Throughout the month of November, Kristine and I, along with people around the world, have forced ourselves to sit down in front of our computers and hammered down seemingly random words into a document. These words have in turn become a wonky first draft of a novel – or, in Kristine’s case, those words have in part been a novel draft and a lot of blog posts for you to devour.
NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month, which takes place in November. But, you might ask, ‘how is this related to financial independence?’. Or, you might not ask about it, I’m certainly not going to tell you what you’re asking or not. However, I will lay out some of my thoughts on how I think those to correlate.
The most important point here is related to setting yourself a goal and keeping it. In this case, it’s about writing a novel draft of 50 000 words or more starting November 1 and finishing November 30. It doesn’t matter what quality those words are, as the experience is supposed to be about learning to keep writing, to keep driving the story forward. Once you’re at the end, you can go back and revise the story…but not sooner. That’s the idea, anyway. Not everyone does it this way, and I’m not claiming that there’s one true way of doing NaNoWriMo, or writing for that matter. But for me, writing and keep writing forwards without looking back was certainly the right way of doing it.
When Kristine discovered the FI community through Mr. Money Mustache, it wasn’t long until I was on board. The numbers for the final goal of FI looks different for everyone. But what we have in common, is that we all have a FI number. This goal is similar to the end goal in NaNoWriMo. One is about money, and the other is about words. But they are both about goals and accomplishing those goals unlocks achievements like no game console. I could apologise to gamers out there for that statement, but in truth, I find that there is no greater feeling than to accomplish something in my own personal game of life.
It is no new information that in order to reach a bigger goal, it’s useful to have a lot of smaller goals on the way to get there. This is the same for the psychology of weight loss, weight gain, writing, saving money/investing or any other activity that involves a higher goal. Since the example I use here is NaNoWriMo, I will keep using writing in November as an example. For many, writing 50K words in a month sounds like a lot. For many professional writers, 50K words in a month are actually not that uncommon, but for us normal people with jobs (at least those of us who have not yet reached FI), it means that we need to find the time and energy to work towards our goals.
And this is where we get to one of my crucial faults as a human being. I am terrible at time management. People are always surprised when I tell them this. But it’s true. By nature, I am really bad at time management and yet I am rarely late for meetings or other important events because I take my poor sense of time into account for anything I do by adding one or two hours to the estimated time I need to leave. Since August, I’ve already started to get into the habit of writing every day. The time my classes were scheduled made me able to do that.
But when I started getting more projects from my job, I suddenly found that I had less time. I looked at my week to find that time. I could see that I was rarely doing anything in the evenings. But I also know that I don’t have the energy for creative work in the evenings. So instead, I decided to get up two hours earlier than I usually do, and work on my writing from 4 am to breakfast at 6 am. And it worked! Of course, I’m not suggesting that you get up at 4 to write or whatever it is that you want to do. I’m saying that if you have something you really want to do and don’t have the time, look at your schedule and see if there’s a way you can fit in that thing you want to do.
In the scheme of financial independence, one month isn’t a very long time. And still, one month can have such a big impact psychologically. On the ChooseFi podcast, Brad and Jonathan often talk about how many people choose the mental gratification of paying off the smallest amount of debt before they start attacking their larger debts. And I would say that this, to choose to focus on one thing for a whole month does something similar psychologically. Because by setting yourself that one goal and by achieving that goal at the end of the month, you teach yourself that you’re capable of something. You give yourself agency.
Keep in mind that I have two goals here, that of becoming an author and that of reaching FI. The month of November 2017 actually taught me a lot of things about myself. First of all, I discovered a lot of things that I need to cut out from my life. And the main thing I found out was that the stress of juggling writing, a part-time job and studies on top of my chronic health issues became too much. That comes as a surprise to… no one. And this is where that tiny voice at the back of my head would try to convince me to stop writing, because, after all, writing isn’t bringing in any big bucks.
But I know that even if I quit writing, I’ll keep going back to it time and time again. So after a long conversation with Kristine, I will quit my studies and focus on getting more paid work. Especially because the one year course I’m currently enrolled in doesn’t even add a lot of value to my current degree because they are too similar. So in those 30 days, by setting one goal for myself, I’ve actually opened up for the possibility of creating more income at a lower stress level – which of course, will mean that I can have a higher savings rate. I’ve also written 50 000 words, which is that much closer to writing as a side-hustle and thereby another potential for income.
On a literal level, NaNoWriMo taught me that I am actually capable of writing a coherent draft of a story in one month. And even if said story is full of plot holes that need to be fixed, 2D characters and I’m sure that there are enough grammar errors in it that can weave a tapestry for an entire living room; I know that I have a story that I can develop and go and work with, flesh out, and fix those plot holes. But on a deeper level, I’ve learnt to work towards a larger goal with smaller goals on the way.
I want to end this with a prompt. Think of something you’ve always wanted to do. Have you always wanted to start a blog? Do you have a great idea for a podcast? A short story? A novel? Want to exercise more? Perhaps you want to learn to play an instrument? But then there’s always that voice at the back of your mind jumping at the first chance to give you an excuse not to do it. It’s the same voice that tells people that financial independence isn’t for them.
I suggest that no matter when you read this, if it’s right before Christmas, which it is as I’m writing it, or if it’s in the middle of the summer, think about something that you want to do. It doesn’t matter where you are on your path to financial independence. Just take five minutes and think about what excites you.
Write down what you want your goal for yourself to be thirty days from today. Not tomorrow. Today. Once you have that large goal in front of you, write down the smaller goals of what you need to achieve to get there. And don’t forget to add rewards next to the goals. Of course those rewards don’t need to cost money!
My creativity is what keeps me insanely sane. And my path to financial independence is taking back my freedom by giving myself the time to write.