Do. Or Do Not: Lisa Koosis talks the NaNoWriMo mindset


If you’re reading this post, you’re probably participating in National Novel Writing Month this year, or at least seriously considering it. Excellent. And maybe you’re wondering how in hell it’s possible to write a complete novel — 50,000 words — in thirty days, particularly during the month of November. After all, November has Thanksgiving, Christmas shopping, bucketloads of family togetherness, and maybe even some travel.

It’s crazy when you think about it, right? Especially if it’s your first time even contemplating the madness that is NaNoWriMo…or if maybe you’ve already tried it a few times and just haven’t quite made it all the way to the end.

That’s okay. You’ve come to the right place. You see, I’m about to tell you the secret to successfully finishing NaNoWriMo every single time.

Are you ready?

The secret is mindset.

I want to say that again because it’s important.

The secret to winning NaNoWriMo and writing 50,000 words in a month has nothing to do with how busy you are. It has nothing to do with talent or your time management skills or your efforts in pre-planning your novel (though those things are all great). It is all about the mindset you bring to the challenge.

About 13 years ago I heard about National Novel Writing Month for the first time. I was on a large social media site for writers, and everywhere I turned, people were buzzing about a 50,000-word/30-day challenge that was quickly approaching.

My first thought—I’ll confess—was: what nonsense is this?

My second thought was: This is sheer craziness. No way could I ever do that.

But over the following weeks, I found myself drawn to the idea of it. Maybe it wasn’t that crazy. After all, I’d been wanting to make the leap from writing short stories to writing novels. Maybe this was exactly the push I needed. So despite my better judgment, I signed up for the challenge.

And as November approached, I was both excited and apprehensive. Would I be able to do it?

All you can do is try, I told myself.

Except that wasn’t really true.

With November around the corner, I started to realize how badly I wanted this…how badly I wanted to complete the challenge, and to come out on the other side with a finished 50,000-word draft of a novel.

That’s when I had one of those amazing lightbulb moments. I wasn’t going to try to do it, I decided. I was simply going to do it. And trust me…there’s a huge difference between those two things.  The difference, in fact, could mean the difference between succeeding or not.

So here’s the thing about “try.” On the surface it’s a great word. It’s a positive word, no doubt. It implies putting yourself out there, taking risks, making an effort, all of which are great.  But there’s one problem with trying. It leaves you open for not succeeding. After all, when you tell yourself you’re going to try, what you’re also telling yourself is “…but it might not work out.”

Now with “do,” it’s a whole different story.

I think there’s a reason for that. It’s a shift in perspective in the way you look at things when you’re “trying” something as opposed to “doing” it.

For example, if you’re “trying” and you encounter an obstacle, you must decide whether or not you can get around that obstacle. On the flipside, If you’ve made the choice to “do” something, when you’re faced with an obstacle, your brain doesn’t question IF you can get around the obstacle. Instead, it asks: HOW? And you find the way around or you climb over it or you blast your way right through the damn middle.

Simple, right?

Actually, it is.

“Do. Or do not,” Yoda tells Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back. “There is no try.”

And I’m telling you, he’s onto something.

By the time I sat down to write the opening lines of my first NaNoWriMo manuscript that year so long ago, I’d made the decision that there would be no try. There was only do. I would write 50,000 words in 30 days. It might not be a good manuscript. It didn’t have to be. In fact, it could be complete and utter crap.

This year I’ll be embarking on my fourteenth consecutive NaNoWriMo, only weeks after my first published book comes out.  I have NaNoWriMo to thank for that, because without NaNoWriMo, I may never have written that book. I’m also grateful to myself for that initial moment when I chose “do” over “try.”

And even now, every year on November 1st I tell myself the same thing. I will do this. It’s a promise I make to myself. It’s a commitment. It’s also a gift I give to myself.  Then I make it happen. And so will you.

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About Author

Lisa Koosis

In high school, much to the dismay of her guidance counselor, Lisa Koosis traded AP English for a creative writing class and a class in speculative fiction. She never looked back. Lisa is a member of the SCBWI, an ambassador for National Novel Writing Month, and an active member of her local writing community. Her short stories have been published widely. When she isn’t writing, you’ll probably find her out walking her dog, or chilling with her cats. Her debut YA novel, RESURRECTING SUNSHINE, is now available.

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