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The Benefits of a Crash and Burn


Perhaps you participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) with great success. If so, congratulations to you and stop reading. This article is for the broken, the wounded, the sick at heart who crashed and burned miserably in the month of November, despite every good intention to write that novel.

New Beginnings

Now we’re facing the time of new beginnings as we enter the new year. If you are still smarting from a November NaNoWriMo fail, setting 2019 writing goals may be the last thing you want to tackle right now.

I thought I could succeed at NaNoWriMo this year. Fifty thousand words in a month? Piece of cake. I’d done it before. I knew my calendar was tightly scheduled, but if I made a commitment, I would follow through. I’m one of Those People. If I say I’m going to do something, by golly I will walk through fire and flood to ensure I meet my obligation.

Halfway through November, I still had delusions I could make it happen. Three quarters of the way through, I had a decision to make. I threw in the towel. Surrendered. And felt horribly guilty that I had failed myself.

Get out of your ditch

There are dozens of quotes, memes, and greeting card messages about failure making you stronger. That doesn’t help much when you’re crumpled in the ditch after a spectacular crash and burn.

So now that we’ve whined a bit, what are we going to do about it? Quitting is always an option. If you can quit writing, then maybe you weren’t cut out for this brutal profession. My tough-love message is: if ordinary obstacles will prevent you from striving for your dreams, maybe your dreams weren’t so important after all. To be fair, sometimes we face extraordinary stress in life. Family, health, or simply overestimating our own stamina place an insurmountable obstacle in our path to writing success.

Turn it into SUCCESS Turn Goal-Setting Failures into Success

Here are my suggestions for turning writing failure into success.

  1. Know Yourself. You may end up in a writing or critique group with people of differing ambitions and drive. Maybe you take a workshop or read a how-to book full of enthusiasm. We’re not all focused, driven personalities. Don’t adopt an attitude that is not your own if it doesn’t work for you. Are you a procrastinator, needing multiple mini-goals to keep you on track? Or do you readily stick to a schedule and easily meet goals? Do you operate best under pressure, or do deadlines cause you to freeze up? Are you an Emily Dickinson type of writer, not needing much reader affirmation, or are you more on the Andy Weir end of the scale, running your work past readers constantly? Which type of writer are you?
  2. Define Success. Do some soul-searching. Why are you writing? What are you trying to accomplish? Look at past goals that you failed to achieve. Were you too ambitious, considering other time commitments in your life? Or did you set the bar too low? Whether you’re new to writing or a multi-published author, goals need to be adjusted with time and experience. If not hitting goals causes you to lose enthusiasm, maybe you need to set achievable goals to get yourself on track. Other writers need to constantly fall short to drive them to work harder. This goes back to Know Yourself.
  3. Make Concrete Goals. Once you understand your uniquely personal ambition, document your steps to that goal. A vague declaration that you intend to write a novel this year will not help you. Create a spreadsheet, time card, or writing session reminder. Clock in to your writing sessions. Be honest in tracking your goals. For a new writer, your primary goal should be to finish a story or novel. Period. Guess what the primary goal is for a multi-published author? Write that next story or novel. Writing is a constant.

Get Specific

Let’s get specific. Your goal is to write a novel in 2019. The typical novel is 350 pages, or 87,500 words. That breaks down to less than a page a day. Exceedingly doable, you tell yourself. But if you diddle around for eight months, then remember you had a goal, I can almost guarantee you will fail.

Decide whether your goal is per day or per week.
Novel in a year goal:
Pages per day = 0.95 = 239 words
Pages per week = 6.73 = 1,683 words

Some Pitfalls

The pitfall: do not give up on days when you don’t have the time for a full writing session. Obviously there is room for adjustment. You have a long weekend with no obligations. You enjoy a productive writing marathon that results in 5,000 words. My experience is that more often I have multiple miserly 15 minute a day writing sessions. These drive me closer to my goal as effectively as the marathons. Take what you can get.

Another pitfall: writing sessions don’t need to be perfect islands of peace and solitude. Sometimes you snatch a few minutes in the midst of a holiday. Maybe you’re hopping in and out of writerly bliss to cook dinner. You have to wear blinders to block out seeing the chaotic mess your apartment has fallen into, or wear headphones to block out family members watching TV.

In spite of your best intentions and careful planning, you fail. What now? Not setting concrete, measurable goals leaves you will a hollow feeling. You suck, and you don’t even know how badly. If you set goals, and track them with dedication, you can measure exactly how badly you suck. And I can almost guarantee it won’t be as bad as you think.


You have a wonderful record of your efforts. Instead of saying “I failed to write a novel in a year,” you can say “I wrote half a novel this year.” That’s an amazing achievement worth celebrating.

I’m confident that you’ll reach the end of 2019 without that empty feeling. Goal setting will help you achieve your goals. At the very least, goals will take you a step closer to success.

Catherine Dilts Catherine Dilts is the author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, has written two novels for the multi-author cozy mystery series Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library, and her short stories appear regularly in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. With a day job as an environmental regulatory technician, Catherine’s stories often have environmental or factory-based themes, while others reflect her love of the Colorado mountains. Visit Catherine’s website to learn more.

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