Success is an everyday thing Print
Youth Column
Written by Karen Osborne, Catholic News Service   
Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

For most people, November means colored leaves, bonfires, and entirely too many pumpkin spice lattes.

For writers like me, November means getting down to business. It's National Novel Writing Month!

Fifteen years ago, a group of friends in San Francisco decided that they were finally going to finish the novels they'd always wanted to write -- and by the end of month, too.

The ensuing monthlong literary marathon now attracts more than 325,000 registered participants. "Winners" of "NaNoWriMo" finish a novel of 50,000 words by midnight on November 30, by hook or by crook.

I've been a professional writer for just about as long as NaNoWriMo has been in existence, so you'd think I'd have this whole "novel in a month" thing in the bag, right?

Wrong. I've never actually won. Ever.

It's surprisingly easy to fail at National Novel Writing Month, and for a lot of reasons that would be really familiar to teens wrestling with their own big projects.

First of all, I procrastinate like nobody's business. When I get done with a hard day's work, the last thing I want to do is "homework," so I play computer games or watch television. Next thing I know, it's bedtime and nothing's been done. Oops.

Maybe we should all save the Xbox for our reward, not our first choice. Getting started early on a worksheet or a textbook chapter leaves more time to hang out with Master Chief and the Minecraft creepers later -- this time, totally guilt-free.

I allow the big numbers to scare me. Nobody can eat 50,000 jelly beans all at once, so most of us don't even try. We'd probably be hospitalized! Spread out over a period of weeks or months, though, eating the same number of jelly beans is a delicious chore we could look forward to every single day.

Teachers assign group projects and essays to be completed over a longer period of time for the same reason. They know you can't finish overnight. They want you to learn how to break things up into small, manageable bits, just like you'll be expected to do at any adult job.

I also spend a lot of time listening to the negative voices in my head. One year, I even assumed that I couldn't finish my novel before I even started just to save myself the "heartbreak" I would feel at the end of November.

But what if I had actually finished? I'll never know. And it still felt pretty awful on December 1!

It's always so sad to hear about people who don't do homework and don't write essays, convinced they're going to fail anyway. Not finishing is a self-fulfilling prophecy. They don't even give themselves a chance!

What if success was easier than that? Teachers don't assign homework, essays, and tests to torture hapless students; they assign them because a little practice every day is the way that the human brain learns anything, from basic grammar to dribbling a basketball to rocket science.

Sometimes success begins quietly, by saying to yourself: "I am going to do this every day."

Writing 1,667 words a day isn't that much, and in a month, you have a novel. November isn't about perfection -- it's about getting started and getting confident in your abilities one paragraph, one worksheet, one math problem at a time.

That's how progress is supposed to work.

This November, I want to win. To do that, I have to start, I have to write something up every day, and I have to keep on trucking even when I feel like I can't.

You can, too.

I bet by Christmas you'll be really proud of what you have accomplished.

Karen Osborne contributes to “Coming of Age,” a CNS column series for and about youth. She is a staff writer for the Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y..


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