The Prize is the Project: Reflections After NaNoWriMo
written by regular contributor, Douglas HUmphries
NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is an annual challenge where people attempt to write a novel inside the month of November. The goal is 50,000 words, which is the length of your average novel. That factors out to roughly 1600 words a day. It’s a challenge that tests more than your creativity; it tests your dedication.
And it’s a challenge I’m proud to say I’ve completed five times.
In all the years I’ve done NaNoWriMo, I’ve learned a number of things, and what might be the most important lesson also happens the point of NaNoWriMo.
Nano’s, as we call ourselves, tend to have a funny way of talking about the challenge. We call it a competition, which it is, but you’re not really competing against anyone. Except yourself, and even then, it’s not really you but your own inertia that you are trying to overcome.
Because 1600 words is tough. At the beginning, you usually go in with fire and inspiration, but, by week 2 or 3, trust me, it gets harder and harder to come to the page and put down the words. Nano is a test of dedication. Can you stick to the resolution you made at the beginning of the month and everyday come back to work on it?
And if you can, you’re a winner. No, that’s actually what we call ourselves. If you complete the challenge you “win” NaNoWriMo. But, in the same way, it’s not really “winning”, although it is. You didn’t compete against anyone, but, more than that, there’s not really a prize to win.
Except there is.
This is the thing that Nano has taught me. Over and over and over again.
There is a prize. The prize is the novel.
That thing that you entered the challenge to complete, that’s the ultimate prize you are working towards. That’s the trophy you get by completing the challenge.
It’s a little weird to think about. It’s sort of like entering a competition to design and build the best trophy, and the trophy you get to go home with, if you win, is the one you built.
Nano is about what we can do when we set our minds to a daily practice. 1600 words, for 30 days, and, if you do that, you’ve written a novel. And what do you get after writing 1600 words for 30 days? A novel.
The prize is the project.
And, I’ve learned, this is true for everything we do. Every creative project we put our hands to. All of it is going to require dedication to complete, and when we do, when we stick to our resolution, the prize we get for our accomplishment is the thing itself.
There are many different reasons we start projects, goals we have in mind beyond the works themselves. We build a brand in order to gain clients. We design a course or product in order to sell it. We write novels in order to publish them. These aren’t bad goals.
But, behind all the other reasons, the real reason we create is the creation itself.
I think it needs to be. Because if we ever get in the mindset that what we are going to do with a project is more important than the project itself we’re going to lose something of the project. And it’s going to make it that much harder to finish the project.
If the only thing I ever thought about when writing during NaNoWriMo was whether or not I could sell this novel, I never would have completed one, let alone five. That’s not what brings you back, day in and day out, that’s not what keeps you motivated when you’re 30,000 words in and have no idea where the other 20,000 are going to come from. What keeps you going is the story, the novel, the thing you are working on to prove you could do it.
The prize is the project. The thing you are working to build is the thing you will have, at the end of all your effort, to prove what you are capable of.
And there’s so much freedom in that. Because if we only ever focus on what we do with our creative works, if we use that as an indicator of success or failure, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. But if we let the work speak for itself, let it be the real goal, then we can create with total freedom.
Because if the prize is the project, then we can all be winners.
Douglas Humphries is a full-time creative, part-time vagabond. Words have always been his primary creative interest, but, in large part thanks to #createlounge, he's learning to pursue the multifaceted nature of his own creativity and help others pursue their own. He's a NaNoWriMo enthusiast and recently self-published a memoir about the Book of Jeremiah called Fire In My Bones. But, if you’re really good, he might tell you more about his Harry Potter fan-fiction novel.