There are nine days left of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). “Thirty days and nights of literary abandon!” always sounds so great, as does the goal of hitting a 50k word count in a month. I’ve been following my writer friends’ progress this month with complete awe. They battle in #wordwars on Twitter. They report astonishing numbers. They neglect personal hygiene. They abandon spouses, children, pets.

I’m not actively participating in this writing marathon. That’s partly because my work in progress was already in progress, which violates one of the challenge’s rules. And partly because I knew that I wouldn’t hit that word count; life with a preschooler (who spent much of this month felled by various colds and maladies) is too unpredictable to schedule such vast swaths of writing time. I didn’t want to set myself up for failure.

But I love the concept of NaNoWriMo because it makes me aware of the many people who are busily working on stories at this time. Like winds that turn brisk in late fall, I feel the energy of fingers flying across keyboards and notebooks. There must be some kind of global energy surge with so many people churning out words. I get just enough of a charge to push my work in progress along that much more.

Instead of churning out lots of pages in a Word document, I took some time this month to step back and rechart the course of my novel. I retreated. I did a lot of thinking and brainstorming in longhand, in a notebook. I keep a journal for every writing project, and in this novel-in-progress, I’m already on my third. This month, I filled up one entire notebook with outlines, scene notes, character profiles, problem-solving strategies, what-ifs, and random ideas. Notes, notes, and more notes. Many of these pages were written in the semi-darkness, as soon as I woke up. Ah, five a.m., a rare and enchanted time when I can think without distractions and interruptions.

It occurred to me, if I added up all those scrawled words, I might have actually hit the word count goal for NaNoWriMo! But I’m not counting. The pages aren’t coherent. The sustained, focused, daily brainstorming  helped me refocus and develop the story. I was able to solve some problems, avoid some land mines that were in my path, and chart a better course. I plunged back in, rewrote, wrote some more, and offered up three chapters to my trusty writing group, always my first readers.

Those were my November goals: refocus, develop, and get something readable together for my writing group. I hit my benchmarks, so I guess I “won,” even though I didn’t finish 50,000 words of a completely new work. And hey, the month’s not even over. What more can I do in nine days?

Now I just need a name for my own private November writing challenge. NaNoNoteMo? NaNoThinkMo? NaNoMuseMo? . . . .

Are you doing NaNoWriMo? What are your writing benchmarks? When do you feel you’ve “won” a writing challenge?