Writing strategies are great, but if you want to make real progress, you need this.

Once upon a time, I wanted to be the coolest sister-in-law in the world.

My first husband was sixteen when his baby brother was born. We took him for overnights, attended baseball and soccer games, and offered homework help. In the beginning, all it took to be the coolest was a little candy, a forbidden-yet-not-too-age-inappropriate movie, and some fort-building skills. But as my brother-in-law got older, remaining the coolest was a challenge.

In the early aughts, we attended a summer outing at Kings Island amusement park along with several male relatives. After a morning with roller coaster rides, we headed for the water park.

After a few waterslides, we encountered something called The Retro Flow Rider. Imagine a concrete basin lined with a dozen fire hoses that simulate surfable ocean waves.

Everyone wanted to try this exciting new ride, and as the coolest sister-in-law in the world, I couldn’t refuse. That day, it seemed like the entire park waited along The Retro Flow Rider fence, ready to watch us catch some tasty waves or laugh when we fell.

With each step forward I imagined and reimagined my impending wipeout, from the feel of the board giving way to the disappointing “Awe, dude!” the crowd yelled as I slid into the exit bay.

When it was my turn, a tanned eighteen-year-old surfer dude thrust a boogie board at me, then fired off instructions I barely heard above the roaring hoses. My fifteen-year-old brother-in-law and all my male relatives cheered from the slide lines. I timidly stepped into the rushing water, placed the board under me, popped up for the briefest of seconds then slammed into the surprisingly rough concrete and skidded to a halt. As I exited the ride, I tried to ignore the angry scrape blossoming up my right side.

The Retro Flow Rider taught me two important lessons: coolness is overrated, and watch what you imagine.

Compared to the skydiving and rope-free rock climbs I’d completed in my twenties, The Retro Flow Rider should’ve been easy.

There was one key difference between those experiences. When skydiving and rock climbing, I always believed in and imagined my unwavering success. That unwavering belief has also helped me complete countless manuscript drafts.

Yesterday was the first day of NaNoWriMo. While there are a ton of strategies you can employ, they’ll be useless if you don’t believe in yourself.

Belief has three components.

First, you must envision your success. Mentally rehearse yourself writing the words the end. Imagine your smile when you reach your fifty thousandth word. Write a congratulations letter to yourself on Future Me then schedule its early December delivery. Every day, multiple times per day, say fifty thousand words.

After you’ve envisioned your success, attend to your fears.

During my skydiving days, I asked a guy with over three thousand jumps if he still got nervous before he skydived. He tugged on the macrame cross he always wore, then said, “The day I’m not afraid is the day I don’t jump.”

Fear made him respect the activity—and himself—enough to show the utmost care and preparation.

Fear is the body’s way of readying itself for action, whether that’s running from a tiger or acing an exam. Instead of seeing fear as the harbinger of failure, thank your body for seeing this work as important enough to prepare for action.

Consider a mantra like this: Thank you for reminding me that my writing life is important and that my goal is asking for my attention. 

That leads to the final aspect of belief—having the confidence to act as if. Show up to your writing desk. Write some words. If you begin to judge them, remember NaNoWriMo, like all goals, is about progress, not perfection. It’s about being 20,000, 30,000, or even 50,000 words closer to writing the end. That’s it.

If you’re not participating in NaNoWriMo, think about the goal you’re currently working on. Are you imagining success or rehearsing a wipeout?


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