It’s here! National Novel-Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, as the kids say. The month when unbalanced creatives decide to go for broke and write 50,000-word novels in thirty days. And this year, I’m joining them. I’ve been thinking about a novel for literally a decade, but have been too scared-slash-busy-slash-distracted to write it. So this year, I told myself no more excuses. I’m getting this draft done.
It’s going to be difficult. Anyone close to me will tell you that I’m a notorious workaholic. I run a small business (full-time hours) and do freelance editing, coaching, and writing to pay the bills (also full-time hours). I work from 10 a.m. till 9 or 10 most nights. Fitting the hour-ish of writing necessary every day to complete 50,000 words in thirty days is going to be really difficult for me.
So, I’m going into this with my hopes high, but my reality checks in place. I’m going to use multiple strategies to keep myself productive, excited, and accountable. I thought some of those strategies might be helpful to others who are trying NaNoWriMo, so here’s how I’m planning to do this.
My NaNoWriMo strategies:
- Know what you’re going to write. Like I said, I’ve been thinking about this book for at least ten years. During that time, I’ve made a few starts on the idea, but I’ve never gotten very far. I have, however, put together a prety detailed outline as part of my coaching practice—I don’t like to teach what I haven’t done, myself. So, I’ve prepared to write this book by taking my own book-organization course! I’ve got a detailed outline, a series of character-development worksheets, and lots of world-building exercises already under my belt. Now that I know what the road I’ll be traveling this month looks like, I’m much more confident that I can traverse it (at breakneck speed and with very little quality control…but we’ll get to that).
- Plan to fail but try to win. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am a very busy person. I know that there will be days this month when I won’t be able to write. So I have to be honest with myself that I have serious limitations, and that I’ll need to be okay with not meeting my goal every damn day. And I have to make peace with the possibility that I may not meet my 50,000-word NaNoWriMo goal. But, hey, getting even halfway there will still be far more progress on this book than I’ve made in ten years. No matter what, I’ll be winning.
- Tell everyone what you’re doing. This is partly so they can hold me accountable…but mostly, it’s so that my friends, family, and partners know that during November, I’m gonna have to say no to a lot of invitations. I really want to become one of those amazing “morning people” who gets up at the crack of dawn to write, does all my work, and is free by 7:00 p.m. But I’m not. I’ve tried to be, and it just doesn’t work. And that means that I’ll be writing and/or working later than I usually do, because hours of extra time don’t just appear. (Well, except for this weekend, when we literally do get an extra hour because of Daylight Savings. But you get what I mean.) In other words, this month, I’m going to be spending a lot of the time I’d normally use to socialize to instead write this draft of my book. And the folks who want to hang out with me need to be aware of that. Sorry, folks. Life goals and creative fulfillment and all that.
- Find accountability hacks. Now, accountability is a whole other thing. I’m one of those creatives who feels best when I’m creating…but I usually prioritize my own happiness at approximately last on my to-do list. Which means that, even when I try to give myself deadlines for creative endeavors to make my hopes and dreams feel important, I know that I’m the one who set them, and I summarily pay no attention to them. The only way I get creative work done is by letting other people in on my plans and letting those people yell at me about them. This time around, I’ve got multiple accountability checks in place: I’m blogging about my plans and progress here. I’ve told everyone I know that I’m doing this so they can pester me about it. I signed up on the NaNoWriMo website so I can log my word count every day. And I’m announcing my word count at the end of every day on Twitter. Nobody may care whether I meet my goals except me, but they’ll damn well hear about it no matter what happens. And few motivators are as effective as embarrassment over one’s own failures, amirite?
- Get a great playlist. I’m lucky in that most of my work already involves me sitting at my computer at home in sweatpants with a cup of tea by my side, so I don’t have to go out of my normal milieu to make my environment friendly for writing. And my usual work also has me listening to music most of the time—music that’s well suited to writing. I prefer instrumental playlists for my daily work: music that doesn’t distract me, helps to keep me relaxed but focused, and which I can stream on Spotify. So I’m in good shape, with a list of saved playlists as long as my arm that might work for writing. But! This month I’m switching it up for NaNoWriMo. For reasons that would be too spoiler-y to reveal, I’ll be listening to a bunch of instrumental musicals playlists this month. You know, The Music Man, Newsies, Fiddler on the Roof, etc. Just the non-lyrical versions, because I can’t help but sing along to those, because—little-known fact—I am a gigantic nerd about musicals. I hope to have a list of playlists built up to share later this month!
I’m sure new strategies will build as the month goes on, and I’ll update you in a few weeks as they develop. And here are a few things I know will be difficult that I’ll have to work through…
Things I have to work on:
- Not editing as I write. I make most of my income as a copyeditor and proofreader, which is to say I’m literally a professional at editing as I read. This makes it really, really difficult for me not to edit myself as I write. If I realize I’ve repeated a word, I immediately hit that backspace key to go back and change it. But that means spending the time it takes to not only key myself back to the offending repetition—it often means sitting here for a while trying to think of a better word. Alas, if I want to hit 50K words in thirty days—per the NaNoWriMo goal—I don’t have time for these shenanigans. This is going to be tough, but I hope to come up with a system—like boldfacing poor word choices or areas that need touch-ups—that will allow me to keep writing and go back to edit later.
- Creating a routine. I started the month wanting to get up early and write for an hour before I start my other work for the day. But so far, that hasn’t happened. The truth is, that plan sounds lovely, but it’s going against my nature. I’ve always aspired to be a morning person—I’ve never been one. On top of that, I’m bad at sleeping. At least three nights a week, I wake up sometime and stay awake. That can last anywhere from a half hour to six or seven hours before I can drift off again. This means that basing my writing plans on my sleep schedule is doomed to failure. I’m going to have to resign myself to taking each day as it comes and fitting the writing in wherever I can. That will make some kind of routine that I perform around writing even more important. If I can’t guarantee the same time every day, I need to create the right conditions, no matter what time it happens to be. I don’t know what this looks like yet. I’ll have to report back later.
- Write, don’t scroll! Part of my work as an editor involves purposefully scrolling through social media. It’s actually important to my day. Basically, if I’m copyediting a text for more than an hour at a time, I have to look away from it about once an hour to keep my brain limber. Otherwise, my eyes glaze over and my powers of observation get mushy. So I’ve built scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. into my work day for a long time. We all know that social media is designed to give you a rush of happiness every time you scroll. Novelty releases happy brain chemicals, and my brain is used to being bathed in them frequently as I work. Not this month! Since I’m dealing with very limited time to get a lot accomplished, I’ll have to limit my scrolling habit. More work, fewer breaks, and sharp focus… Yikes.
- Keeping it exciting. Right now, I’m blissed out on the idea of making my novel a reality. But anyone who’s ever written anything (myself included) will tell me that writing is hard work. And most of it is not easy. This early-days excitement I feel will inevitably turn into boredom, frustration, anxiety, and fear of failure all too soon as NaNoWriMo continues. I’ll need to develop strategies to keep myself excited, interested, and ready to write…a lot. For a lot of days in a row.
- Make-ahead and easy meals. I like to cook at the end of a long day. It helps me get back into the real world after staring at a manuscript for hours. Plus, I save a ton of money by buying ingredients and making things from scratch instead of ordering in. And it’s way healthier than processed, frozen food, etc. But this month, I’m going to have to be real about my time limitations. Cooking isn’t going to be an option sometimes. I’ll be walking a fine line between spending too much on takeout/delivery, eating unhealthy food, and writing my damn book. I haven’t had nearly as much time to plan this as I wish I had, so we’ll see how it goes.
The good news is: I’m off to a good start! At the end of a long day, I managed to bang out 1,577 words yesterday—just 90 shy of my goal. Let’s hope I can keep up the momentum as NaNoWriMo rolls forward…
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