoom for the second hour. And I will be sharing my progress with others. If this is something that might help you grow as a writer, or write that first novel you’ve dreamed of writing, all I can say is, JOIN US!

I’ve got a little over a year left of my forties, and it’s such an amazing feeling to be looking at the approach of a new decade in life and knowing that something I thought was a distant dream is now a reality. I may not have won my first NaNo, but I still feel like a winner.

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