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I made it through NaNoWriMo! . . . but . . . I didn’t win. Whoops. Oh well. As I compare last year’s experience with this year’s experience, I can’t deny that there are some lessons learned that are worth sharing. If this was your first NaNo experience and you didn’t make your word count I hope you’re not beating yourself up over it. There’s always next year. But just in case you’re in need of a little something to get you back in the swing of things, here’s a lesson  learned to carry on for future NaNos.

What is NaNoWriMo? (A Refresher) National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) is an writing challenge that takes place every November. It is an opportunity for writers to push themselves to write 50,000 words in one month. That’s right. 30 days – 50,000 words. Writers use the challenge in different ways. Some writers actually plan one novel per year and they use NaNo to write it. Others just like the challenge of it. Some begin a new book series using NaNo and others just do it for fun. Whatever the reason, if you love writing like I do, it’s a great way to push yourself.

Last Year vs. This Year Last year was my first time participating in NaNo. And of course by it being November, celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday presented some challenges within itself. But I persevered and stuck with it and celebrated writing 50,000 words in 30 days. I was so proud of myself. So, having gotten a taste of victory there was no reason for me to think I couldn’t do it again and have a repeat of the same success. There were a few factors this year that I had not accounted that were different a little different from last year and greatly impacted my writing.

Guest vs. Host There is a significant difference between being a guest for Thanksgiving and hosting Thanksgiving dinner. I wish I had gotten the memo. I had hosted before, but never as a writer. And as usual, that superwoman mentality kicked in and somehow the illusion of being able to do it all took hold.

I agreed to host both sides of our families for the holiday. No big deal. I had an elaborate, airtight plan for my NaNo writing schedule all worked out and I was ready to get those 50,000 words done before the first guest arrived. I started off strong and was feeling over confident until the reality of my hosting situation set in.

While being with family and friends is not all about impressions, there are certain things that are just unacceptable when hosting guests from out of town. For instance, when the shower faucet in the guest bathroom breaks, you kind of have to get that fixed. Pliers are fine if you live here, but guests and pliers? I don’t think so. Or when you look up and realize that the couch that’s been broken for months could suddenly swallow a guest and twist one of the elder’s backs, you sort of have to give that some attention. Basically, my home needed a few tweaks if I was going to host. And that was the monkey wrench that sent me on a downward spiral with NaNo.

Our old shower faucet literally crumbled to pieces in my son’s hand. Fortunately, it was a DIY project. Unfortunately, it took a while to get the right part to fix it. A little inside tip about me – I’m a DIYer. But that doesn’t mean I’m good at it. I love trying to fix simple things around the house and doing simple home improvement projects. I don’t wait for hubby to do it, I just jump in and get it done myself. Translation? 30 minute projects = 2 hour projects when I’m at the helm. Therefore, fixing the shower fell on my schedule. I probably lost about one day of writing with the shower, but I caught up. All was not lost . . . until we tackled the whole furniture issue for the holiday.

Our faux leather couch was ripped, parts falling off of it, and so badly broken that If you sat in it you literally slid off onto the floor. It was that bad. Kinda funny when it’s just you and your family. But the idea of other people coming into your home and having to sit on that – no. Plus, we needed general seating for everyone. Twenty people in one house need somewhere to sit, especially the elders. That meant shopping! Now, while I don’t like shopping, I do enjoy shopping for my home. And furniture is not one of those things you just go in, find what works, and walk out with something amazing. Not unless you want to replace it sooner than later.

The short of it is, I was in the midst of furniture shopping online and in-store, preparing a menu, deep cleaning (because some of our loved ones have allergies), and still trying to carry on with day-to-day parenting stuff. That may be easy for some writers to manage, but not this writer. And let’s keep in mind, some of the new purchases had to be assembled. And did I mention that our families would be visiting for several days? So that meant we were also having to put together itineraries.

By the time everyone arrived I was already a week and a half behind with my writing. But I was still hopeful I could make time to squeeze it in and catch up. Just because I was behind by 20,000 words didn’t mean all was lost. But as each day slowly got behind me I was losing my confidence of finishing. Then, when Turkey Day finally arrived and I was sitting around watching my sons, nephew, and my little cousins all playing and running around; as I laughed hysterically with my sister and cousins at our antics; as I stole a moment to hold hands with my husband; as I laughed and caught up with my brother; and as I chuckled at our moms and aunts with their “motherly” expressions taking it all in, I suddenly realized that I didn’t care about my word count.  I mean, I cared . . . but I didn’t. I focused on enjoying my family. Putting together that new lounge set; picking out and placing the new couch just right; checking to make sure my DIY plumbing project wasn’t leaking and exploding on anyone; getting the menu just right; slightly burning the cornbread; and enjoying every moment with my family made me care less and less about making that word count. That is – until they all went home of course.

When all was quiet (as quiet as quiet can be with a husband, a rabbit, and two boys) only then could I focus on that word count again. With three days remaining before the deadline, I pretty much knew I wouldn’t make it. So, what I decided to do instead was focus on what I could do. I set a goal to at least finish November with a 30,000 word count and that’s exactly what I did.

I can’t say that I wasn’t disappointed about not reaching 50,000 words. I felt empty. But I would be lying to myself if I said I didn’t feel that I’d brushed off my writing for a good cause. Half of our family we see only once per year. The other half we had not seen in two years. As much as I love writing, I love my family more. Though I’ll have the memory of not making 50,000 words in November 2016, I’ll have an even sweeter memory of spending a wonderful, love-filled holiday with family.

Lessons Learned My take away for 2016 is a simple one. Squeezing in NaNo when you just have to show up for dinner with a dish, is much more feasible than squeezing in NaNo when you have to host a large group of family members from out of town.  I won’t be doing that again. In the future, if I decide to host for Thanksgiving, I won’t participate in NaNo. I’ll just support all my writer friends by cheering them on. Though I’m disappointed about this year’s results, I can honestly say I have no regrets.

If you didn’t make your word count this year for NaNo, don’t beat yourself up over it. Whatever your reasoning for not winning, just learn from this experience and make adjustments for next year. If you’ve never won NaNo but you enjoy the experience, relax. You will be victorious. Just not this time. There is always next year.

Congratulations to all the NaNoWriMo participants and those that won this year! I’m looking forward to NaNo 2017. I hope to be victorious with you. For now, let’s get ready for the holidays. Eat. Drink. Be merry. But make sure you set a little time aside to write on!