How is NaNoWriMo like SEAL training? It’s not.
(Well, except that the Navy loves its partial word acronyms too. Like NAVSPECWARDEVGRU and COMNAVSEASYSCOM to name two.)
But after reading No Easy Day by former U.S. Navy SEAL Mark Owen, I think there are a few things we could learn from special forces operators that might help us reach 50K in 30 days (or any other tough goal).
Owen survived BUD/S (SEAL training) by concentrating on making it to his next meal. That’s it. He didn't worry about what was coming in the next day, week, or month. He just had to survive until breakfast. Only until lunch. If you focus on the seemingly endless days of hard work ahead, it’s easy to give up.
Stay grounded in the present. Set a goal for this hour or this day and work on that. Each day of NaNo you need to write 1667 words. If you have three hours to write, then each hour you only need 556 words. Piece of cake, right? 😉
Something else Owen mentioned that really stuck with me was the idea that he had to “be comfortable being uncomfortable”. There’s nothing comfortable about constantly being cold, wet, and sandy while working your mind and body beyond all reasonable limits.
For most people, the same is true of a stretch-goal like NaNo, giving up sugar for a month, or self-publishing a trilogy. Goals like that push you outside your comfort zone. And that’s okay. If you can be comfortable being uncomfortable, you can do just about anything.
Leo Babauta of ZenHabits talks about this a lot too. He recommends watching yourself be uncomfortable. Watch the feeling rise and fall. Own it. And then keep going.
In No Easy Day, Owen mentions the traits he thinks the best SEALs possess. Some of these don’t directly apply to my career. After all, my work isn’t life and death. But I found them interesting. I’ll bet in some way you’ll find that most people who are successful in their chosen career—by their own definition, not society’s—embody at least some of these.
Especially the first one.
1. Fear of failure.
This is a recurring theme in many of the special forces memoirs and biographies I’ve read. These guys will do anything to avoid failing at something they start.
2. Always striving to be their best and provide the most value for the team.
Writers may not be part of a team in most instances, but those who strive to put out their best work and give their readers a good story (along with quality editing and covers, if self-pubbed), are most likely to sell well.
3. Always ready and waiting to go to the next thing. Don’t just want to train for it, want to do it.
These guys train hard, but eventually they want to test their skills in the real world. They want to be useful. Many of us want to be published. We want people to see our work. We read about writing, take classes to improve our craft, and dabble in it. But to get published, you have to take the next step. Write, polish, query, submit, repeat. Or, eventually, self-publish. Don’t just train for it. Do it!
4. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves, even if it means the ultimate sacrifice.
I’m not sure there’s a real metaphor for writing here, but most of us write in hopes of sharing our stories with others, maybe even making the readers’ lives a little better with our words. Putting yourself out there—whether submitting to agents and editors, entering a contest, or dipping your toes in the self-pub waters—can be terrifying. You have to be willing to face the metaphoric death embodied in rejection. Over and over. Writers may not defy death, but writing for publication is not for the faint of heart.
You don’t have to be a SEAL to do amazing things. If you’re not participating in NaNoWriMo—maybe you’re not even a writer—go set some other stretch goal for yourself and approach it like a SEAL. You might be astonished at what you can do.
As a side note, I thought No Easy Day was very well done. Plenty of action interspersed with the author’s personal background and experiences, and not too terribly political like some of the other spec ops books I’ve read, or tried to read. Pretty fascinating, really. If you like this kind of thing, put it on your holiday gift list. Or buy it now. 😉
(1) Unknown Author (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons
(2) By Shane T. McCoy (http://www.navy.mil/view_ahhphotos.asp) (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons
M A Clarke Scott