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Failure.

It’s an ugly word, isn’t it?

Everyone who tries anything in their lifetime will, at some point, be a failure.

Some of the most successful people out there failed more than they succeeded. Case in point: Thomas Edison.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison

But there are a lot of lessons to be learned from failing, and I think I learned some over this past month when I failed to “win” NaNo.

1. Number one can be summed up by a quote from Winston Churchill:

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

I did not “win” NaNo for the first time since I began participating in National Novel Writing Month.

There were a few reasons why. First, I have a young child who currently monopolizes my time and makes it difficult to write every day, let alone meet a challenging goal like 1600 words a day. Second, I was using NaNo this year to rewrite another novel, which meant I wanted a more polished end product than NaNo is designed for. Third, the word goal in this instance was stressing me out and making me dissatisfied with what I was producing.

“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”
― Theodore Roosevelt

Now I could chalk up my NaNo 2014 experience as an utter failure, but I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to take it and acknowledge that I didn’t meet the 50K in 30 days challenge, but I did manage to write 30K words that I didn’t have before. I managed to make it a third of the way through a rewrite in one month with a lot of distractions and a lot of other challenges.

However, as Churchill says, “failure is not fatal.” Not having “won” NaNo does not make me less of a writer. It means that life had other plans.

2. Word count goals do not always help.

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
― Winston S. Churchill

This November, my word count goal was forcing me to write–but what I wrote was not satisfying me. They were words on a page, sure, more words than I had when I started, sure, but they weren’t necessarily good words. And because this was a second draft, I wanted good words.

So although the word count goal made me sit down and write, I wasn’t feeling happy with my writing. Indeed, it feels like some of those words I wrote are only there because I wanted that “win” and I didn’t have the time to spend getting the words right–I just had the time to type them out the first way I thought them.

There had to be a better way, I decided, and so I gave up on NaNo this year. I decided to stop stressing out about getting 1667 words written every single day and instead focus on getting a few words written, or rewriting a scene, or fixing a plot point, or a character’s motivation, or deleting a scene that was superfluous to the plot.

Now I’m not happy that I have my first NaNo loss under my belt, but I am happier with the words I’m producing every day.

So, I have to set reasonable goals. And right now, 1667 words a day is not a reasonable goal for me.

3. Winning isn’t everything.

Sure, the perks are nice. The competitive person in me wants to say that you should do whatever it takes (within reason) to win. But really, NaNo isn’t even about winning. It’s about writing. It’s about starting that novel that you have in you, begging to get out, and getting the words on the page. It’s about continuing through the hard times and not giving up on that plot when the characters come at you from different directions with different ideas. It’s about not surrendering to the easy way out.

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald

A war is made up of many battles. Some battles will be won, some lost. But there are countries in our history books that have lost significant battles only to emerge the victor in the war.

Writing a book is like a civil war. It’s a war against yourself, your time, your efforts, your priorities, your life. There are days (battles) that you won’t write at all (you lost). But then there are the days that you get on a roll and write 3K, or you finish a short story you’ve been thinking about for months, or you write “The End” on your novel after five years of work. Those are the wins. And those wins are what lead to the ultimate writing goal: publication (or a quiet sharing of that work with others if you choose not to publish, or maybe a quiet glow inside as you know you’ve finished a piece of work of which you can be proud).

So remember the next time your writing goal isn’t met, or you don’t make the time to write one day:

“If you fell down yesterday, stand up today.”
― H.G. Wells