A postmortem

November was not a great month.

We were all set to celebrate the first Thanksgiving in a decade I wasn’t working retail. We had set the itinerary, told the families, and packed the car. Tuesday night my daughter got sick. Wednesday, I got sick. Friday, it was my wife’s turn. I was on the mend by Saturday, so we tagged out—she went to bed, I took care of our daughter. Saturday night she was getting better, too.

Sunday morning, 5 a.m., I got real sick.

By 10 a.m., I knew I needed help. We went to the emergency room. I got IV fluids, I got anti-nausea medicine, I got analgesics, I got a CT scan. The bag that should’ve lasted me an hour, I drained in thirty minutes. The CT scan was to check for an obstruction or appendicitis. That came back negative. It was just, in the doctor’s own words, “the bug from hell.”

Hard to get your words in when you almost die. I spent Sunday, Monday, and most of Tuesday asleep. Wednesday burned off into dusk and I never left the couch. Back to work on Thursday, but I learned quick I had to take the elevator, because the stairs were going to end me.

Setting the right goals

I joined up with NaNoWriMo for the first time this year. Like I explained earlier, I intended to get back on the daily writing horse. I wasn’t looking for 1600 a day. And even though I kept up all right with that modest goal the first two weeks, I already knew it was a mistake.

NaNoWriMo is all about hitting 50k by the end of the month. That’s the only reason it exists. Your profile has a big damn chart with your daily count rising up to the 30th in a straight line.

It seems tautologically obvious in hindsight:

I signed up for NaNoWriMo with no intent to participate in NaNoWriMo.

I thought riding alongside it, even though I was working on something tangentially similar, would be beneficial. I was wrong. For those first two weeks, I did all right getting something down every day. I was succeeding in my goal, but I was failing in NaNoWriMo’s—and that failure was compounding interest. The more often you don’t write 1600 a day, the more you have to write more than 1600 a day, and the further behind you get. The sense of failure is a positive feedback loop.

Reporting success

What I should have done was build a system that tracked my success, instead of adding to failure. If I’d been seeing a calendar with weeks full of check marks (or plus signs, or emoji, or what have you), that would be an impetus to sustain momentum. Fill the calendar with green, because my goal here was to write something every day. Then it would have been less a punishment when the numbers were low, because any number that isn’t zero is a success.

That was my problem with NaNoWriMo. I thought I could access the infrastructure without being a citizen, to mix up another metaphor. I wanted the encouragement, I wanted the forums and the support, but that exists around NaNoWriMo’s core. The core is that bar chart on the calendar climbing to 50k.

It’s a good lesson to keep with you. Success isn’t made by itself. It’s easier to succeed when you can see yourself succeed, when you focus on the correct progress.

Don’t regret

This part is something I have to remind myself. Sure, I made a mistake this time. But I wrote, and I did so more days in a row than I had the month prior. I’m in the currents more than I have been, I’m thinking about the book, I’m swimming in it again. Yeah, there were a bunch of zero days.

Like I said. Hard to get your words in when you almost die.

So I’m going to examine what worked (having a concrete goal), and I’m going to jettison what didn’t (coopting other structures with different goals), and I’ll keep moving forward.

Because by God this book’s getting done.



Read Next
The seduction of maintenance

Strangers are friends I haven’t met yet. Drop me a line.