Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Getting it Done: What I Learned from NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) ended Monday at midnight. The challenge? Write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. According to the NaNoWriMo Web site, about 19% of the 150,000 participants (about 30,000 people) won the challenge. I'm delighted to report that on my second go at NaNoWriMo (I tried and gave up in 2007), I'm one of the winners. I crossed the finish line at 50,316 words around 11:00 AM Saturday morning. Here's what I learned about Getting It Done from the NaNoWriMo experience:

1. Get A Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). Research has demonstrated that we have a better chance of achieving goals that are both challenging and specific. 80% of Americans SAY they want to write a book someday. In order to actually write the book, they need to shift their vague goal (I want to write a book someday) to something more specific (I am writing a novel about Ninja Warriors ). You want to get something done? Dream big and put it in writing. Make your goal specific and measurable.

2. Get a Deadline. Your big hairy audacious and specific goal means nothing unless you also have a deadline. Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, says that the deadline separates most authors from getting their books written. I believe it. It's too easy to give up on something that you do not have a public, accountable deadline for. National Novel Writing Month provided a deadline for me and thousands of other writers this past November. What's your deadline for achieving your BHAG?

3. Add Mile Markers. Marathon runners keep track of their progress by watching for the mile markers posted along the marathon route. You can up your chances of achieving a goal if you have your own version of mile markers. During NaNoWriMo, I measured my progress by keeping track of my word count at the NaNoWriMo site. I did not have to worry or guess if I was on the right track. I knew what word count I needed to achieve each day, and the counter helped me stay honest about my progress. How will you measure your progress toward your goal?

4. Buddies Help. My gym buddies make it impossible for me to skip a day at the gym. They notice and comment on every missed session. Having NaNoWriMo buddies—fellow writers determined to win the challenge—helped me through the month. Knowing that they were knocking themselves out trying to finish gave me courage, hope, and the energy to keep going. Social psychologists have proven that we tend to achieve more if we hang out with high achieving friends. If your friends are achieving their BHAGs, you will be more likely to achieve yours, too! If you want to get it done, get connected to people who are getting it done.

5. Dump Your Excuses. Despite my track record of disciplined writing, I can throw out excuses with the best of them: I'm too tired. I'm sick. The kids are sick. I have too much work to do. I can do it later. (Can you hear the whine?) I can fool myself into believing that these aren't just miserable little excuses but real reasons I cannot get to my BHAG just yet. This past month, I wrote through a cold, my kids' colds, my children puking, work deadlines, and more. All good excuses for not writing. Not one of them good enough reasons to dump this project. If you're passionate about getting something done, wrestle those excuses to the ground. Don't let them get in your way.

6. Let Go of Time Wasters. You do not need to put your life on hold to achieve the Big Hairy Audacious Goal. You can still play with your children, have coffee with friends, and go to work. You will need to clear out some of the activities that waste your time. You'll be amazed at how much more time you have when you aren't surfing the net, playing video games, texting, or watching television. Want to get to that big hairy audacious goal? Give up just one time-waster a day. Spend that time working on your goal. See if it makes a difference.

7. Hurting? Worry Not: No Pain, No Gain! It is not easy to write a book in 30 days. By the end of the month, I felt like I had run a real marathon. I was ready for a rest. According to recent research, when we exert energy to master a skill, we will experience stress. BUT, in the long run, we will feel healthier and happier because we stretched our intellectual and emotional muscles. So even if you feel a little bit stressed as you work toward your goal, know that you will feel happier when you finish!

8. Get Connected to the REAL REWARD! When I finished NaNoWriMo, I got a few prizes: a certificate and the funky little NaNoWriMo winner badge you see above. Several friends and NaNo buddies gave me virtual high-fives. But mostly, the world kept spinning without any notice of me and my big achievement. And guess what: that did not matter. The joy I felt in achieving my goal came from achieving my goal and not from any kudos I collected from others. Achieving your big hairy audacious goal IS the real reward. You feel proud of yourself. You stand up a bit straighter. YOU did it!

Now that NaNoWriMo is over, I'm looking toward setting my next BHAG. NaNo taught me a lot about how to do it, so I have no doubt I will succeed. Now it's your turn. Go forth and set big goals! You can do it.


  1. This post helps me understand something I've been working on for several months and makes me hopeful that I'll reach my goal. For about a year and a half, I've been working on learning Spanish, and I've been putting a lot of effort into this since early September, because I'm going to El Salvador in January. Having a specific goal helps me set aside time to work every day. Doing one lesson a day makes the project manageable. Giving up small time wasters had made it possible for me to spend 60 to 90 minutes a day on this enterprise. My husband has been learning to play the guitar, and we regularly compare notes on our progress. All things you wrote about--that make me more confident that I will indeed reach my goal--finishing level 3 of my Spanish course by January 15. Yeah!

  2. A big congrats to both of you, Buffy! That's an amazing goal. And you are making steady progress toward it. Plus, it helps to have your husband working on his goal, too! Kudos to both of you!

  3. I'm new to these, and I'm looking forward to reading your comments on journalling. I am slightly concerned that appropriate credit was not given to Jim Collins, who coined "BHAG" (not "BHAD", as printed). The blog makes it look as if the seminar creators came up with this, or that you did. As a writer, I know you are acutely aware of the value of clear citation. Thanks!