A letter from our own Mark Leslie Lefe​bvre for everyone who didn’t hit 50K this NaNoWriMo.

So ​it’s ​December ​1st, ​and ​​NaNoWriMo is over. And everywhere ​around ​you, fellow author friends are ​posting ​on ​social ​media ​that ​they ​made ​it, ​they ​did ​it. ​They ​wrote ​50,000 ​words ​in ​a ​single ​month.

​You’re ​happy ​for ​them, ​of ​course

But ​you ​didn’t ​quite ​make ​it yourself.

So what do you do?

Do you hang your head in shame and despair?

I say no.

You, see, I’m a writer who has not won NaNoWriMo 2023.

(Notice that I didn’t say “failed.” I purposely used the term “not won.”)

I’m writing this on November 30, 2023, knowing that my NaNoWriMo stats are currently sitting at about 15,633 words for this year’s project; and also that they have been sitting at that count for the past two weeks.

I got off track. I got side-tracked/side-lined, knocked out of the game. However you want to put it, I neglected to get those words done.

This isn’t the first time I haven’t made it to 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo. And it likely won’t be the last.

But what I’m doing, and what I hope you do if you’re in a similar boat as me, is not to think of that lack of hitting the NaNoWriMo goal as a failure.

Let’s look at what we accomplished. And let’s also look at how we can learn from this experience.

One ​of ​the ​wonderful ​things ​about ​NaNoWriMo ​is ​there’s ​this ​huge ​community ​of ​authors ​from ​around ​the ​world, ​regardless ​of ​their ​experience as ​writers, ​if ​this ​is ​the ​first ​book ​they’ve ​wanted ​to ​write, ​or ​it’s ​the ​hundredth ​book ​they’ve ​wanted ​to ​write, ​they’re ​all ​in ​the ​same ​boat, ​and all have a common ​a ​deadline.

​We’re all ​going ​to ​sit ​down, ​butt ​and ​chair, ​fingers ​on ​keyboard, ​or ​however ​it ​is ​that ​you ​prefer to write. ​And ​we’re ​going ​to try to ​get ​50,000 ​new words ​written. That sense of community and mutual support is fantastic. ​When ​we ​think ​about ​how ​isolated ​we ​are ​as ​writers, ​that ​we ​can ​do ​something like this ​and ​feel ​part ​of ​a ​larger ​community ​in ​the ​act ​of ​writing ​itself, ​it can be quite powerful.

So, even if we didn’t get to 50,000, we did something as part of a larger group. And that’s got to count for something. And hey, just like there are a ton of writers who hit that goal, there are also another ton of writers like us, who didn’t make it.

It’s okay. There’s still something to celebrate.

​​​The ​very ​first ​thing ​to ​acknowledge ​is ​that ​you ​​committed ​to ​doing ​something. ​You ​may ​not ​have ​actually achieved the initial goal, ​you ​may ​not ​have ​finished ​it, ​but ​you ​committed ​to ​something. ​You ​took ​it ​seriously ​enough ​that ​you ​signed ​up ​to ​say, ​“I’m ​going ​to ​get ​this ​done.” ​Yeah, ​okay, ​you ​didn’t ​get ​it ​done. ​But ​that ​first ​step ​is ​the ​commitment, ​and ​that’s ​an ​important ​first ​step ​for ​writers. Such a critical first step. ​Whether ​it’s, ​again, ​your ​first ​book, ​or ​whether ​it’s ​the ​100th ​book ​that ​you’ve ​written, ​committing ​to ​getting ​it ​done ​is ​important. The act of writing ​down ​those ​goals, ​even ​if ​it’s ​a ​digital ​writing ​down ​online, is one of the most important first steps for a writer.

And first steps are hard. So kudos on taking that step. You all know what they say about a journey of a thousand miles. It doesn’t start until that first step.

​The ​second ​thing ​is, ​even ​if ​you ​only ​sat ​down ​once to write in the past thirty days; ​even ​if ​you only ​wrote ​one ​sentence, or perhaps just a few ​words or maybe even just a title, ​you’re ​ahead. It’s a small measure, but you’re ​actually ​ahead ​of ​where ​you ​were before ​when ​it ​was ​just ​an ​idea ​that ​you ​wanted ​to ​do ​this, ​that ​you ​wanted ​to ​write, ​that ​you ​wanted ​to ​get ​a ​book written.

​And ​I ​know ​it ​seems a little ​patronizing ​​of ​me ​to ​say, ​“oh ​yeah, ​great, ​you’re ​three ​words ​ahead ​because ​you ​wrote ​three ​words ​this ​month.” ​But ​the ​reality ​is—​and ​I ​go ​back ​to ​the ​classic ​book ​for ​writers, ​Anne Lamott’s Bird ​by ​Bird, ​​is that ​we ​do ​get ​there ​word ​by ​word. ​We ​get ​there ​little ​by ​little, ​in ​small ​steps ​that can take a long time.

My very first NaNoWriMo experience in 2006, I only got 20,000 words written.

And I never actually completed and published the book I’d been working on until 10 years later. But that book never would have been written, and never would have been published in 2016 if I hadn’t committed to doing it; regardless of the fact I didn’t win NaNoWriMo 2006, nor how long that entire process took me.

​​This ​is ​a ​reminder ​that ​it’s ​not ​just ​about ​looking ​at ​your ​sales ​dashboard ​online ​today ​and ​seeing ​how ​you’re ​doing ​today, or this hour. ​It ​is ​not ​about ​sitting ​down ​and ​saying, ​what ​can ​I ​get ​done ​in ​a ​month? ​It’s ​about what ​can ​you ​get ​done ​with ​a ​long-term ​commitment? ​Even ​if ​along ​the ​way, ​you ​hit ​bumps ​and ​things ​that ​come ​up ​that ​are ​going ​to ​slow ​you ​down, ​that ​are ​going ​to ​distract ​you ​from ​the ​writing.

They key is remembering that this is a marathon, and not a sprint.

​What ​are ​those ​long-term ​goals, ​and ​how ​committed ​are ​you ​to ​getting ​this ​done, no matter how long it takes?

Word by word. Day by day. Month by month. Year by year.

Throughout ​our ​career ​as ​writers, ​we ​can ​have ​successful ​books, ​and ​unsuccessful ​books. ​We ​can ​have ​great​ ​achievements, ​and we ​can ​have a series of flops ​along ​the ​way. ​I failed to complete the goal for NaNoWriMo several times over the years. But ​I ​would ​argue ​that ​every ​single ​time I signed up to a project and ​committed ​to ​putting ​words ​on ​paper, ​I wasn’t just continuing to work at ​honing ​my ​craft, ​you’re ​learning, ​I was also learning more about myself as a writer, and from my errors, from the things that didn’t quite work, I perhaps learned more.

Every time you try something and don’t hit those goals, you’ve learned something new, about what wasn’t working? What did you try that didn’t work? What didn’t you try that you might want to do next time? And hat advice did you follow that just didn’t fit within the way you get things done?

​There’s ​no ​one ​way ​of ​doing ​it. I can’t tell you how. It’s only after trying, after testing, after falling down a few times and learning from that process that you’re going to figure out what doesn’t work, and what might work for YOU.

​​​So, ​in ​conclusion, I ​want ​to ​remind ​you ​that ​I ​did ​not ​complete, or ​finish ​​the ​50,000 ​words ​that ​I ​​committed ​to ​write in ​November ​2023.

​But ​that ​doesn’t ​mean ​I’m going to let that define me. It’s just one bump on a long and winding road.

I’m ​going ​to ​see ​the ​work ​that ​I ​did ​do ​this ​month ​​as ​a ​step ​forward, ​as ​one more ​additional ​step ​forward ​for ​me ​as ​a ​writer. ​I’m ​going ​to ​see ​every ​single ​thing ​that ​I ​did ​related ​to ​getting ​those ​words ​on ​paper, ​which ​was ​the ​commitment ​and ​the ​outlining ​and ​the ​planning ​and ​all ​of ​those ​things ​that ​go ​into ​making ​a ​book ​what ​it ​is. ​I’m going to look at all ​of ​those ​things ​as ​little ​successes ​along ​the ​way.

We ​spend ​too ​much ​time ​counting ​the ​failures ​and ​the ​things ​we ​didn’t ​quite ​get ​right ​or ​that we ​didn’t ​finish; ​and ​not ​enough ​time ​​enjoying ​the ​fact ​that ​we ​actually ​did ​get ​a ​little ​something ​done ​and ​are that much ​closer to the end goal, and perhaps a little better for the stumbles and the things we learned from the stumbles along the way.

​Like ​I ​said, ​day ​by ​day, ​word ​by ​word.

Completing a journey of one thousand miles begins not just with that single physical step, but the internal step that is first taken when you commit to making that journey.

The act of completing a novel does require words, a huge number of them, but similarly, it all begins with the commitment, with setting out that goal.

So if you set that goal, regardless of where you ended up on the trail as December 1st arrived, I hope that you celebrating the important fact that you did take that daring first and most critical step.