I’ve tried and failed before during many Novembers to do NaNoWriMo. But I haven’t given it a shot for years. Today, I successfully hit the halfway point in my novel (25,000 words) two days before being halfway through the month. This blog will explain how I did it. You still have two works to do your NaNoWriMo—don’t give up!
What is NaNoWriMo?
NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month and it happens every November. You write daily with the goal of hitting 50,000 words—the length of a novel—by December 1. This means your daily writing goal is 1,666 words. The writing community has created write-ins, Discords, and events around NaNoWriMo. Once you achieve 50,000 words, you’re a NaNoWriMo winner and can change all your social media profiles to the “Winner” graphic. Yes, it’s on an honor system.
I logged into my NaNoWriMo.org account today for the first time in years. Oops. You’re supposed to do that before the thing begins. Anyway, I was immediately greeted by my past NaNoWriMo failures. A graveyard of WIPS greated me:
- In 2014, I stopped at only 8,000 words.
- One WIP I forgot about only had 2,000 words.
- One I completely forgot about and deleted without a thought.
So what makes this NaNoWriMo different?
First of all, don’t compare yourself to me. Comparison kills dreams. I have written and hit my goal every single day of November so far. I have written at least my 1,666 per day. Not all my friends work this way. Some are writing 4,000 words one day and 200 the next. We all work differently and it’s not a competition—in spite of that whole “winner” thing.
DO Stop Believin’ — in Writer’s Block
I don’t believe in “writer’s block” because I’ve worked in radio and TV newsrooms before. A typical newsroom day meant writing 2-3,000 words a day. I am used to sitting down and completing writing. But I find not every writer has this discipline.
You’re not “blocked” as a writer, I promise. A friend texted me the other day that she was “blocked” on her NaNoWriMo effort. I said no, “You’re not “blocked,” this is not a thing. What is the real issue?” Guess what? She immediately came to the real issue. We hashed it out a few moments and she was good.
Let me also burst your bubble: you don’t have “writer’s block” either. But you may have some other thing getting in your way like:
- You’re writing at the wrong time of day for you. Write when you’re fresh like I do or at least find a quiet time without distractions if possible.
- You just need a BREAK. Seriously. This is supposed to FUN!
- You’re procrastinating by screwing off somehow. You’re either doing too much research or you let Twitter distract you. Writers are better at procrastinating than we are at writing. This is because procrastinating is easy and full of fun distractions that give us instant gratification. Writing takes work. It’s a long-term investment.
- About that research… Do SOME. The goal is to do research “because of” the writing, not “instead of” the writing.
- You’re doing that thing where you think your story sucks. Not a reason to quit. We all do that. Every first draft should suck. This is the only time I will “should all over you.”
- Perfectionism. My novel is a dumpster fire that will be re-written several times. I’m good with it. Just because it is a dumpster fire doesn’t mean that I am a dumpster fire. Know the distinction.
Discipline is what separates this project from past NaNoWriMo attempts
I get up and make myself write each morning first thing before my coffee gets cold. There has already been a few days this hasn’t worked out. The word count was low and the coffee was cold. But instead of beating myself up over it, I held myself to the standard and belief that, “I get 1,666 words written a day.”
When you fall short of the goal, the story you make up about it is everything. So you only wrote 300 words today? Tell yourself the story of, “I’ll return to this in a bit and it’s Ok to take breaks.” That’s such a better story than, “Ugh, I’m such a failure, I never finish things, this sucks, I suck blah blah.”
If you don’t write your ass off 365 days a year, or at least make it a daily practice to some extent, you’re not going to write a damn novel in November. Just like if you don’t run a few miles a day, you’re never going to be able to run the marathon. Practice and building stamina are key to both. Writing is exhausting and requires strong mental focus. It requires discipline and commitment.
Here’s the biggest secret of all:
Don’t write when you feel like it. Seriously, that’s it. The entire secret to being a productive writer is to write when you don’t feel up to it. Write at the same time each day or schedule a time to do it. Force yourself to do it. Forget being “in the mood” or having to “find the muse.” That’s all total horseshit. The best kind of novels are the ones that get done. I’ll say it again.
The best kind of novels are the ones that get done.
Be strategic about finding a balance with your writing habit
I write about the intellectually-challenging subject of DevOps professionally as a marketer, so I limit what I write each day for my NaNoWriMo. At some point, my writing brain gets tired and the best writing isn’t going to come out. I think I can write 3,000-5,000 words a day well. I can do a fantastic job the more I keep that balance closer to 3,000. A year ago, I was producing TV news with often two shows a day for two different stations. That was too big a workload to do and then expect myself to go home afterward and start writing a novel. I didn’t even try NaNoWriMo last year. Right after the U.S. election? Are you kidding me? That novel had to wait.
Fun Fact: TV news producers pretty much code, too. Have you used iNews? Try writing stories while coding your shots. Super-fun! (Screenwriters, I see you).
People forget that writing is intense intellectual work. I love being able to switch back and forth between different forms of writing and different subjects in my writing day. But there’s also a time to stop sitting at a desk. You have to get up and have analog hobbies.
BTW, I bet you read this when you were supposed to be writing 😉
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