Build Mastery

Okay, this is going to be a weird post because its really not a blog entry but rather a combination Skill of the Month and explanation for why there's not a blog entry  but it's still October, so its too early for the Skill of the Month and I need to write a blog so I'm putting it in the blog and perhaps later will move it to the Skill of the Month section.

The Skill of the Month is something that I've really enjoyed doing over the past few months and I don't want to stop doing that but this month--November--which is just right around the corner, I intend to take a break from blogging. The main reason for this "vacation" is that I'm participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) again this year which is, if you're not familiar with it, a pledge to write a 50,000 (or greater) word novel in the month of November. Basically, it works out to 1667 words per day which, for me, is like two really lengthy blog posts every day. So, I thought I'd take the month off but at the same time I wanted to explain what I'm doing and why.

So, in keeping with the Skill of the Month, this entry is both an explanation of my absence as well as a discussion about the DBT skill of "build mastery". Basically, do hard stuff and don't stop just because it is hard (although the definition of "hard" varies from person to person). As you see successes, you feel accomplished. The process is the important part and not giving up just because its hard and you don't want to do it and maybe you're not immediately successful, is key. You learn a whole bunch about how to be more successful during the process. Anyone can choose virtually anything in which to build mastery and I'm planning to undertake writing a novel--a kind of hard thing to do if you've never tried it. Last year was the first time I participated in NaNoWriMo and I finished my goal of 50,000 words and can say I have written a novel (although as soon as I was done, I returned to real life and haven't touched it since). During that process last year, I had never attempted such a thing--sure, I wrote stories in grade school but 50,000 words is a lot of words and November is a shortish month especially when you figure in the holidays, so I was really not confident in my ability to complete it, but I actually "finished" my word count by about the 20th so I felt really good about the whole thing. This year, I didn't intend to participate because work has been extremely busy and because I really dislike the fact that I have this novel sitting in my computer waiting to be edited and therefore feeling very incomplete and instead of forcing myself to edit it, I'm just going to go ahead and write another novel that will also probably sit in my computer for another year... this could turn into a pattern. Perhaps this will be the way I continue to build mastery after NaNoWriMo is over--by editing these novels!

I learned an enormous amount in writing my novel last year. I learned the importance of not engaging in self-edit as I was writing. It was hard because I tend to be a perfectionist but in the process, stopping to go back and fix a word or sentence structure disturbs the flow. I had to accept the fact that I had run-on sentences, sentence fragments and undeveloped plot lines and just get it out and onto (virtual) paper, resisting the urge to get caught up in fixing and editing. I learned that its okay to be imperfect. I learned that my ideas (I think) are pretty good and, with a ton of editing, may be worthy of publishing one day. I learned that I could set a goal that felt like a big stretch and actually meet and surpass it.

So, this year I shall undertake the task again. My novel this time will be very different from my previous one and I will again get to practice resisting the urge to perfect it as I type and keep typing even though I'm sick to death of typing and my back hurts from sitting in this chair for so long typing away day after day... I will persevere despite my desire to give up and eat a bunch of turkey and mashed potatoes! I will undoubtedly gain even more insights about myself and the process this year.

I'll be working on building mastery this month and I encourage you to do the same. Should you participate in NaNoWriMo? Sure! If you want to! But the great thing about building mastery is that it can be in whatever area you're interested in--knitting, painting, learning a new language, learning how to surf, learning how to do calculus--it doesn't matter! It can even be in areas that aren't really "areas" at all but just "life stuff" that can be really hard sometimes, too! The process of doing hard things is where the benefit comes, not from the end result, although that can be great, too. The skill is called building mastery, not being a master so the implication of a never-ending process is right there in the name. You might say to yourself "hey! if I can write a whole novel in one month, I can surely do this other hard thing!" You can use the lessons you learn while building mastery to help you in other difficult situations. Perseverence is the key--its a hard thing, this thing you're attempting to do--so you keep trying, you keep typing, you keep calculating, you keep learning and in the process, you find that you feel better about your ability to do other hard things, because life is hard.