Neither Winning nor Losing

My friend Robin MacPherson has an interesting blog post about “Losing” NaNoWriMo. What it boils down to is this quote from the piece: “Writing is not a race. Publishing is not a race. It’s a long game.”

Writers are a peculiar lot (yes, there may be other people who are peculiar in the same way, but not being one, I can’t speak for them.) We love to be loved, and hate to be ignored, and yet we are also anti-social at times, reclusive, driven, didactic, insecure, and occasionally arrogant. We will, with glee and detailed analysis, discuss the evisceration and dismemberment of an eighteenth century murder victim over dinner and cry in mental anguish about the plight of dogs in shelters ten minutes later. We’re freaks who will exult a word so obscure even the Oxford dictionary has difficulty justifying its continued inclusion in the Great Book and excoriate a stranger for misuse of an apostrophe. It’s part of our essential insecurity that we’re always sure someone else has it better and is getting more than we are, that when someone else gains, we somehow lose. This is a habit of thought we really must do away with. You do not “win,” or “lose” in this business, you succeed (with a specific project) or you don’t. And then you start over with each new project. There is no magic finish line or end game where you never risk failure and have suddenly “attained writerhood,” and never need worry or work again. Unless you chose to stop writing altogether and rest on your laurels (and what fun is that, really? You just get a bay-scented butt and a case of dermatitis.)

Specifically with National Novel Writing Month and with writing in general, I’ve always disliked the idea that we writers are competing and that one person “wins” and another “loses” when the only person you are really competing against in this business is you. I didn’t “lose” NaNoWriMo (notice I never used that term); I failed to meet a goal. Failure is a step to success because you learn from failure–not from success. Success without failure only teaches you to be arrogant and lazy. Seeing your lack of success at a specific goal as “losing” is a step to lack of self-esteem–and the gods know we really don’t need more of that. For everyone like me who did not meet a goal recently, you didn’t lose; you set yourself up to win in the future by understanding your limits and work habits better.

Now, start again.

About Kat Richardson

Writer, editor, eccentric pain in the tail, bestselling author of the Greywalker novels.
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4 Responses to Neither Winning nor Losing

  1. Miss Bliss says:

    Wonderful post! I also failed to meet my NaNo goal BUT so much more importantly I accomplished work I never would have if I had not participated in NaNo. I find that people working in the arts almost always have to struggle against the idea that someone else’s success somehow means there is now less success available in the world for them to achieve. It’s a crippling way to think and live and creates negativity which is not conducive to good art of any kind. As for writing specifically…Neil Gaiman told a story about how after he finished his first novel he was talking Gene Wolf I think it was and Neil said something like, “I think finally figured out how to write a novel” and Gene Wolf said, “You figured out how to write THAT novel. Now you have to figure out how to write the next one.” I’ve never forgotten that because something about it rings so clear and true about the process of constant discovery that is required of a writer. Happy Holidays Kat.

  2. Well said, Kat. I also failed to meet the NaNoWriMo goal this year and it is disappointing. But at least I tried and accomplished something and don’t feel too bad about it. Another tricky part is explaining to friends and family that ‘winning’ NaNoWriMo is not like winning a contest. You don’t ‘win’ anything except personal satisfaction and growth (and bragging rights – I have ‘won’ NaNoWriMo 7 times out of 9).

  3. Yeah, that’s something I’ve definitely learned: every project is a new challenge and you have to wing it. When it’s no longer challenging, you need to change your game.

    Happy Holidays, my dear!

  4. That’s more often than I’ve completed the challenge! Good for you! And yeah, the satisfaction you derive for the work you do is the real “prize,” regardless of how many words you wrote or whether or not you “won” NaNoWriMo.

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