Celebrate even small victories

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My twelve-year-old daughter did NaNoWriMo this year. In case you didn’t know, they have a separate area for kids where they can set their own goals (and change them as needed) for the month. She did it two years ago (the same time I did it) and made her goal of 7000 words. But this year she heard that they will allow kids as young as thirteen to enter the adult section, so she decided to set her goal at 50,000 words to see if she was capable of “upgrading” next year.

She got off to a blazing start. In less than two weeks she hit 20,000. Then she got sick, her friends talked her into other projects, she got writers block, the forums were too interesting, and homework got heavy. By the end of the month she made it to 25,000 words. Being able to reduce her goal and still “win” was only mild consolation.

Still, she wrote 25,000 words. That’s at least twice as long as anything else she’s written before. And for the first two weeks she was well on pace to reach 50,000. She fell short, but she had done so much better than she’d ever done before. I tried to point that out to her, but I think now I should have tried harder. While it was not the victory she had initially sought, it was a definite accomplishment.

Most of us writers don’t need critics. We arrive on the scene pre-mutilated. Though criticism can hurt, chances are we’ve already told ourselves far worse than they will. We’re really good at calling out our own shortcomings. We’ll invent some if need be.

Where we probably need work is in recognizing our accomplishments. We didn’t finish that novel? Okay, but what did we accomplish? What did we do better than last time? Feel free to celebrate progress, no matter how small. Progress is, by definition, progress!

There will always be time to beat ourselves up for everything else. Trust me. In fact, feel free to skip that part altogether if you can. But never forget to celebrate the victories. In the American Revolutionary War, 1776 ended with the Continental Army largely on the run before a vastly superior force. That they survived long enough to make it into winter quarters was an accomplishment. Washington’s raid across the Delaware was not really that significant a battle. The British losses were hardly worth notice. But it was progress, and the soldiers knew it. They had gone on the offensive, and they had won.

That in turn resulted in further progress. That winter most of Washington’s soldiers’, largely made up of colonial militias, were nearing the end of their enlistments. There was little incentive to re-enlist. The cause looked pretty bleak. Washington’s famous raid gave them hope. Re-enlistments were much higher than they had feared. Washington came through the winter with the continued confidence of the Continental Congress and much of his force intact.

All because of one small victory at the right time.

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At the end of 1776 Washington wasn’t even looking for victory. All he wanted was to buy more time. It would be nearly seven more years before the Washington and the Colonies would win the war. But the Battle of Trenton may have proven more important than many of the later battles–perhaps even the Battle of Yorktown that ended the war. It made much of what came later possible. It frightened the British just enough that they did not press their numerical superiority that winter.

So pay attention to progress. Celebrate your successes. Be on the lookout for things that are going better than before. That one little boost may be just enough to get you over the hump. You’ll never know which little breakthrough proves the pivot-point of your writing career.

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom is a Utah transplant, works for a regional bank, and spends his lunch hours working on his latest novel. His wife, three kids, and four pets find him amusing and somewhat useful, so they keep him around.

1 comments
Brenda Bensch
Brenda Bensch

LOVELY reminder - thanks, Thom! Here's one way I've measured NaNo success: several years ago, while teaching basic composition at UVU, I encouraged some of my students to try doing NaNo. Two or three gave it a try. I went to the opening party in Provo, and saw one of my former students there. He was doing NaNo again. And again. Then he began bringing his daughter to the opening party: she was very young, maybe even pre-school. But she came faithfully with him for several years. Then three or so years ago, she said she was going to do NaNo too. She set her own goal, and I believe she made it. Two years ago, he brought his daughter and his wife. Now she was doing NaNo. I told her about the program for young kids. I found at a year ago that she had gone to her daughter's school, told the elementary teacher about the FREE program, and she signed up for the whole class to give it a try. This year, Matt and his daughter were there again . . . both doing NaNo again. Mom wasn't there. She was home getting ready to write ! ! !