Quitting has always gotten a bad rap, but often It’s undeserved. In fact, sometimes it takes undertaking a project or life change to figure out where you want to go?and then quitting the project to get there.
Every November, I’ve felt the urge to join in the craziness that is NaNoWriMo. The phenomenon?National Novel Writing Month?requires participants to finish a 50,000-word novel between November 1 and 30. It’s a good way to force the reluctant writer inside to find that hidden inspiration and run with it. It’s also helpful for the perfectionist, who’s forced against her will to churn out material and worry about making it just so another time.
I’d struggled with perfectionism-based time management issues and thought it would be fun to expand my creativity a bit in the fiction genre. So this year I took the plunge: on Halloween night, at two minutes before midnight, I registered and made the commitment. I was going to write a novel, or die trying.
Day 1 went well. I was working in the evening, so I didn’t even get started on my novel until 9 pm. I wrote and wrote and wrote, and when I walked away from the computer in the wee hours, I was feeling pumped and excited and all full of Wow, I can so do this.
Sure, I knew it would take a big time commitment?and a psychological toll, too. But I wanted to prove to myself that I was capable and strong, even through the highs and lows and slumps that I knew inevitably form the rite of passage of a WriMo initiate.
The following morning, though, a blurb in Working Mother struck me. The issue was all about priorities, and one sidebar item recommended that we cut out things that take a commitment of more than a certain number of days a month. For example, the editors wrote, don’t decide to train for a marathon when you’ve already got enough on your schedule.
Just what I needed: another excuse to not work out!
But it got me thinking. NaNoWriMo was a big commitment, even if it was one I’d wanted to do for fun. However, if I was going to be making such a large physical and emotional investment, then in terms of priorities, shouldn’t I make sure it was the best fit for me right now?
What was I was doing?and why? How would it benefit me in both the shorter term and the longer term?
Like many writers, I’d always cherished the idea of writing an instant bestseller. But when I did a bit of honest goal inventorying, I realized that right now, writing fiction just wasn’t high on my list of personal or career goals. It would have been a new area for me, and one I’d definitely like to explore in the future, but it didn’t measure up to other aspirations I’d been holding onto. I began developing a strong feeling that my priorities should be elsewhere.
My nonfiction work wasn’t yet where I’d hoped to bring it, and there were other important goals that I hadn’t yet reached. If I was being honest to myself, I had to admit that NaNoWriMo was a diversion, even if a both attractive and vexing diversion, from something that I really, really wanted deep at heart. Thus quitting was the most responsible option if I wanted to free myself to pursue long-held dreams and plans.
Could I have arrived here on my own? Perhaps not. Because thanks to NaNoWriMo I’d proved to myself that I could get my act together and accomplish far more than normal. I could funnel my drive into one project for a few hours instead of allowing the multiple distractions and pulls for my attention to drag me in several directions at once. I could focus?and accomplish. Even if I didn’t have a 50,000-word draft by the end of the month, I could make real progress toward something that had been a specific, long-held goal rather than an ?I wanna try it? whim.
I have no regrets. It took starting the NaNoWriMo journey to make me remember what direction I’d wanted to be going in the first place. Sometimes, it takes quitting to realize where we want to be. And even if, as the saying goes, winners never quit, quitting the wrong road may be one of the most important steps I’ll ever take in recognizing, and moving back toward, my long-term ambitions.