The Importance of Small Successes

I mentioned a few posts back that I would participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this November.  I’m here to own up to my progress.

When I divided the required word count between the number of days in November, I learned that I need to write roughly 1,700 words each and every day.  I honestly thought this would be doable during my lunch hour, which would leave the evenings for the other things crowding my To Do list.  However, a couple days into it, I discovered that I barely write 1,000 words in an hour, let alone an extra 700.

Not to worry, I told myself that first Wednesday, I’ll catch up over the weekend.  Funny, though, how the weekend gets packed with other things that need doing as well, and before I knew it, not only did I NOT catch up, I didn’t even write the 1,700 words required for each weekend day.  As Charlie Brown would say “AAAAUUUUGGGHGHHHH!”

Much of my dilemma stemmed from the fact that I didn’t plan for it very well.  I wrote the story’s outline on paper towels while waiting for my car’s oil to be changed, then promptly lost the outline.  I hadn’t planned the characters out at all (just some vague notions of who they’d be), and I hadn’t done any research on the story.  I tend to veer off from writing a scene whenever I come across something that needs research, and had forgotten to factor that into my writing schedule.

While I struggled with direction and characters for that story, another story line presented itself to me.  The characters were very vivid in my head, so I thought I’d start working on that book.  The writing did go much easier, and I produced more words than with the first book, but I again got to a point where my lack of outlining and planning stalled my progress.  Then I remembered that I already had an outline for the second book in my Private Eye Patterson series.  I had a timeline all written up, and since it was a continuation of the series, my major characters were already alive for me.  So, I decided to put the other two projects on my proverbial shelf for later, and focus on continuing my series.  By this time there were only ten days left in November, but I wrote more in those ten days than I did on the other two stories combined.

All told, I wrote about 10,000 words in November.  A far cry from the 50,000 expected of you for NaNoWriMo, and I was feeling mighty down on myself with regards to my ability to stick with something.  Then, my boyfriend reminded me of another non-writing goal I’d set for myself in November; to only play video games on the weekends.  That might seem like an insignificant undertaking, but maybe not once you understand the back story.

I was a teenager when the first video games came out.  From Pac-Man, to Frogger (my personal fave), to Tron, I used to love to spend hours at the arcade moving that joystick to and fro.  When home gaming systems became big, I enjoyed those too.  My brother and I played Tutankham on the Atari until the casing came off and we had to plug the actual circuits into the system.  Video games are a way that I de-stress or unwind.  However, I also realize that they can become a time suck if I’m not careful.  So, I decided that I would only allow myself to play video games on the weekends during November.

It was an easy thing at first, but when I started under-performing in my writing, I wanted to escape the self-disappointment, and lose myself in a video game.  Other stressors popped up throughout the month, which made the tug stronger, but I never caved.  I successfully kept my promise to only play video games on the weekends – and even then, I didn’t spend every waking hour playing them, just an hour or two each day.  While that particular goal isn’t writing related per se, it helped me to see that I could stick to a goal that I made for myself.

So, that small success got me thinking about how to attack my writing.  I have decided against trying to attain a certain word count, and instead am promising to write at least one page a day.  I’m only holding myself responsible for one, but if I get so caught up in the story that I produce more, even better.  If I write just one page a day, I can have a first draft finished in six months (based on the fact that the other manuscript’s first draft was about 150 pages).  This will allow me time to take the research breaks as I’m writing, as well as flesh out the secondary characters more.

It might seem insignificant, and I certainly don’t want to over-congratulate every minor achievement, but I think we sell ourselves short too often.  By focusing only on big accomplishments, we fail to see that the small successes help get us there.  I found a quote that touches on this:

Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.
Robert Collier

Here’s to hoping that you see each success, no matter how small, and its part in your continuing growth.


10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Loni Emmert
    Dec 03, 2010 @ 12:44:04

    Small successes count, too! I’ve wanted to do NaNoWriMo but miss it every year. I do, however, try to get a steady word count going because it really does help! Great blog.


    • Alyx Morgan
      Dec 03, 2010 @ 13:12:35

      Good for you, Loni! As long as you keep striving toward your goal, you know you’ll get there.

      If I do try NaNoWriMo next year, I’ll spend the month of October planning it out much better. 😉

      Thanks for stopping by!


  2. Mom
    Dec 03, 2010 @ 13:29:05

    More often than not, there are many small successes that combine into a great one, and I think it is important to be able to see, acknowledge, and appreciate each step. I’m glad you see that too.


    • Alyx Morgan
      Dec 03, 2010 @ 16:16:01

      So nice to see you here, mom! Thank you for all the support & kudos you give me for the small & large successes in my life! You were my first cheerleader, & I will be forever grateful to you for that.

      I love you mom!


  3. Maddy
    Dec 03, 2010 @ 14:06:07

    Nano is international but I initially thought it was American and therefore I couldn’t figure out why they picked November when a huge chunk of the citizenry are on the move for a week’s celebration with festivities, family and fun for Thanksgiving. Then my daughter pointed out that for most people it’s because it’s a holiday and they’re not at work that they get the time to write.

    I think you should be very proud of your achievement – any kind of ‘addiction / destressing’ behavior can easily get out of hand. You should pat yourself on the back for recognizing it, another pat for setting limits and another pat for sticking to it despite pressure to the contrary. Enough of that now or the bruises will start to show : )


    • Alyx Morgan
      Dec 03, 2010 @ 16:19:06

      LMAO. I definitely wouldn’t want to bruise, Maddy. 😉

      How interesting. I didn’t realize it was international either, though I guess I should have. How nice that they get an entire month off for the holidays.

      Thanks, as always, for stopping by, Maddy.


  4. Mysti Berry
    Dec 05, 2010 @ 08:05:06

    Congrats on all successes. Sometimes the small ones stick better, because you can build on them. I failed out at 3500 words for NaNoWriMo, work has been a bear for about a month. But it’s inspired me to manage my work better (just say No!), so I’ll be a winner next year 🙂


    • Alyx Morgan
      Dec 05, 2010 @ 10:39:17

      I tend to jump into something head first, make mistakes, then jump in again. Each time I get a little farther than the last. Sometimes it’s frustrating & takes longer, but I don’t seem to function the other way. So, small successes it is. & yes, I’m able to build on them.

      Congrats on learning what to do next year, & HUGE congrats on learning to say “no”…that’s a big step indeed!


  5. Dana
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 09:04:45

    Sometimes controlling what we don’t do is as significant as controlling what we DO accomplish! If that makes any sense… I need more coffee… :_)


    • Alyx Morgan
      Dec 10, 2010 @ 11:23:53

      Hey Dana! Welcome back!

      You’re right, that success can be measured by what we don’t do as well. No need for coffee…I totally followed you. 😉

      As always, thanks for stopping by.


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