Expectations are important. If you are craving yogurt and you walk into a bakery, you are likely to be disappointed. Think you are going to get a raise, but all you receive is a pat on the back? Frustrated. If you think your date is taking you to see a ballet and you end up at a monster truck rally instead, you are likely to be confused, irritated, and overdressed.
Having appropriate expectations when it comes to writing sprints like NaNoWriMo is equally important. Sprints can be wonderful teachers; but it’s important to understand what we should expect from them.
The Excitement of Writing Sprints
Writing sprints are set periods of time when we push ourselves to write as much as we can. I love them and do them a few times a year. Two of my nine books were written during NaNoWriMos.
I’ve learned so much about myself and about writing by participating in NaNoWriMo. Some years, I crushed it and walked away with work I’m proud of. Other years, hitting my word counts felt impossible. Every year, I've felt like I left it as a better writer.
The first several times I tried NaNoWriMo, I went in with the wrong expectations, which meant I ended the sprint frustrated and demoralized. Other years, I went in with the appropriate expectations, and I ended the month tired but satisfied.
I’ve started it again this year and so far it has been a struggle to get my word counts up to where they need to be. But because I have appropriate expectations, I’m pressing forward and enjoying the sprint.
What to Expect From NaNoWriMo
When I begin a writing sprint like NaNoWriMo, here are six things I need to remind myself about what I should expect:
1. You should NOT expect to walk away with a finished manuscript.
If we are going into a writing sprint hoping to come out with a publishable book, we are likely to be frustrated when the sprint is over. There will be a lot of work left to do after the sprint is over. Often the editing and revising takes me as many hours as the initial draft did.
2. You CAN expect to come out with a first draft.
Starting is tough. The nice thing about revising and editing is that we are working from something.
As you sprint, keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be perfect. You will have more work to do on the book, but the good news is, you will not be starting from scratch. The sprint will fast-forward the most difficult part for you.
3. You probably will NOT discover a daily word count you can depend on.
Don't expect to set a new daily word count during a sprint. The first time I finished NaNoWriMo I thought I was going to be able to continue to write 1700 words a day every day for the rest of my writing life. In the middle of the sprint, I forgot how much of my life had to be rearranged to make that 1700 words a day possible.
Writing sprints are called sprints for a reason. You aren’t intended to sprint forever.
4. You CAN expect to build the habit of writing every day.
While I wasn’t able to keep up my sprinting pace, I was able to continue writing every day, and this may be the most important habit for a writer to master. This required me to learned the art of focusing on my work and gathering the things around me that I needed. I learned how to avoid distractions and prepare things in advance to maximize my time.
These skills may seem inconsequential during the sprints because all we are focused on is hitting our word count goals, but they are key to sustaining writing long term. When we are finished with the sprint, we should be excited about the tools we’ve gained because they will continue to serve us long term.
5. You likely will NOT learn what it feels like to be a full-time professional author.
In my first sprint, I thought it would show me what it meant to write “like a pro.” I told myself, “This is how the masters do it.”
It only took a few days for me to realize that wasn’t true. Even though I was knocking out a ton of words a day, I was still going to work every morning. Additionally, all I was doing was cranking out the first draft and ignoring the thousand other things full-time authors have to do every day in order to successfully sell books.
My life was refocused on my writing when I was sprinting, but not in a realistic or sustainable way.
6. You CAN expect to learn about yourself as a writer.
The biggest expectation you should have is that you will learn about yourself as a writer. While sprinting may not show us what full-time authors lives are like, it will show us where our strengths and weaknesses are.
Participating in sprints like NaNoWriMo has taught me what I need to do in order to push through discouragement, how to motivate myself to sit my butt in the chair and write, and what things are most likely to distract me from the work of writing.
The NaNoWriMo You Expect
Don't be the person who goes into a bakery looking for yogurt. When you begin a writing sprint, be honest with yourself about what you should expect to get out of it and what expectations are unrealistic.
If you can set your expectations appropriately, at the end of the sprint you will happy with the end result. You will be exhausted, but happy.
I've shared my expectations for writing sprints. What are some of yours? What expectations do you feel are realistic for challenges like NaNoWriMo? Let us know in the comments.
If you are participating in NaNoWriMo, share the words you write today in the practice box with us so we can celebrate your hard work. If you aren't participating, write for fifteen minutes about someone who started something with misguided expectations. Once you've posted, give feedback to a few others and encourage them to keep going!
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Jeff Elkins is a writer who lives Baltimore with his wife and five kids. If you enjoy his writing, he'd be honored if you would subscribe to his free monthly newsletter. All subscribers receive a free copy of Jeff's urban fantasy novella "The Window Washing Boy."